With the April Democratic primary fast approaching, some of D.C.’s LGBT organizations are in the midst of vetting candidates for mayor and D.C. Council seats.
The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), a nonpartisan group that rates candidates for their actions on various policies affecting the lives of LGBT residents, released its biennial ratings on Feb. 13. GLAA grades candidates on a scale of -10 to 10 based partly on responses to a questionnaire that outlines the organization’s list of issued, as outlined in its 2014 policy brief, ”Building on Victory.”
Points are awarded or deducted for agreement or disagreement with GLAA’s view on an issue, whether the candidate demonstrates a substantive grasp of the issues, any recent advocacy on priorities of the LGBT community, and their records.
In the mayor’s race, GLAA rated all announced candidates from the city’s four major parties, with incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray coming out on top with a perfect rating of 10. In its write-up of Gray, GLAA noted, ”Mr. Gray’s accessibility, responsiveness, and follow-through have made him highly effective on LGBT issues.” The group also cited Gray’s advocacy on behalf of the District’s transgender population and ”firm understanding” of the issues.
Close behind was Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who earned a 9.5 for his record on the D.C. Council, dedication to good government causes, and, in particular, his shepherding of various pieces of pro-LGBT legislation through the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, which he chairs. Following Wells was Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who earned an 8 rating for his strong questionnaire responses and long D.C. Council record, with GLAA noting that Evans has the ”longest record of support of any candidate.”
Entrepreneur Andy Shallal, who has no legislative record but has supported LGBT groups, earned a 6, while Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) earned a 5.5. Reta Jo Lewis earned a 4.5, Statehood-Green Party nominee ”Faith” earned a 3.5, Councilmember Vincent Orange (D-At Large) earned a 3, and gay Libertarian Party nominee Bruce Majors earned a 2. Carlos Allen, best known as a rap artist, accused White House party crasher, and a past candidate for mayor, did not return a questionnaire and received a zero rating.
While GLAA does not make endorsements, both Gray and Wells took to their campaign websites to trumpet their high ratings. Gray also used the post to tout his work on various LGBT initiatives related to marriage equality, public safety, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and youth bullying. He also quoted his re-election kickoff speech in which he referred to the diversity of D.C.’s community, including LGBT people, in keeping with his oft-cited ”One City” theme.
Wells, writing on Feb. 14, commemorated Valentine’s Day by sharing his rating and posting a statement on his campaign website.
”On a day like St. Valentine’s – a day about love – the stamp of approval from a group like GLAA is particularly meaningful,” Wells wrote. ”When it’s at its best, public policy finds its roots in love. I believe that’s because love will always prevail, even in the face of ignorance or prejudice.”
”D.C. has come a long way, and I’ve been proud to play a role in many of these victories during my time on the Council,” Wells continued. ”But there are still many victories to win before we can claim true equality for those who believe, as I do, that love is love.”
Evans did not flag his rating on his campaign website, but GLAA President Richard J. Rosendall, who regularly writes commentary for Metro Weekly, says that his organization would be reviewing an addendum from the Evans campaign regarding his work in 2013 in shepherding through a bill that directs the city’s chief financial officer to make any changes necessary to all estate tax forms, instructions and regulations to make it clear that all married couples are eligible for estate-tax benefits regardless of whether such a marriage is recognized under federal law. If GLAA determines that action merits additional points, the group may revise Evans’s rating upward.
Other candidates were not so enthusiastic about their ratings. Muriel Bowser didn’t mention her GLAA rating on her website, nor did Shallal, Orange, or the other Democrats.
Bruce Majors, in response to an inquiry from Breitbart News, told the conservative website, ”In some ways, I think the GLAA rating is hilarious and what GLAA has really done is rate itself into irrelevancy and given itself a failing grade.”
In an email to a conservative blogger, forwarded to Metro Weekly, Majors wrote: ”The problem with GLAA is that they should rename themselves the Statist Gay Activist Group or the Democratic Party Gay Activist Group. … They are entitled to believe that only their approach of regulating heterosexuals they dislike and putting gays on the dole is just or productive. But they aren’t entitled to pretend that other gay people who believe that freedom of association and of disassociation, legal equality, free speech, and a growing private sector, are better for gays and everyone, is anti-gay. If they can’t develop competence to assess multiple pro-gay approaches, including ones beyond their own collective intelligence or imagination, they should change their name to reflect this.”
