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The boldness of Randy Downs

Ward 2’s daring Council hopeful deserves your vote



GLAA ratings, Randy Downs, gay news, Washington Blade
Randy Downs is running for Ward 2 Council.

What better place to sit down and chat with Randy Downs than at Annie’s on 17th Street, itself an institution, a significant strip in Downs’ Dupont ANC constituency. We sat on Annie’s new outside “strEATery,” one of the many wildly popular outside patios now taking over streets across the city, COVID measures meant to support the District’s restaurant industry. And do note, you saw them on 17th Street first. And all thanks to Randy Downs, Neighborhood Commissioner and candidate for the Ward 2 seat on the District Council.

Downs believes that these strEATeries make the neighborhood more lively, as well as safer.

Traffic is slowed and calmed, there’s more space for social distancing, and more activity at night means a decrease in crime. Asked if we can keep the popular ‘strEATeries’ post pandemic, Downs replied with a confident “absolutely.” And Annie’s is what you’d expect it to be — adorned with festive paper lanterns, colorful tablecloths, and planters. It’s very them. It’s very 17th Street. And this is just one of Randy Downs’ myriad accomplishments.

From his mere four years as an ANC Commissioner, positions too often dismissed as powerless or even perfunctory, Downs’ list of achievements reads like a litany of good deeds any current D.C. Council member would kill to have on their resume. Downs helped usher the much-needed Stead Park community center renovation and expansion slated to break ground next year. The $16 million project will add a badly needed community multi-purpose meeting space to Ward 2. Look for that starting early next year.

There’s also the clever workaround to long sought for rainbow crosswalks, appearing in cities across America but blocked here by federal highway officials. Downs threaded that needle by creating the popular rainbow banners, not obstructing the walks themselves, but rather bordering them. Then there’s the rainbow and trans flag banners, also Downs’ doing, adorning the street lights up and down 17th. These two things could be dismissed as largely symbolic.

But symbols are important. Perhaps even more so to minority groups seeking visibility. Downs recognizes that. Then there’s the decades-old and foolhardy 17th Street liquor moratorium, that seemingly did very little but stymie growth in development along what is now one of the city’s most charming streets. Since then, 17th Street has seen somewhat of a renaissance, with new and inventive restaurants moving in, everything from Astoria, to Duke’s, to Mikko. They now share the blocks with mainstays such as Floriana and JR.’s. All of this bolsters 17th Street now vibrant and teeming with life on any day of the week.

There is practically no one left out of Downs’ vision. He’s actively pushing the District for dedicated and permanent community and housing space for LGBTQ seniors, a segment of our community too often overlooked. He’s worked tirelessly as an advocate for our trans community, earning a well-deserved endorsement from the unsinkable Ruby Corado and her life-saving operations at Casa Ruby.

Downs has a real plan for those in the District experiencing homelessness, advocating for a “Housing First” strategy in the city, a process that places those experiencing homelessness directly from the street to an apartment, bypassing the current delayed, cumbersome, and bureaucratic shelter/voucher process. And what District residents may not understand — is there are currently no coed shelters in the city, making those experiencing homelessness and who also are partnered reluctant to go into the shelter system alone. Downs is seeking to remedy this.

As a gay man, Downs has a unique perspective on what this city can provide, and who exactly needs these services. And frankly, It’s been too long since we’ve had queer representation on the Council. David Cantania and the late Jim Graham have been our only openly gay members in its entire history. Ward 2, arguably the gayest ward in the city, cutting through Dupont, Logan, and Georgetown, needs this representation more so than perhaps any other.

As a gay man who grew up poor, Downs is no stranger to struggle. Growing up in rural Missouri, Downs started working in the restaurant industry at the age of 13. This was not some cushy job for pocket money either, as Downs told me. But rather taken on to help support his family. All in all, it’s a background that has installed a useful empathy, in that Downs knows exactly what it takes for some District residents to make ends meet.

Downs moved to the District almost 10 years ago. And on why Washington remains so special to him, Downs told me that the city “has offered me so much,” adding that “D.C. has simply allowed me to be who I wanted to be.”

