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Lesbian candidate loses Hyattsville City Council race by 17 votes

Final results show low turnout in special election to fill vacant seat

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Lisbeth Melendez Rivera lost her race by just 17 votes.

Lesbian activist and diversity consultant Lisbeth Melendez Rivera lost by just 17 votes in a three-candidate special election on Tuesday to fill a vacant seat on the Hyattsville, Md., City Council.  

In what it said on Wednesday afternoon were the final certified results, the Hyattsville Board of Supervisors of Elections posted on its website that candidate Emily Strab had 280 votes, Melendez Rivera had 263 votes, and candidate Kelly Burello had 152 votes. Three votes were cast for write-in candidates, the election board posting said.

The Ward 2 seat on the 10-member Hyattsville Council in the Prince George’s County suburban city became vacant when the incumbent Council member, Robert Croslin, won election as mayor.

Melendez Rivera currently operates BQN Consulting, a firm she created to provide support services related to organizing, training and capacity building, according to the firm’s website. The website says that from 2014 to 2017 she served as Director of Latinx & Catholic Initiatives for the Human Rights Campaign, the D.C.-based national LGBTQ advocacy organization.

“I congratulated Emily,” Melendez Rivera told the Washington Blade Wednesday morning.

At that time, she said she remained hopeful that just a small number of mail-in ballots that may not have been counted on Tuesday night might emerge in her favor when the election board conducted its final tally of the votes later in the day on Wednesday or early Thursday.

But the final count released Thursday afternoon was identical to the preliminary count released Tuesday night, with winning candidate Strab receiving just 17 more votes than second-place finisher Melendez Rivera.

Melendez Rivera said she portrayed herself as the most progressive of the three candidates running for the nonpartisan City Council seat in a city that many consider to be one of the most progressive jurisdictions in the Washington metro area. Residents starting at age 16 and non-citizen immigrants are allowed to vote in local elections.

Like Melendez Rivera, Strab, a former teacher and school administrator, and Burello, who has worked as a workplace diversity trainer, each expressed support for Hyattsville’s diverse population, including racial minorities and immigrants.

The 698 total votes cast for the candidates plus what the election board lists as 3 “under votes” brought the total vote to 701 in the special election. That’s considered a low turnout for the Ward 2 election district that has a little over 2,000 registered voters.

Melendez Rivera said she plans to run again for the Ward 2 Council seat. The Hyattsville Council consists of two members for each of the city’s five wards. The second of the two Ward 2 Council seats is up for election in 2023, but Melendez Rivera said she will not run if the incumbent, Danny Schaible, decides to run for re-election.

“But I will definitely run in 2025,” she said, against then incumbent Strab, if Strab runs for re-election in 2023.

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Maryland

Two new gay Md. delegates outline agenda

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From left, Kris Fair and Joseph Vogel (Photos courtesy of Kris Fair and Joseph Vogel)

The two openly gay men who were elected to the Maryland House of Delegates last week spoke with the Washington Blade about their campaigns and what they plan to do once they’re in office.

State Del.-elect Joseph Vogel will represent District 17 in Montgomery County. He said he is ready to bring a new direction to Annapolis.

“In this campaign, we listened,” Vogel said. “Now I’m bringing their voices to Annapolis and gonna fight for the issues that are most important to the folks here in my district.”

Vogel attended community events, held house parties and even went door to door to understand what his voters wanted out of him. 

One of his most memorable moments from the campaign came after his election.

He was immediately overwhelmed with messages from people across all of Maryland and across the U.S., saying how much his election means to them. Having an openly gay Latino elected official — Vogel was born in Uruguay and came to Maryland with his family when he was 3-years-old — has brought representation into politics that hasn’t previously been there. 

“I think now people are really excited and really hopeful about my time in office, I’m just committed to making sure that I don’t let them down and that I work hard and really fight the good fight,” Vogel said.

Now that he’s been elected to office, Vogel’s agenda includes addressing mental health issues in school, especially the lack of mental health professionals. He also hopes to address climate change.

Vogel hopes that, along with the issues he’s tackling first, he leaves office as a delegate who was known to be accessible and approachable.

