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Three challengers took longtime members by surprise at Monday night’s meeting of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, defeating the club’s president, Lateefah Williams, and two candidates on her slate in the club’s Dec. 3 officer elections.
The candidates on the insurgent slate and many of their supporters became members of the city’s top LGBT political organization within the past week, prompting some in the club to complain of the election being ”hijacked.”
Fueled by a coalition of newer members that included straight allies, members of the labor community, LGBT people of color – particularly the Asian/Pacific Islander-American community – and younger voters, the slate won three narrow victories, electing Martin Garcia president over Williams by a 47-45 vote; Angela Peoples as vice president for legislative and political affairs over Jon Mandel, a two-year Stein Club member who works for Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), by a vote of 47-44; and Vincent Villano for vice president for administration over Hassan Naveed, another newcomer to Stein who was selected by Williams to run on her slate due to his work as vice chair of the anti-hate crime group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), by a vote of 48-41.
Incumbent Secretary Jimmie Lithuli and incumbent treasurer Barrie Daneker, both unopposed, were re-elected by acclamation.
The meeting, which was relatively civil during candidates’ initial statements, turned contentious just ahead of the vote. Based on rules adopted at the beginning of the meeting, only 15 minutes were allotted to members to ask questions of the candidates for the contested races, who then had a limited amount of time to answer.
Throughout the question-and-answer period, club members and candidates alike took veiled shots at one another, either making statements that questioned newer members’ involvement with and commitment to the District’s LGBT community or contrasting the experience of newer members in other realms for the purpose of criticizing Stein, whether for failing to stay up-to-date on social media or seeming to imply that Stein had failed to form coalitions with like-minded liberal groups.
At one point, Stein member Cartwright Moore stood up and asked the newcomer candidates why they were choosing to join and run for leadership positions, asking whether they were motivated by ”inspiration or opportunism.”
”I’m an old Southerner, and we certainly know what carpetbaggers look like,” Moore said.
But Stein member and Ward 2 representative for the State Board of Education Jack Jacobson took issue with the tone and line of questioning, saying, ”It feels like we’re attacking new people who are members, who want to be involved and who have a lot of energy.”
Following the candidate-question period, the group’s members descended into squabbles, with many talking over one another and arguing over procedure.
Daneker, along with Juilus Agers, the outgoing vice president for legislative and political affairs, and Jerome Hunt, the outgoing vice president for administration, ruled some attempting to speak as out of order, and put a request for five additional minutes of candidate time to a vote by the full club, which was overwhelmingly rejected.
After the voting, several longtime Stein members expressed shock or anger. Several also took issue with club bylaws that require Stein members to be active for 30 days in order to be eligible to participate in a candidate-endorsement forum, but do not require the same waiting period to join and vote in officer elections.
”I saw new faces and a lot of old faces that I hadn’t seen in a while, so it could have gone either way,” Stein member Ronald King said of the Williams-Mandel-Naveed slate’s defeat. ”But with the announcement that so many people just joined, I guess that’s why. We’ll see what happens.”
Stein member and local transgender activist Jeri Hughes said she was skeptical of the newer members and felt that the insurgent slate had essentially ”rigged” the elections by registering people as members at the last minute. She said she was also unfamiliar with their work on behalf of the LGBT community.
”They should have joined our organization and worked with us while we were there, not by electing new leaders,” Hughes said of the new members. ”I don’t know these people. I don’t know what they’ve done.”
But Gregory Cendana, a Stein member since January who successfully ran his own insurgent campaign against sitting Councilmembers Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) to net the top number of votes to become a delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention in March, attributed the victory of the insurgent slate to a desire by several newer Stein members to be involved and engaged in helping improve the lives of the District’s LGBT community.
”I think that the new members are committed to holding the newly elected officers accountable, as well as finding ways to build and strengthen coalitions, not only within Stein, but with other groups throughout the city,” Cendana said.
Garcia, the newly elected president, said he was ”humbled and excited” to be chosen to lead the club.
”I look at Gertrude Stein Club as an organization that can do so much, and I kind of want to build on what they’ve already been doing, and take it to the next level,” he said. ”The folks that got elected tonight I think have the background, the relationships and the skill level to do so.”
He also said he would personally hold his supporters accountable for being regular, active members of the organization who can contribute their own skills and talents to improving the Stein Club to make it a more effective political organization. For instance, he said, he hopes that Stein will be able to leverage its resources to become a bigger player in the D.C. area by building relationships with other LGBT and liberal organizations in Maryland and, particularly, in Virginia, which will hold elections in 2013.
But Garcia also said he realized there would need to be bridge-building with longtime members of the club after such a closely contested election.
”I know that I’m going to have to earn some respect from some folks,” Garcia said. ”I understand that. What I do hope is that they give me the opportunity. I hope that my leadership and dedication to this organization will earn their respect, their trust and their friendship. And I’m definitely going to make it a point to foster relationships with those people, because this organization can’t start anew; it needs to build on what it already has. And I’m going to need them to help make sure we don’t make mistakes that were made in the past, and to move the Stein Club forward.”
Williams, an area native who has been involved with many LGBT, liberal and Democratic causes throughout her life, was gracious in defeat. When asked about her future plans, she said she was going to take some time to figure out what her next steps would be, but vowed to continue her involvement with the District’s LGBT political community.
”I’m definitely going to be very involved, both politically, as well as in the LGBT community, and that’s not going to change,” Williams told Metro Weekly. ”I wish the new leadership well.”