Choosing a Candidate

LGBT residents are hoping the next Ward 5 councilmember will be an ally and advocate

A month out from May’s special election to replace former Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. (D), Ward 5 residents are doing some candidate-shopping.

The special election, scheduled for May 15, features 11 different candidates. And LGBT residents, in particular, are hoping they can find a candidate who will engage them and listen to their concerns – preferably a councilmember with a strong sense of ethics.

”All I want is a genuine, gay marriage-equality platform, as well as honest collegial representation on the council,” says lesbian Edgewood resident Jane Lincoln. ”Someone who won’t engage in ‘turf wars’ or personal squabbles with other councilmembers. Is that too much to ask?”

The seat on the 13-member D.C. Council opened up in January, after Thomas, the sitting councilmember, pleaded guilty to embezzlement and tax fraud following a suit by D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan that alleged Thomas had taken more than $350,000 in city funds earmarked for youth sports programs.

Lincoln says she’s seen the candidates in the past few months canvassing the ward, trying to gather petition signatures to get on the ballot, knocking on doors and hanging campaign posters.

”There was a while when you’d stumble and you’d hit a Ward 5 candidate,” she says. Prior to the official certification of petitions, and a number of withdrawals, there were more than 20 candidates vying for the vacancy.

Lincoln says there are a lot of qualities she’s looking for in a candidate, but is almost afraid to demand for fear that she may be disappointed, as she was when Thomas’s scandal broke.

She says even though the District has already passed marriage equality, candidates’ stances on whether they supported the law and would uphold it is very important to her. She adds she’s leaning toward Kenyan McDuffie.

Most of the candidates who spoke with Metro Weekly support marriage equality, including McDuffie, Kathy Henderson and Tim Day. But even those who said they had concerns about the law when it passed, including Delano Hunter and Ron Magnus, or who say they did not have an opinion on the law, like Frank Wilds, have said publicly that they will defend it and oppose any attempt to repeal it.

Candidate Ruth Marshall, who supports marriage equality, said that when the law was passed in 2009, she was unaware that the District’s Human Rights Code could prevent a referendum on the topic. But even though she supported a referendum, Marshall says she believes a majority of D.C. voters would have chosen to uphold or approve the law.

”We live in a different time, when there’s more familiarity, more knowledge of the LGBT community,” she says. She says a lot of the pushback against the marriage-equality law was not so much anti-gay animus as a feeling that voters were being excluded from the political process.

Transgender activist Ruby Corado, of the DC Trans Coalition (DCTC), says a number of LGBT individuals live in Ward 5 and want someone who will be accessible and open to listening about their concerns. Corado says she has been concerned about several attacks on transgender women of color that have occurred in the eastern part of the District, and would like to see the next councilmember actively address both anti-LGBT violence and the response of the Metropolitan Police Department to bias crimes.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com