Downs, too, you should know, is no stranger to a fight. In 2013, he was diagnosed with stage 2 testicular cancer. He’s been cancer-free for six years now, “technically cured” he told me. But the experience instilled in him greater patience and determination toward life. He also got one of D.C.’s first medical marijuana cards. “Card 104,” he told me, to help with his cancer treatments. It has made him a supporter of Ballot Initiative 81, the only initiative on this year’s ballot seeking to decriminalize the possession and distribution of entheogenic plants and fungus.

The District of Columbia is the most physically fit, the most educated, and the gayest city in the country. It takes a special man to represent such a place. And many have come to recognize this. His list of his endorsements is long — including the Washington Teachers Union, Persist DC (formerly DC for Elizabeth Warren), the LGBTQ Victory Fund, and many of the restaurants in Downs’ contingency such as the Tabard Inn, Annie’s, and Agora. Downs’ main challenger is the incumbent, 28-year-old Brooke Pinto, who won the seat by just over 300 votes in a special election. And there’s a stark contrast to the Missouri-born Downs and the Connecticut-born Pinto. Downs’ campaign has been largely funded through small local donations, with Downs taking advantage of the city’s new Fair Elections Program, a funds-matching initiative meant to get big money out of politics. Pinto’s campaign has largely been funded by her family’s significant largess. There are donors for sure, many of whom are both wealthy and not residents of the District. And scanning the list of those included you’ll see the fervently anti-gay and anti-choice former Attorney General of Michigan, Trump Republican Bill Schuette. That is troubling to say the least.

There are many reasons Randy Downs is running, and many reasons why he deserves the seat. I’ve listed just a few here. But know that there’s a certain boldness to Downs. That a 34-year-old gay man from rural Missouri would somehow find his way to Washington, D.C., and then run for its Council. That’s daring. But he’s proven to be a man of quick and thoughtful action that let loose on our city, beyond his few blocks he currently oversees, will bring nothing but good things to the District.

Vote Randy Downs on Nov. 3.

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.



Pinto leads Council in working with Bowser to fight crime

We must not coddle young criminals or repeat offenders



D.C. Councilmember Brooke Pinto (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The time has come for the D.C. Council to join with Mayor Bowser and pass her crime bill on a permanent basis. Councilmember Brooke Pinto worked to pass part of it in July as emergency legislation. We must accept residents are scared. Some for good reason; others because of hyped media reporting. But the spike in crime is real, though not evenly spread across the city. Most don’t know crime fell from 2021 to 2022. But it is here today, and we must do everything we can to stem it.

We can no longer coddle young criminals or repeat offenders. We can’t say if only we could deal with the root causes of crime things would be OK. While we must do that, work to provide better housing, enough food, better education, and family life, let’s also recognize most young people in our community, including those who deal with some of the same issues as the criminals, are not turning to crime. How they deal with the hardships they face, manage to go to school, and live productive lives, should be a focus so we learn from them. Recently the D.C. attorney general awarded the eighth annual Right Direction Awards. Thirty young people were saluted for overcoming significant challenges on their road to achievement. We need to share more of their stories. 

How do they manage to stay away from guns and drugs? What allows them to succeed? It’s time for the media in D.C. — the Washington Post, and TV and radio stations — to report more comprehensively on youth in the city. For every crime story reported, find a positive story to tell. There are clearly more positive stories out there. It requires more work than following the police blotter. Send reporters into schools, recreation centers, libraries, houses of worship, and they will find the good stories.  

I have long advocated for working with Congress to set up internships for D.C. students in every congressional office; 535 kids a year would get experience, good connections, and a resume boost. If we are serious about this, and have a focus on our youth beyond those who commit crimes, everyone will benefit.  

