In a little-noticed development, a gay man who has been an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump’s re-election and a staunch Republican is running for an Advisory Neighborhood Commission seat in the Anacostia neighborhood in Ward 8 against lesbian activist and longtime Ward 8 community advocate Aiyi’nah Ford and two other candidates.
Both Ford, a lifelong D.C. resident, and Isaac Smith, a native of Charlotte, N.C., who says he moved to D.C. last year, acknowledge that ANCs are nonpartisan positions and say they are focusing on local neighborhood issues in their respective campaigns for the ANC 8A06 seat.
Ford and Smith are among at least 47 LGBTQ candidates running for ANC seats in each of the city’s eight wards in the Nov. 3 D.C. election.
Although Smith is running on neighborhood issues such as public safety, trash collection, support for small businesses, and a lack of grocery stores in the Anacostia neighborhood, the local online publication DCist reported in an Oct. 14 story that Smith in early 2017 became involved with an effort to preserve a Confederate monument in Charlottesville, Va.
The effort to prevent a statue of Robert E. Lee from being taken down was organized by avowed white supremacist Jason Kessler, who a short time later emerged as the lead organizer of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. The rally quickly turned violent and resulted in the death of a female counter protester who was struck by a car driven by one of the “alt right” supporters of the rally.
Smith told the Washington Post in an August 2018 interview and told DCist earlier this month that he broke off his association with Kessler and the Unite the Right rally before the rally took place when it became clear to him that Kessler and others promoting the rally were espousing extremist views that he strongly disagrees with.
“The final straw with Jason Kessler was his open and deliberate embrace of white identity politics, which I found unacceptable and refused to go along with,” Smith told the Post.
But DCist reported in its Oct. 14 story that Smith currently shares a house in Anacostia with D.C. resident Suzzanne Monk, who has expressed support on social media for the controversial group Proud Boys, which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group. According to DCist, Monk hosts a Facebook Live show called Trump Talk US and Smith has appeared on the show to discuss his ANC candidacy.
Smith told the Blade he should be judged on his own views, not those of Monk and certainly not the views of Kessler.
“We are roommates,” he said. “But the fact is she drove all over D.C. looking for neighborhoods to live in and she decided Anacostia was the neighborhood she wanted to live in,” Smith told the Blade. “And so whatever accusations people may throw at her there are lots of places we could all live but this is the neighborhood we have chosen to live in and this is the neighborhood that we have chosen to invest in.”
Ford, who is the founder and executive director of the Anacostia-based youth and family advocacy group The Future Foundation, has said Smith’s background and political views make him unsuitable for an ANC position in the majority black Ward 8.
“It is rather telling that someone with his resume and his affiliation could even find themselves on a ballot in Ward 8,” Ford told DCist. “It sends a very bold message to residents that the climate here is changing,” she said, adding that newcomers to the neighborhood like Smith want to “make decisions in a community that they are not even culturally competent to engage.”
Smith said his support for Trump should not overshadow his commitment to local community issues. But he said that if Trump were to win election to a second term his Republican Party ties could play a role in persuading the Trump administration to provide additional financial resources to D.C. neighborhoods, including those in Ward 8.
Ward 8 community activists Kristina ‘K’ Leszczak and Robin McKinney are also running for the 8A06 seat. The incumbent for the seat, Tyon Jones, is not running for re-election. Although most neighborhood observers consider it unlikely, some say that in a four-candidate race, if the vote is split between Ford, Leszcak, and McKinney, there’s a chance that Smith could emerge as the winner.
The ANC Rainbow Caucus, a coalition of LGBTQ ANC members, released a list of the LGBTQ ANC candidates earlier this month and Smith was not on the list. Rainbow Caucus Vice Chair Monika Nemeth, who’s running unopposed for her ANC seat in Ward 3, said the caucus sent an email to all of the ANC candidates running throughout the city inviting them to disclose whether they want to be identified as an out LGBTQ candidate. Ford is among at least 47 candidates that responded to the invitation and was included on the list of LGBTQ candidates.
Smith told the Blade he never received any communication from the Rainbow Caucus. But he acknowledged that the email address that the D.C. Board of Elections has for him was incorrect, suggesting that the Rainbow Caucus could have sent its email message to that nonworking address.
Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou
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