Rosendall, noting that he had already seen criticism of the organization on right-wing websites, defended the group’s actions, noting that GLAA members went through each questionnaire ”painstakingly.” He also added that candidates had an ”open book test” if they had read GLAA’s policy brief before answering the questionnaire.
”The community has the happy problem of choosing among several allies of our community,” Rosendall said. ”In broad terms, these are allies.”
But he also noted that the questionnaire is updated every election cycle, and even pro-gay incumbents do not get automatic credit on some metrics for past records. To be awarded ”championship” points, he said, a candidate has to have actively led on an issue of importance to the community since the last election.
”We don’t put our finger on the scale,” he said to accusations by bloggers that the organization favors incumbents. ”We go through the same process with every candidate.”
He added that candidates don’t get rewarded for identifying as LGBT, saying: ”Some of our strongest allies on the Council have been straight people. It has to be about more than that somebody’s gay.”
For the D.C. Council, Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) once again topped GLAA’s ratings, earning his fourth consecutive perfect rating since his 2006 re-election. His opponent, Calvin Gurley, did not return a GLAA questionnaire and earned a zero rating. Gurley told GLAA in 2012 that while he did not support repealing the District’s marriage-equality law, he did feel residents should have had the chance to vote on it. He also told Metro Weekly that he would fight to prevent bullying in schools and would support more training for Metropolitan Police Department officers on how to deal with suspected hate crimes.
In the Councilmember At-Large race, where District voters choose the top two candidates in a general election, Democratic candidate Nate Bennett-Fleming earned a 7, while incumbent Councilmember Anita Bonds earned a 6. Democrat Pedro Rubio earned a 3, and John F. Settles II, earned a 2.5, with GLAA noting that both candidates agreed with the organization on issues, but failed to demonstrate a fuller understanding of them. Democrat Kevin Valentine Jr. did not return a questionnaire and received a zero rating.
Among non-Democrats for the at-large seat, Statehood-Green candidate Eugene Puryear topped the list with a 4.5, though GLAA noted that his ideological stance is often at odds with the organization, with many of his answers being interpreted as non-responsive or negative. G. Lee Aikin, another Statehood-Green candidate, earned a 3 for agreeing with GLAA on most issues, but was docked points for failing to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of them. Libertarian candidate Frederick Steiner did not return the GLAA questionnaire and received a zero rating.
The biggest surprise in the ratings may have been Republican candidate Marc Morgan, who is gay. Morgan did not return a questionnaire, but was awarded points for his work with Equality Ohio to defeat Issue 1, his work in Arizona as part of the Arizona Together in the No on 102 campaign, and work for the National Minority AIDS Council. But he was docked points for his previous support of anti-gay politicians such as U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) and former Arizona State Rep. Laura Knapereck (R). Morgan earned a 6.5 when he ran for the Ward 1 Council seat in 2010. This year, Morgan received a rating of 2.
In the Ward 1 race, incumbent Councilmember Jim Graham (D) earned a 7.5, with GLAA noting that he disagrees with the organization on some issues. Challenger Brianne Nadeau earned a 5 based on strong questionnaire responsese, but a limited record on LGBT issues.
In the Ward 3 race, incumbent Councilmember Mary Cheh (D), earned an 8.5 for a strong questionnaire and her record of supporting LGBT issues, including her co-authoring of the LGBTQ Homeless Reform Amendment Act of 2013 and her authoring of the Conversion Therapy for Minors Prohibition Act of 2013. Her general election challenger, Libertarian Ryan Sabot, did not return his questionnaire and received a zero rating.
In the Ward 5 race, incumbent Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D) earned 4.5 for agreeing with GLAA on several issues, but the organization noted in its write-up that the McDuffie has ”not established a strong record in his short time on the Council.” His Democratic opponents, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Kathy Henderson (5D) and Carolyn Steptoe (5B) received a zero and a -2, respectively. Henderson was docked points for ”a weak questionnaire and a record of opposing gay nightclubs and medical marijuana cultivation centers,” and Steptoe for not returning a questionnaire and for her previous testimony before the Board of Elections and the Council in the support of putting the District’s marriage-equality law on the ballot.
