Priming the Primaries

With Democratic demographics, D.C.'s unofficial Election Day is just weeks away

In one of the peculiarities of the District, the Democratic primary Sept. 14 is largely the local equivalent of what other jurisdictions nationwide will experience in November’s elections. After all, while the city is famous for “taxation without representation,” it’s also famous for an overwhelmingly Democratic populace.

Accordingly, once D.C. Democrats vote in their September primary, there will be little doubt left about who will be elected mayor – and other seats – come November. And with the deadline for nominating petitions for a spot on the primary ballots having passed July 7, though a challenge period runs through July 19, the field is taking shape quickly.

Where LGBT Democrats are concerned, eyes have been on the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, whose members have made a series of endorsements, including Monday’s for Council chair and the At-Large Council seat in play.

“With 80 percent of the vote, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club has endorsed [Councilmember] Kwame Brown (D-At Large),” declared club President Jeffrey Richardson, pointing to the Council chair race, at Town nightclub the evening of July 12 during the club’s monthly meeting. Former Councilmember Vincent Orange also sought the chair endorsement, but it’s likely comments he made during his 2006 mayoral run quashed his chances with the club, as illustrated by a question posed at the meeting by Lane Hudson.

“You said, specifically, that anyone who supported marriage equality was ‘morally unfit’ to hold public office,” Hudson said during a questioning of the candidates. “How could you possibly say someone would be morally unfit to hold office?”

An endorsement from David Mariner, executive director of the area’s LGBT community center, The Center, who told the audience that Orange spent hours with him recently discussing LGBT concerns, was apparently not enough to negate the past offense.

The At-Large endorsement between incumbent Phil Mendelson and challenger Clark Ray was far closer, with the former’s long-standing reputation as a legislative champion and ally of the LGBT community, and the latter’s deep roots as an LGBT community member and longtime civil servant. Though a much closer contest, Mendelson still won the endorsement with 62 percent of the vote. Notably, Michael Brown, D.C.’s shadow senator, also took the stage as a declared At-Large candidate, though he granted he had no expectation of securing the club’s endorsement. Primarily, he said, he’s simply taking whatever opportunity he can to promote statehood for the District.

Prior to Monday’s meeting, the club already made a series of endorsements: incumbent Eleanor Holmes Norton for delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives; Council Chair Vincent Gray, who is challenging Mayor Adrian Fenty; incumbent Jim Graham, who is gay, for Ward 1 Council seat; Ward 3 incumbent Councilmember Mary Cheh, who is running unopposed in the primary; Ward 5 incumbent Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr.; Ward 6 incumbent Councilmember Tommy Wells; and challenger Nate Bennett-Fleming, who is trying to unseat Mike Panetta in the race for shadow representative.

The next step for Stein Democrats, the largest LGBT political club in the city, is turning those endorsements into action. At Monday evening’s meeting, members got the ball rolling by agreeing to initial donations to endorsed candidates, ranging from $700 to Gray to $100 for Cheh.

Plus, says Richardson, “After the primary we’ll do [Advisory Neighborhood Commissions] candidate training with the Victory Fund.” He adds that while the club won’t be making any official endorsements in the city’s ANC races, the club will promote LGBT Democrats running for those seats.

But while the Democrats may be the biggest game in town, they’re not the only one. Just ask Robert Turner, president of the D.C. chapter of Log Cabin Republicans.

“This is the first time, I believe, we have candidates running in each of the wards that are up,” he says of the gay Republican club’s 2010 endorsements.

The chapter has endorsed Marc Morgan in the Ward 1 race, David Hedgepeth in Ward 3, Tim Day in Ward 5 and Jim DeMartino in Ward 6. Turner adds that in this field of four, half are gay: Morgan and Day.

“They all support marriage equality as it is here in the District, and we want to make sure that the LGBT community is aware of that,” he says. “We’re going to be walking with the candidates and knocking on doors.”

The District’s third recognized party, D.C. Statehood Greens, will also hold a Sept. 14 primary to select candidates. Although very LGBT-affirming, the local Green party does not have a specifically LGBT component offering endorsements.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.