The Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest local LGBTQ political group, hosted the fifth and last of its series of LGBTQ candidate forums on May 11 by hosting candidates running for D.C. Council Chair and At-Large D.C. Council in the city’s June 21 Democratic primary.
Similar to the earlier forums, each of the candidates, including incumbent Council Chair Phil Mendelson and incumbent at-large Councilmember Anita Bonds, expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights and cited their records in office or their work in the community on various issues related to LGBTQ programs or projects.
Among those participating in the virtual forum broadcast via Zoom was ethics attorney and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Erin Palmer, who is challenging Mendelson for the Council Chair position.
The candidates challenging Bonds for the at-large Council seat included Lisa Gore, Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and former housing fraud investigator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Nate Fleming, former D.C. shadow U.S. House member and former D.C. Council staffer; and Dexter Williams, former Howard University government relations official, former D.C. Council staffer, and current election systems consultant.
Local community activists and small business owners Heidi Ellis and George Kerr, who served as co-moderators of the forum, asked the candidates questions on a wide range of topics, including the city’s efforts to curtail anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, city funding for local LGBTQ organizations that provide services for LGBTQ people in need and problems faced by LGBTQ elders.
Other questions touched on the topics of racial and economic justice, whether the candidates or incumbents have LGBTQ people on their Council or campaign staff; whether term limits should be put in place for members of the Council, and whether D.C. police and the Office of the federally controlled U.S. Attorney for D.C. were doing enough to address anti-LGBTQ violence.
Capital Stonewall Democrats President Jatarious Frazier stated at the forum that electronic voting had begun for members of the organization to decide on which candidates to endorse and that an announcement of the winners of the group’s endorsements would be made on or shortly before May 17. Frazier said that under the organization’s rules, a 60 percent majority vote for a candidate was needed for an endorsement to be given.
A full video recording of the May 11 forum can be accessed here:
A Washington Blade transcript of the candidates’ opening statements at the May 11 forum can be viewed below.
D.C. COUNCIL CHAIR RACE
Thank you, Capital Stonewall Democrats for doing this once again. Although I have to say this is the first time in my many years that this has been virtual. So, it’s a different experience. But I very much welcome this opportunity. For those of you who don’t know me, I was an ANC commissioner for 20 years before I was elected to the Council. I have been chair of the Council for the past 10 years.
I have an adopted daughter who graduated from the D.C. public schools with a major in art, which she is pursuing as her career. As an incumbent, I have a record, not just promises. And I am proud of my record. And my record has been very strong in the area with regard to issues that are important to the LGBTQ community.
Although it was a few years ago, when I chaired the Committee on the Judiciary, I got through the Council our legislation to make the District the sixth jurisdiction in the country to recognize marriage equality. And I got it through with a strategy that ensured that Congress wasn’t going to override what we did. As you know, they tried to do it many other times.
I have a very strong progressive record when it comes to these issues. When I chaired the Judiciary, I had hearings frequently with regard to hate crimes and enforcement against hate crimes. Most recently I introduced legislation to prohibit the gay panic defense in the District so that would not be used or misused with regard to hate crimes. As I said it’s not enough to just say one has progressive values or to put forth campaign promises but actually to see how I delivered over and over again on issues, like universal paid leave, where I not only rewrote the law but got it through the Council over the opposition of the mayor. And other issues as well. I guess my time is up. But I look forward to the questions and ask for your support.
Thank you so much. Thank you to the Capital Stonewall Democrats. My name is Erin Palmer. I use she/her pronouns. And I’m running for D.C. Council chairwoman. And a little bit about myself–I’m a mom to three children who are 11, nine and seven. They are very much a part of my civic and political life. And if you know me, you’ll get to know them as well. I fondly refer to them as the monsters because they’re chaotic.
My profession—I’m in ethics … most recently having worked on judicial ethics and institutional accountability for the federal judiciary. And I’m also an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Ward 4, where I have worked across commissions with commissioners citywide on systemic issues, including being an ally to the ANC Rainbow Caucus on some of the issues that they have worked on.
I’m running to bring energy, vision and compassion to D.C.’s challenges. And I think it is particularly important in light of the current national context. As we’ve seen, there was a recent release of a draft Supreme Court decision overturning Row v. Wade. And this is a reminder that we have to be constantly vigilant. We have to not take our rights and protections for granted. And we need to be dedicated at the local level to working very intentionally to support our communities with the most aid.
I bring a dedication to ethics in government and accountability. I’m the only Fair Elections candidate in this race, which means that I am rejecting corporate donations. And I’m accountable to and engaged with D.C. residents. I’m also the only candidate in this race with a D.C. Council accountability plan for a more modern ethical and accountable D.C. Council that ties specifically to the role of the chair in setting the procedures and governance structure for the Council.