In the Ward 6 race, Charles Allen, a former chief of staff for Councilmember Wells, earned a rating of 8.5 for a strong questionnaire and his advocacy on behalf of LGBT issues as president of the Ward 6 Democrats. He also testified in favor of the marriage-equality law. His opponent, Darrel Thompson, a former staffer for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), received a 2 based on his lack of record on LGBT issues and what GLAA described as a ”weak questionnaire.” Libertarian candidate Pranav Badhwar earned a 2 for responses that reflected his Libertarian outlook, but clash with GLAA’s stated positions.
Meanwhile, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, held the first of two endorsement forums on Feb. 26 featuring Democratic candidates for D.C. Council.
At the Stein meeting, Mendelson and Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) emerged victorious with endorsements in their respective races, while three other D.C. Council races deadlocked, resulting in no endorsements. Mendelson earned 120 votes to Gurley’s 13, with 11 voters abstaining in the chairman’s race. McDuffie won 124 votes to challenger Henderson’s 13, with 1 abstention.
The third candidate, Steptoe, did not return a Stein Club questionnaire required to participate in the forum. Stein Club President Angela Peoples said later that the club did not hear anything from Steptoe’s campaign as to why she did not return the questionnaire.
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh (D), running unopposed in the primary, was endorsed at the Stein Club’s regular February meeting on Feb. 10, along with Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and candidate for shadow U.S. representative Franklin Garcia. All three were endorsed by unanimous consent of the club members.
In the Ward 1 race, Jim Graham found himself coming in second to Brianne Nadeau, with Graham earning 64 votes to Nadeau’s 70. Both were short of the 80 votes, or 60 percent threshold, needed to secure an endorsement.
In the Ward 6 open seat race, Charles Allen narrowly defeated Darrel Thomoson, 68 to 65, with both falling short of the 80-vote threshold.
In the Democratic at-large seat, Nate Bennett Fleming won 60 votes to Anita Bonds’s 53 votes, with John F. Settles receiving 14 votes, and 12 for Pedro Rubio. In a runoff featuring the top two candidates, Fleming earned 68 votes to Bonds’s 51, with two abstentions. That placed Bennett Fleming just four votes shy of a 72-vote threshold for the club’s endorsement in a runoff.
In a statement summarizing the endorsement forum, Peoples said the club officers agreed that there had been a ”robust debate” between attendees, with representation from all eight wards and various communities that comprise the District’s makeup in terms of race, age and sexual orientation/gender identity. She called it a ”great success,” because members were able to get to know the candidates better and the distinctions between them needed to make an informed decision when voting.
”We were hoping that we could make endorsements in all the races,” Peoples said. ”However, with the quality of candidates and the investment that was made to garner members’ support, it is not surprising that support among the competitive races was split.”
”It was great to see an overwhelming show of support for Chairman Mendelson and Councilmember McDuffie,” Peoples continued. ”They have a long history of working with Stein, our members and being leaders on our issue. We will definitely be fully supporting them with club resources to ensure their victories on the April 1 ballot.”
Peoples did remark that she found it surprising that Nadeau had been able to garner a majority of votes from the club’s members, as Graham, who is gay, has been a longtime and steadfast champion for the LGBT community and the club.
”I think the very close vote count does shed some light on where our members and the community stand,” Peoples said. ”With the rapid growth and changing demographic of the city and especially in Ward 1, residents seem to be weighing the idea of what the future holds heavier than the record of what’s been done in the past. I think either candidate will be a great representative for Ward 1 and the Stein Club will continue to ensure Ward 1 LGBT Democrats have a voice at the table no matter the result on April 1.”
A second forum, focusing on mayoral candidates and candidates for shadow U.S. Senator, will be held March 6 at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C. The club will hold an endorsement forum for the second at-large Council spot, which by law must go to a non-Democrat, later in the year, prior to the general election.