November 4, 2020 at 10:03 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Five of six gay candidates lose bid for D.C. Council, school board
Brooke Pinto, gay news, Washington Blade, DC elections
Brooke Pinto won big over gay challenger Randy Downs in Ward 2.

Gay education advocate Allister Chang has won his race for a seat on the D.C. State Board of Education for Ward 2, becoming the only one of six openly gay candidates running in Tuesday’s D.C. election to emerge as a winner for seats on the nonpartisan school board and the D.C. Council.

According to updated returns released by the D.C. Board of Election at 12:21 p.m. Wednesday, Chang received 49.4 percent of the vote in a four candidate race, beating challengers Sarah Mehrotra, who received 33.2 percent, James Harnett, who received 11.9 percent, and Christopher Etesse, who received 4.7 percent of the vote.

Chang will replace incumbent gay Board of Education member Jack Jacobson, who chose not to run for re-election and who endorsed Chang.

In what some political observers considered a hotly contested race, incumbent D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) defeated gay Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Randy Downs by a margin of 68.9 percent to 20.2 percent in a four candidate race for the Ward 2 Council seat, according to returns released by the election board shortly after midnight. Downs ran as an independent.

The other two candidates, independent Martin Miguel Fernandez and Statehood Green Party candidate Peter Bolton received 7.1 percent and 2.8 percent respectively.

Pinto, who has expressed strong support for LGBTQ issues, is a political newcomer to D.C. and won the Democratic primary in June by 379 votes in a multi-candidate race. Downs, who has been active in Ward 2 affairs for at least 10 years, received support from a wide range of community activists and small businesses, including a number of the restaurants and bars in the Dupont Circle area. He raised over $168,000 since entering the Ward 2 race in July, surpassing the amount Pinto raised for that four-month period.

Pinto entered the race in February and also received a number of prominent endorsements, including from some LGBTQ activists and from the Washington Post. Although many observers considered the 2020 election to be different from past city elections, Pinto’s victory continues the longstanding trend in which the Democratic Party nominee for the Ward 2 Council seat has won in every general election since D.C. began its home rule government in 1974.

Two other gay candidates who entered a record 23-candidate race for two at-large D.C. Council seats up for election this year also lost their races. Joe Bishop-Henchman, who serves as chair of the D.C. Libertarian Party and ran as a Libertarian, finished in 15th place with 3,786 votes or 0.88 percent of the vote.

Gay Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Alexander “Alex” Padro, who ran as an independent, finished in 18th place with 3,049 votes or 0.7 percent of the vote, according to the Board of Elections returns released at midnight.

Incumbent Council member Robert White, the Democratic nominee, came in first place with 111,657 votes or 25.8 percent of the vote. Former Council staff member Christina Henderson, who ran as an independent, finished in second place to capture the second of the two at-large seats up for election, with 55,048 votes or 15.2 percent.

Both White and Henderson have been strong, longtime supporters of LGBTQ rights. Henderson worked with LGBTQ activists on various issues while working for Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large), who chose not to run for re-election to the seat that Henderson will fill in January.

The other two unsuccessful gay candidates ran for an at-large seat on the State Board of Education in a six-candidate race. Gay former teacher and longtime education advocate Mysiki Valentine finished in third place with 40,129 votes or 19.2 percent of the vote. Gay Howard University Political Science Department Chairman Ravi K. Perry finished in fifth place with 22,844 votes or 10.9 percent.

Both Valentine and Perry received more votes than President Donald Trump received in the D.C. presidential election contest against former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump received 14,022 votes or 5.2 percent in D.C. as of the release of the 12:21 p.m. returns by the D.C. Board of Elections. Biden received 252,328 votes or 92.6 percent in D.C.

The winner in the race for the at-large school board seat, Jacque Patterson, received 67,854 votes or 32.4 percent. Patterson has expressed support for LGBTQ issues and like Valentine and Perry has promised to be an advocate for policies that address the needs of LGBTQ students in the city’s public school system.

In other D.C. races, incumbent D.C. Council members Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8) won re-election by wide margins. Ward 4 D.C. Council candidate Janeese Lewis George, who defeated incumbent Council member Brandon Todd in the June Democratic primary, beat Statehood Green Party candidate Perry Redd on Tuesday by a margin of 91.98 percent to 5.2 percent.

Also winning re-election by a wide margin in an eight candidate race was D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who received 86.9 percent of the vote. Norton is a longtime LGBTQ rights supporter who has advocated for LGBTQ issues in Congress.

Candidates from the Statehood Green Party, Libertarian Party, and Socialist Workers Party along with four independent candidates ran against Norton in Tuesday’s election. None of them received more than 3 percent of the vote.

Also winning re-election by a wide margin was Democrat Paul Strauss, the D.C. shadow U.S. Senator, who has been a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights. Democrat Oye Owolewa won election to the D.C. shadow U.S. Representatives seat which became vacant when longtime incumbent Franklin Garcia ran unsuccessfully for the at-large D.C. Council seat.

By a lopsided margin of 76.3 percent to 23.7 percent, D.C. voters approved Initiative 81, a ballot measure calling for the partial decriminalization of psychotropic plants for the use of treatment for conditions such as post- traumatic stress disorder, depression, and other mental health related conditions. LGBTQ activists were divided over the ballot measure, with some supporting it but few if any actively opposing it.

In a message to his supporters, Downs said he will continue to stay involved in issues related to Ward 2 and the city as a whole.

“Over the past three months we built a grassroots campaign for bold, ethical leadership beyond what anyone thought possible,” he said in a statement released on Wednesday. “Our campaign was powered by the largest network of grassroots volunteers Ward 2 has seen,” he continued. “From social justice leaders, to LGBTQ advocates, to small businesses, and those fighting for safe street, the residents making up our grassroots network stood for policies that will create a Ward 2 that is more equitable and accessible for everyone.”

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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