“I’m going to fight for you, no matter your age. I’m going to fight for you, no matter your sexuality,” he said. “I’m going to fight for you regardless of your race, religion, ethnicities, where you live. I’m in this to fight for our entire community.”

Kris Fair is first openly gay lawmaker from Western Md.

State Del.-elect Kris Fair has had a long career in the world of politics and nonprofits, including as executive director of Frederick Center, an advocacy and support organization for LGBTQ people. His campaign to represent District 3 in Frederick County proved successful.

This victory did not come without hard work. 

Fair knocked on 11,500 doors with now state Sen.-elect Karen Lewis Young during the primaries and then turned around to hit another 5,000-6,000 once the general election campaign began. 

“There are so many people that are at the door that are just like ‘I feel so disconnected from the process, I feel like there’s nobody here to represent me,’” Fair told the Blade. “So instead of shoving the issues down and trying to force them to tell me whether or not they’re going to vote for me, which is an incredibly awkward 30 seconds, instead of just trying we tried to open up dialogue and we had an incredible response rate.”

Fair did not have the same response to his sexual orientation as Vogel. 

While Vogel saw the conversation around it as an addition to his campaign, Fair’s sexual orientation became a major talking point during his conversations with parents about the Frederick County Board of Education. Discussing things like the LGBTQ-specific curriculum with which that parents have an issue became a big pill for Fair to swallow because he had to repeatedly hear attacks against his sexual orientation. 

Luckily, not all moments on Fair’s campaign were as solemn. 

Returning from an LGBTQ conference in Dallas, Fair sat next to an Indian man on the plane and began to talk with him. He learned this stranger’s life story: He was in the U.S. on a work visa and was visiting his sister in Frederick.

Fair offered the man a ride once they landed. 

“His sister heard that and said, ‘You’re about to get in some psycho’s car’ and my husband heard that and said, ‘You’re about to put a psycho in your car,’” Fair said.

Arriving at his new friend’s home, Fair unknowingly walked into a 60th birthday celebration for the man’s grandfather. He was invited inside. After standing around and chatting for some time, he really started to understand how much he was missing by not having constant communication or conversations with his voters, he never had the opportunity to create the vulnerability or break down the walls. 

Moving past elections, Fair is ready to tackle hard issues like having a comprehensive constituent service system, giving citizens access to government funded entities like the DMV and help these people get what they need. He also hopes to implement an output treatment model in Maryland, giving those struggling with mental health issues an option to remove themselves from their current home and move into a treatment center. 

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Maryland

Two gay men elected to Md. House of Delegates

LGBTQ incumbents across state won re-election

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From left, Kris Fair and Joseph Vogel (Photos courtesy of Fair and Vogel)

Two openly gay men won their Maryland House of Delegates races on Tuesday.

Kris Fair won his race in District 3 in Frederick County with 22.78 percent of the vote. He is the first openly gay man from Western Maryland elected to the General Assembly. 

Joseph Vogel will represent District 17 in Montgomery County after he won with 26.59 percent of the vote.

State Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore County) and state Dels. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery County), Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery County) and Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County) won their respective races.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk Karen Bushell, who is a lesbian, won re-election. Montgomery County Council Vice President Evan Glass won an at-large seat with 19.33 percent of the vote.

Bisexual woman makes history in Prince George’s County

Krystal Oriadha on Tuesday became the first openly bisexual person elected to the Prince George’s County Council when she won her District 7 race with 95.33 percent of the vote. Pamela Boozer-Strother, a member of the Prince George’s County Board of Education, won re-election with 79.16 percent of the vote.

Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane won re-election.

April Christina Curley lost her race for the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners. She would have been the first openly genderqueer person elected in the city if she had won.

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Maryland

Md. to legalize recreational marijuana

Question 4 passed by 65.51-34.49 percent margin

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(Photo courtesy of NORML)

Voters in Maryland on Tuesday approved the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state.

Question 4, which sought to amend the Maryland Constitution, passed by a 65.51-34.49 percent margin.

Maryland will join Virginia, New Jersey, California, Colorado and more than a dozen other states that have legalized recreational marijuana. The nation’s capital has also legalized recreational marijuana.

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