I believe strongly in meeting basic needs as rights as a values-driven proposition. Things like housing, education and healthcare that lead with those values impacts how we budget, how we legislate, how we do oversight. And that doing those things keeps our community safe and strong. And I will lead with those values every day. Thank you so much.
AT-LARGE D.C. COUNCIL RACES
Well good evening, everyone. My name, of course, is Anita Bonds. And I am your at-large Council member on the D.C. Council. It is a pleasure to join with you this evening and to talk about our city that I have built my career on making sure that we, all of us, have an opportunity to continue to live here. It is vital that we hold ourselves and one another accountable for ensuring that we are allies, not only visibly but materialistically each and every day.
As an ally to the LGBTQ community, I have maintained a legislative agenda that consists of priorities demonstrated in my votes on legislation and in the budget that ensures the rights, protections and the livelihood of members of the LGBTQ community. While we work to achieve true equality and make sure that voices of the LGBTQ community are heard, especially considering the history of the violence that this community has endured for a number of years.
I made it a priority to include members of the LGBTQ community when making my appointments to the Police Reform Commission as an example. And I also have representation from the LGBTQ community on my staff, in fact, from the day when taking my seat on the Council. The senior LGBTQ community that has been historically neglected by society is one that always is dear to my heart. And I have spent a lot of energy trying to make things right. And I have also co-introduced and voted for care for LGBTQ seniors and—I ran out of time. Thank you.
Good evening, everyone, and thank you Capital Stonewall Democrats for hosting this important forum. I’m glad to be here tonight to discuss a little bit about myself and my campaign. And my name is Lisa Gore. I’m a D.C. public school mom. I am a current sitting ANC commissioner In ANC 34G serving both Ward 3 and Ward 4. And I recently retired as a federal investigator from the IG’s office from HUD, where I spent over 25 years investigating housing fraud and conducting oversight of a national housing program.
My campaign is basically centered around marginalized communities. And our campaign is centered around making D.C. a more just D.C. That’s everything from education, housing, environmental justice, aging and health, senior platform issues, and especially issues that are common in the LGBTQ community. I’m proud that I recently got the highest at-large rating with the GLAA endorsement of 8.5. And I think that really demonstrates the strength of our policy platform in this area.
There’s several members of my campaign team paid and unpaid that are members of the LGBTQ community. And you might know me as a candidate that has rainbow signs out there, all across D.C. So, this community has been in my heart from day one and the day I started this campaign designing my yard signs. I wanted to make sure that D.C. knows that I’m representative of this community. So, thank you. I’m looking forward to hearing the issues and talking to you tonight about my platform.
Good evening, everyone. My name is Nate Fleming. I’m running for D.C. Council at-large. And I’m not here to pander to you. I’m here to speak to you about the issues impacting the LGBT community. I’m a member of this club. I’ve been a longtime member of this club since 2010. A little bit about me—I grew up in this city. Single mother household in the middle of the crack epidemic.
But education is what took me to Morehouse College. I was able to become a lawyer. I studied at Berkeley Law. I got a full scholarship to Harvard Kennedy School. And I believe that when you get opportunities like that coming from my background, you have a responsibility to try to create opportunities for others. And that’s really what I worked to do. First, coming back to D.C. serving as D.C. shadow representative.
The first political endorsement I ever received was from the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the former name of the Capital Stonewall Democrats. I’ve been endorsed in every campaign that I’ve run. And in this race in 2014 I received more votes than any other candidate from the Capital Stonewall Democrats. That’s because this club has done so much work in the fight for equal rights, justice and fairness, particularly the fight in 2010 for marriage equality, where I stood directly with members of this club to fight for those rights with the Council.
And I believe these issues, these values that this club represents needs to extend and permeate throughout the city. Because the pandemic has exacerbated the issues that are important to the LGBT community, whether that’s housing, whether that’s job and employment, whether that’s healthcare. And we need more than ever bold, creative and thoughtful leadership that’s going to help us build back better and reverse these systems so they can work for everyday people.
So, that’s what I’m looking forward to doing. There’s some great programs that are out there like the transgender and gender nonconforming workforce program. Thirty percent of LGBT youth identify as homeless. We have to expand LGBTQ centered health care, mental health care specifically in this city. And I’m looking forward to implementing the HIV long term bill of rights. Those are the type of issues I’m going to work on as your next at-large Council member.
