A heated dispute over whether to endorse the Democratic opponent of a popular gay candidate running for the Ward 2 D.C. Council seat as an independent resulted in a decision on Monday night by the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club not to endorse any additional candidates, including Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
If the Stein Club, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political organization, holds firm on the action it took at its Sept. 28 virtual meeting it would become the first time in its 44-year history that it will not endorse a Democratic presidential candidate.
“The second largest gay Democratic club in the nation and definitely the second oldest continuously operating LGBT Democratic club in the nation decided tonight not to support Joe Biden for president,” said gay Democratic activist David Meadows, a former Stein Club president. “That’s your story,” Meadows told the Washington Blade shortly after the club’s Zoom meeting ended.
Stein Club President Kent Boese on Tuesday had a different interpretation of the club’s action at the virtual meeting.
“Based on the discussion and debate of last night’s meeting regarding endorsements, as things currently stand, the Stein Club has not voted to endorse Biden/Harris, nor have we voted to not endorse them,” he told the Blade in an email. “I do plan on discussing this with the Executive Committee to see what options are open to use to consider this issue,” he said.
The endorsement dispute arose when Monika Nemeth, the Stein Club’s vice president for legislative affairs, introduced a motion calling for the club to endorse the winners of the city’s June Democratic primary for the D.C. Council seats in Wards 2, 4, and 8. The club was unable to make an endorsement in those races for the primary because none of the multiple Democratic candidates, most of whom expressed support for LGBTQ rights, received a required 60 percent vote from club members required for an endorsement.
Nemeth pointed out at the Monday night virtual meeting that the Stein Club has traditionally voted in each election cycle to endorse all of the city’s Democratic primary winners for the November general election when the club has not endorsed one or more of them at the time of the primary.
Due to the complexity of its online endorsement vote in the primary for multiple D.C. Council candidates in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the club decided to hold off on an endorsement vote for U.S. president until after the primary. Thus Nemeth’s blanket motion calling for the club to endorse the remainder of the Democratic candidates on the Nov. 3 ballot included the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris presidential-vice presidential ticket.
But several club members raised objections to making an endorsement of Democrat Brooke Pinto, who won the Democratic primary for the Ward 2 Council seat and also won a Ward 2 special election to fill the Council seat until January following the resignation earlier this year of longtime Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans.
These club members said their objection to a blanket endorsement of all Democrats on the D.C. ballot was based on their support for gay independent candidate Randy Downs, a popular Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner who is challenging Pinto in the Nov. 3 election. Downs is aggressively campaigning for the LGBTQ vote in a ward with a large LGBTQ population.
Downs, a long-time Democrat, did not run in the Ward 2 Democratic primary and instead decided to enter the race for the general election as an independent. In addition to Downs and incumbent Pinto, Statehood Green Party candidate Peter Bolton and independent candidate Martin Miguel Fernandez are running in the November election for the Ward 2 seat.
Downs’ Stein Club supporters proposed that Nemeth’s motion be amended to eliminate an endorsement in the Ward 2 race while moving ahead with endorsing two other Democratic primary winners for D.C. Council seats – Janeese Lewis George in Ward 4 and incumbent Trayon White in Ward 8.
An endorsement for Biden would also have remained a part of the proposed amendment by the Downs supporters to Nemeth’s motion. The club’s bylaws prohibit an endorsement of a non-Democratic candidate in a race where a Democratic candidate is running, and the Downs supporters did not suggest that he or any other non-Democrat be endorsed.
Other club members, however, objected to withholding an endorsement for Pinto, saying a Democratic club should back all Democratic candidates when they are supportive of LGBTQ rights. Pinto has expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights during her primary and general election campaigns.
Meadows told the meeting that as a Ward 6 Democratic Committeeman he was obligated to support Democratic candidates, including Pinto in Ward 2. Stein member Austin Naughton, who is chair of the Ward 2 Democrats, said he too was obligated to back the Democratic contender. He is among several LGBTQ Democratic leaders that have endorsed Pinto.
Longtime gay Democratic activist Rick Rosendall, a former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance and a Ward 2 resident, said he was among a number of LGBTQ loyal Democrats who are backing Downs. He strongly urged the Stein Club not to endorse Pinto. Rosendall told the Blade on Tuesday he would like the club to arrange for a “stand alone vote” to endorse Biden for president.
When Stein Club member Japer Bowles argued that the club’s commitment to campaign for both local and national Democratic candidates would make it difficult to expend the time and energy on arranging an online virtual vote on whether to endorse the remaining Democratic candidates it had not endorsed in the primary, Nemeth withdrew her endorsement motion.
Stein Club President Boese then declared the matter settled in the position of making no further endorsements. Boese’s comment to the Blade that he plans to discuss the matter further with the club’s executive committee officers suggests the club might revisit the issue in time to arrange for a vote to endorse Biden. But the club’s next meeting is scheduled to take place after the Nov. 3 election so an endorsement vote would have to be conducted remotely ahead of the next meeting.