Council Judiciary Committee Chair Brooke Pinto introduced several bills including the The Active Act. This legislation would further beef up penalties for gun crimes, creating a new offense for illegal disposal of a gun or ammunition while a person is fleeing police. Then increasing penalties for endangerment with a firearm and firing many bullets at once. At the same time, she looks to expand alternatives to incarceration, creating a task force to examine possibilities for diversion programs to avoid jail time for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses such as drug possession. The Active Act also creates more hurdles for pretrial release in cases involving people charged with violent or dangerous offenses. It would require judges to issue written explanations if they decide to release before trial a person charged with committing a violent offense.  

In response to the LGBTQ community, Pinto with Council members Christina Henderson, Robert White, Charles Allen, Vincent Gray, Matt Frumin, Janeese Lewis George, and Anita Bonds, introduced the “Transgender and Gender-Diverse Mortality and Fatality Review Committee Establishment Act of 2023.” Pinto wrote, “Although data are limited, some studies suggest transgender people are “twice as likely to die as cisgender people” due to “heart disease, lung cancer, HIV-related illness and suicide,” with trans women being “two times as likely to die” compared to cis men and “three times as likely” compared to cis women being disproportionately vulnerable to the aforementioned risks, as well as to violence and murder, with one in four trans women likely to be victimized by a hate-related crime.” It is anticipated the information from this committee will contribute important data and analysis, and provide important resources, for the National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention and for transgender and gender-diverse people across the country informing future strategies and interventions to drive down the disparate outcomes we are currently seeing. 

We must ensure the legal system is not a revolving door. That crimes committed with guns are punished seriously, and young people who commit violent crimes can be held without bail if they are ongoing serious threats to the community. Clearly, going easier on violent criminals is not working the way some hoped it would. Again, simply saying we will deal with it by getting to the root of crime will not deal with the crime we have today. It should happen, and will have an impact, but not right away, and we need to reduce crime today.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Is anyone else sick of Cassidy Hutchinson?

Trump loyalist feted by mainstream media after belated change of heart



Cassidy Hutchinson (Screen capture via USA Today YouTube)

Cassidy Hutchinson, the former Trump loyalist who belatedly turned on her boss, the man she “adored,” is this week’s mainstream media obsession, turning up multiple times on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, “The View,” and seemingly everywhere else. The only person getting more airtime this week is Taylor Swift, after urgent news broke that she’s dating an NFL player. (The “Today” show led twice with that very important story this week.)

For sure, Hutchinson’s testimony before the Jan. 6 committee in front of 13 million viewers took courage, given how many Trump supporters are inclined to violence against his critics. 

But Hutchinson remained loyal to Trump even after the Jan. 6 insurrection and planned to move to Florida for a job with him after he left the White House on Jan. 20. She initially took the advice of Trump’s attorneys to claim she didn’t recall the events leading up to the attack on the Capitol.

Some of us saw Trump for what he is back in 2015: a racist criminal and pathological liar, an ‘80s has-been and washed-up reality show host in orange makeup and a bad wig.

Where’s our party? 

Easily duped people like Hutchinson helped elect Trump and then supported him throughout all the too-numerous-to-mention scandals — mocking the disabled, insulting a Gold Star family, ridiculing war heroes, siding with Neo Nazis in Charlottesville, and on and on. Not to mention a botched response to a pandemic that killed more than one million Americans. Trump refused to wear a mask (we recently learned because it smeared his extensive makeup) and poked fun at Joe Biden for wearing one. 

Most of Trump’s die hard supporters jumped ship after Jan. 6, but not Cassidy Hutchinson. She even told Mark Meadows that she would “take a bullet” for Trump. She told “The View” that it was a “difficult moment” to watch former White House staffers denounce Trump after Jan. 6, due to her blind loyalty to him. She resisted her own mother’s pleas to abandon Trump and not move to Florida with him. She blamed Trump’s advisers for his bad decisions.

It all smacks of brainwashing. Anyone who is so weak willed that they are easily manipulated by the “charms” of Donald Trump has no business anywhere near the White House. Hutchinson has demonstrated not just bad judgement, but disastrous judgement. 