Thank you and good evening. My name is Dexter Williams. I’m running for at-large Council member. And I want to thank the Capital Stonewall Democrats for sponsoring tonight’s forum. As a candidate, I am very committed to the LGBTQ community, just as I am for all marginalized people across the city. What I want you to know is that this forum is no different for me because I am very sensitive to the inequities and struggles that are faced by many in the LGBTQ community, whether it is discrimination, crime and even murder impacting the trans community, double marginalization of race unemployment faced by the Black, Latino [inaudible] communities or the possible threats to marriage equality depending on just how far the Supreme Court and states will go in the future.
As a candidate, I am running on a theme of change. While D.C. is viewed as gay friendly, I know that housing discrimination, ageism, employment barriers and even in the [inaudible] issues still persist. Whether subtle discrimination such as the recent statement by Vincent Orange referring to Zach Parker as a candidate for Ward 5 Council member, who recently came out as gay, followed by Vincent Orange’s equally weak apology for his egregious—for his weak apology or the more egregious trans murders that took place last year.
No one should be made to feel less for being their true selves. I know we are [inaudible] in the city, but we can and should do better in housing, places of employment. We should do better and I’m going to make sure that we do. Thank you.
D.C. house with rainbow Pride flag set on fire
Investigators seeking help from public in search for suspect
The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department has classified as arson a June 19 fire at a two-story row house on the 1800 block of 8th Street, N.W. in the city’s Shaw neighborhood that had an LGBTQ rainbow Pride flag prominently displayed on the front of the house.
A Fire & EMS Department spokesperson said the fire was ignited in a detached wooden garage in the rear of the house accessible only through an alley, and fire investigators have yet to identify a suspect or a motive for what evidence shows was an intentionally set fire.
Although the front of the brick rowhouse where the Pride flag was displayed was not damaged, the fire in the garage spread to the rear of the house, destroying a wooden outdoor deck, and caused extensive damage to the kitchen, bathroom, and second floor bedroom. Fire investigators have sealed the house, requiring its three occupants to find a temporary residence as the investigation continues.
One of the three occupants of the house, who was the only one at home when the fire started at about 2 a.m., escaped without injury, according to sources who know the occupants.
“The Pride flag on the front of the house was present at the time of the fire,” Jennifer Donelan, director of communications for the Fire & EMS Department, told the Washington Blade. “We do not have any information, at this time, that suggests the arson was related to the presence of the flag, however we are still working on the case,” she said.
“We are aggressively working to identify a suspect and a motive,” Donelan said. “Until such time, we won’t be able to make a determination as to whether or not this was a hate crime.”
She said the Fire & EMS Department is seeking help from the public in its effort to identify one or more suspects responsible for the fire. Anyone with information that could be helpful to the investigation is asked to call fire investigators at 202-673-2776.
The fire at the D.C. house with the Pride flag took place less than a week after Baltimore police said a house in that city’s Waverly neighborhood on which “Pride décor” was displayed was set on fire on June 15, causing extensive damage to the house and nearby houses.
Baltimore police and fire department officials said a Pride flag on a house across the street from the house set on fire was also ablaze when firefighters arrived on the scene. Two men were hospitalized in critical condition and a woman was listed in serious condition because of the fire ignited in the house.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott released a statement saying fire department officials had yet to determine a motive for the fire.
“At this point, we cannot confirm that this was a hate crime,” Scott said. “However, my agencies will bring every appropriate resource to bear to get to the bottom of this tragic event,” he said. “I continue to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ community.”
D.C. officials vow to fight any GOP effort to ban abortion in nation’s capital
Without statehood, District vulnerable to congressional interference
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, and six members of the D.C. Council said they were united in fighting an attempt by Congress to ban abortions in the nation’s capital following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
At a press conference on the day the Supreme Court handed down its controversial decision, the D.C. officials pointed out that unlike any of the states, D.C. is vulnerable to the authority Congress has over the city under its limited Home Rule Charter, including the authority by Congress to pass a law to ban abortions in the city.
The press conference was held at the headquarters in Northeast D.C. of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., whose leaders said they would continue to provide abortion services in the District at the present time.
At this time, “Nothing has changed in Washington, D.C.,” Bowser said at the press conference. “Abortion remains legal, and women and girls we know, however, are worried,” the mayor said. “We are worried because we know we are vulnerable as a jurisdiction because of our lack of statehood.”
Norton told news media representatives and others attending the press conference that she expects at least some congressional Republicans to introduce legislation to ban abortions in D.C. now that the Supreme Court has given them the authority to do that.
“We are subservient still to the House and Senate,” she said. “I’m calling on the Congress to immediately codify the right to an abortion in federal law,” Norton said. “That is the very least the District needs to save this city from what will surely be an attempt by Republicans in Congress to move first on the District of Columbia to make sure that abortions are not available for women in our city.”
Norton added, “We always have more work cut out for us than other jurisdictions. But I assure you I am up to the task. There is a lot to fight for here, and I’m ready for that fight.”
Norton and Bowser also pointed out that Congress over a decade ago added a permanent provision to D.C.’s annual budget that prohibits the city from using any of its funds to pay for abortions either directly or through the funding of private organizations like Planned Parenthood that provide abortion related services.
With the prospect that Republicans might regain control of the House or Senate or both in the November congressional elections, D.C. officials said they were especially concerned about an attempt to ban or greatly restrict abortions in the city.
D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson said he was hopeful that such an attempt would be blocked by a Democratic-led filibuster in the Senate as well as by a presidential veto if President Biden or another Democrat continues to occupy the White House.
Bowser, Mendelson, and D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) also pointed out that the legal reasoning used by the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, especially the rationale given by Justice Clarence Thomas, could be used in future cases to overturn previous court rulings establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage and the right to intimate sexual acts between same-sex couples.
“We are about to enter into decades of darkness with this court that we have,” Cheh said at the press conference. “And don’t be fooled. We’re told, OK, it’s just abortion,” she said. “Don’t you believe it. The very reasoning of the case – and I spend a lot of time teaching constitutional law – means that many other liberties will be in jeopardy.”
LGBTQ rights advocates have pointed to the concurring opinion handed down by Justice Thomas on the day the court overturned Roe v. Wade that specifically calls on the high court to “reconsider” the 2003 ruling of Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned state laws banning sodomy between consenting adults, both gay and straight. Thomas’s concurring opinion also called for reconsidering the high court’s 2015 Obergefell ruling, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
Others speaking at the June 24 press conference included Laura Meyers, president of Planned Parenthood of the D.C. area, and D.C. Council members Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large), Christina Henderson (I-At-Large), and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2).
One of two gay candidates wins primary for D.C. Council
Bowser triumphs in Democratic race for third term as mayor
Gay D.C. Board of Education member Zachary Parker emerged as the clear winner in a seven-candidate race for the Ward 5 D.C. Council seat in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, placing him in a strong position to win the November general election and become the first openly gay member of the Council since 2015.
With nearly all of the votes counted shortly before midnight, Parker had 41.65 percent of the vote, with his closest rival, Faith Gibson Hubbard, receiving 23.41 percent. Former at-large and Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent Orange had 16.66 percent of the vote in his unsuccessful bid to return to the Council.
While Parker and his supporters celebrated his primary victory, gay former D.C. police officer Salah Czapary lost his bid for the Ward 1 D.C. Council seat to incumbent Councilmember Brianne Nadeau by a margin of 47.39 percent to 32.09 percent. A third candidate in the Ward 1 race, Sabel Harris, had 20.25 percent of the vote.
Parker had an advantage over Czapary, according to political observers, because he was running for an open seat after incumbent Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General rather than re-election to the Council. Incumbents, such as Nadeau in Ward 1, are considered to have a better chance of winning re-election.
But some political observers, based on reports of a private poll showing Czapary running close if not slightly ahead of Nadeau, thought Czapary had a good shot at unseating Nadeau. That prompted what Czapary’s supporters said was an onslaught of negative campaign attacks against Czapary. The attacks were based in part on a Washington City Paper story disclosing his campaign chairperson was a registered Republican and was associated with a conservative think tank that supports Donald Trump.
Czapary said he immediately secured the resignation of his campaign chair, saying he did not know he was a registered Republican. He also pointed out that as a gay Arab American he was a longtime Democratic Party supporter even though, as Nadeau supporters pointed out, he was an independent and did not become a registered Democrat until earlier this year.
The political attacks against Czapary continued, with large signs accusing him of having “Republican campaign leadership” being posted on light poles in Ward 1 as well as outside the nearby Number 9 gay bar in Ward 2, which Ward 1 residents are known to patronize.
“I’m sure negative campaigning has an effect,” Czapary told the Washington Blade at his election night gathering at the Duplex Diner in Adams Morgan, which drew more than 100 supporters.
“But we made a very essential effort to focus on the issues that voters want to talk about,” he said. “And you know, the election is over, and bygones are bygones. And I look forward to working with Councilmember Nadeau on some of the issues that resonated with voters that voted for me.”
With Nadeau and all the other candidates running in the June 21 Democratic primary – including Mayor Muriel Bowser and her three Democratic rivals — expressing support for LGBTQ issues or having long records of support — LGBTQ voters are believed to have based their vote on other issues such as public safety and affordable housing among other issues.