And now that she has a book to peddle, the mainstream media predictably line up to sing her praises and she spills all sorts of tea, from Rudy Giuliani allegedly sexually assaulting her to Mark Meadows burning White House documents in his office fireplace. She didn’t follow the parade of staffers who quit after Jan. 6 and she didn’t report Meadows for allegedly destroying government property. And now we’re supposed to shell out $30 for her vapid book about finally seeing the light, long after the rest of the world had figured out Trump for the incorrigible threat to democracy that he represents. 

Hutchinson deserves our gratitude for her Jan. 6 committee testimony. But nothing more. And the mainstream media have got to stop their practice of reckless revisionist history and praising the undeserving.

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Speaker Kevin McUseless calls for Biden impeachment inquiry

Stunt will backfire on Republicans in 2024



House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Congress has joined the world of the insane with Republicans calling to impeach any Democrat they disagree with. It is happening in Wisconsin to the new Supreme Court justice, and now lily-livered Kevin McUseless, facing threats from his MAGA members, announced an impeachment inquiry of President Biden.  

He could name no reason, and in fact during the nine months of Republicans investigating Biden, they have found none. Two weeks ago, he said he wouldn’t do this without a vote of the House, but moderate Republicans rightly figure this will all backfire on them, so wouldn’t agree to vote for it. Meanwhile the country is waiting for House Republicans to do their job and pass a budget, which they are unable to do. The result could close the government again. That will also backfire on them, as it will hurt so many people. 

So, what better time for Democrats, thinking independents, and any sane Republican left, those willing to put the country above their own party, and in the case of Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), even their own reelections, to just vote all these Republican clowns out of office? 

Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.), who will lead the inquiry on Biden, has for the nine previous months come up with zilch — nothing meriting impeachment or even further investigation. The IRS whistleblowers’ testimony he touted was contradicted by the FBI in sworn testimony. But then it isn’t Comer asking for this impeachment inquiry, it is Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, and the MAGAs holding McUseless hostage. Those two should be arrested for criminal behavior, charged with being an embarrassment to the country. They are joined by the likes of Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), recently thrown out of a Denver theater for groping her boyfriend, vaping, taking pictures, and recording a show, Beetlejuice. This is today’s Republican Party. 

Clearly, most elected Republicans are not willing to stand up to these jokers; all afraid of the Trump cult, aka the Republican Party. They are being threatened with a primary by Trump if they do. They would lose the primary, part of the reason Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) just announced he would not run again. The Trump cult controls roughly 35% of the party and you can’t win without them. But Trump-supported primary winners have shown they lose general elections. 

I am more confident than some in a Trump/Biden replay, Biden will win by 10 million votes this time, but not get one more electoral vote. It will again be about seven or eight states. If Republicans go ahead with this impeachment Democrats will win in 2024.

As to Hunter Biden, he should be punished for anything he did wrong, like any private citizen; whether it is not paying his taxes or lying on a gun permit application. President Biden should stop inviting Hunter to the White House, and curtail his public embrace of his son. It hasn’t helped his son, and is clearly not helping his own campaign, or for that matter any other Democrat. What he does in private is his business. The president has two homes, one in Wilmington, and one in Rehoboth Beach, where he can meet with, and entertain his son. I think the president owes that to the people he is asking to support him. He owes it to the party to not put himself in positions his opponents can take advantage of. 

Joe Biden has been a public servant since he was 28 years old, starting on the New Castle County Council, in Delaware, in 1970. He ran and won his Senate seat in 1972. He has never been accused of any impropriety until the Republicans decided they could make unfounded accusations for political gain. He has shown himself a decent and honest man. A man with empathy for those less fortunate; and a president with one of the most successful administrations in modern times. 

So McUseless, do your worst. Bend over for the MAGAs and get screwed. Hope it hurts. You have no balls as depicted in a recent funny meme where Barbie is shown on her knees in front of Ken, saying she finally understood; McUseless was the model for Ken. 

The country will survive McUseless and the congressional Trump cult and be stronger for it. The decent people of the country will end up winning and McUseless, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and their cronies, will be relegated to the dustbin of history with nary an asterisk to their names. If there is an asterisk it will read that they were useless, venal, and screwed up.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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