As of just before midnight on election day, Bowser had 49.86 percent of the vote, with rival mayoral candidates D.C. Councilmember Robert White (D-At-Large) receiving 38.51 percent and Councilmember Trayon White (D-Ward 8) receiving 9.8 percent. The fourth candidate in the mayoral race, James Butler, had 1.47 percent of the vote. The Associated Press earlier in the evening projected Bowser as the winner.
D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) had 54.82 percent of the vote compared to challenger Erin Palmer, who had 44.72 percent. In the four-candidate At-Large D.C. Council race, incumbent Anita Bonds was ahead with 38.33 percent of the vote, with rival Democrats Lisa Gore with 26.96 percent, Nate Fleming 26.45 percent, and Dexter Williams with 7.54 percent.
In the hotly contested Ward 3 D.C. Council race, in which nine candidates were on the ballot, Matthew Frumin was ahead with 38 percent of the vote. Eric Goulet was in second place with 31.01 percent. The remaining candidates, including three who dropped out and threw their support to Frumin after it was too late to have their names removed from the ballot, received less than 7 percent of the vote.
D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) was the clear winner in her bid for re-election, with 86.55 percent of the vote. Her two opponents in the primary, Wendy Hamilton and Kelly Mikel Williams received 6.15 percent and 6.36 percent, respectively.
In the race for D.C. Attorney General, attorney Brian Schwalb was ahead with 45.21 percent of the vote, with rival attorneys Bruce Spiva and Ryan Jones receiving 35.65 percent and 18.32 percent of the vote, respectively.
In the race for U.S. Representative, which is known as D.C.’s shadow representative to the U.S. House of Representatives, with no voting powers, incumbent Oye Owolewa was trailing challenger Linda Gray by a vote of 49.78 percent to 48.64 percent. Owolewa was the only Democratic incumbent on the primary ballot who was not substantially ahead of their opponent.
In a development that surprised some observers, the Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, endorsed Robert White over Bowser and backed challenger Erin Palmer over Council Chair Phil Mendelson. The group also endorsed Nadeau over gay challenger Czapary. In the Ward 5 race, Capital Stonewall Democrats endorsed Parker.
With the overwhelming majority of the city’s voters being registered Democrats, winners in the D.C. Democratic primary almost always win in the November general election. In the D.C. Republican primary on Tuesday, GOP candidates ran unopposed for the office of congressional delegate, mayor, Council chair, at-large Council member, and Council member for Wards 3 and 5.
Most political observers say that with Republicans having little or no chance of winning, Democrats running against each other in the primaries tend to divide along the lines of moderate Democrat versus progressive-left Democrat.
In Tuesday’s primary, Bowser, Mendelson, Bonds, and Czapary were considered representatives of the party’s moderates. Their opponents, including Ward 1 incumbent Nadeau, are considered representatives of the party’s progressive-left faction. Parker is also considered part of the progressive-left faction.
Parker won election in 2018 as the Ward 5 representative on the D.C. Board of Education. His fellow board members last year elected him as president of the board. He drew media attention earlier this year when he came out publicly as gay in a video message he posted on his Twitter page.
“I am very proud and confident in who I am and who I’ve been,” he said in his video message. “Many already know – my family, my friends, many community leaders,” he continued. “But I recognize that many may not know, and this may come as a surprise. So, I thought it was important for me to share my full self,” he said.
Lesbian activists Sheila Alexander-Reid and Courtney Snowden, who each held high-level positions in the Bowser administration in the recent past, were among the large number of LGBTQ activists who turned out for Bowser’s election night party at the Franklin Hall restaurant and nightclub. Alexander-Reid served as director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and Snowden served as Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity, the highest-level position an LGBTQ person has held in the D.C. mayor’s office.
Both told the Washington Blade they believe Bowser will continue her commitment to addressing the needs and concerns of all factions of the LGBTQ community, including those who did not vote for her on Tuesday.
“I think we need to come together and work with her,” said Alexander-Reid in referring to LGBTQ voters who supported Robert White. “And if they have some issues and concerns, bring them to her attention,” she said. “I can tell you firsthand when you bring issues to her attention, she takes care of it, and she addresses it.”
Snowden said the diversity reflected in the several hundred people attending the mayor’s election night event symbolized her ability to bring people together to solve problems.
“I am so happy to see the mayor get exactly what she deserves, four more years to make good on her promises she made to our city, to the LGBTQ community, for the District’s long-time residents, to African Americans, and to everyone,” Snowden said. “She is doing incredible work and the city has resoundingly said that she gets to do this for four more years to bring prosperity for all in every single ward of our city.”
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