When imagining the workings of a political machine in the heart of Washington, D.C., one might conjure intrigue, power plays and ruthlessness.
Instead, picture a group of seven seemingly mild-mannered men seated around a conference table on a muggy Tuesday night, in a downtown office building that said good night to the day shift hours earlier, a can of Pringles as their only distraction.
But appearances aside, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance has rated candidates for office in every District of Columbia primary and general election since 1971. It's the longest running gay civil rights organization in the country and on Tuesday, Aug. 17, GLAA was at it again, rating candidates for D.C.'s upcoming primary elections.
"Candidates are rated on a scale of -10 to +10, based on their answers to GLAA's questionnaire and their record on behalf of the gay and lesbian community," the group's literature states. Within the parameters of that statement, there is plenty of room for drama.
''His handling of AIDS back in the '80s was abysmal,'' fires Richard J. Rosendall, GLAA vice president for political affairs, on the record of former mayor Marion Barry, who's running -- perhaps -- for the Ward 8 council seat.
Rosendall is generally quick to offer the most spirited analysis of any candidate. Bob Summersgill, the group's treasurer, often follows with a more soft-spoken counter: "[Barry] did a lot for us years ago, far beyond what others would do for us." Although Barry did not return the GLAA questionnaire, he managed to earn a single point on the positive side.
While he may have spent the most time in the national spotlight, Barry was small potatoes as the GLAA hashed things out over other candidates for more than three-and-a-half hours.
The most contentious moments came with the discussion of Ward 8 incumbent Sandy Allen (D). GLAA handed her a -5.5, the lowest score of the evening.
"I think it's overly harsh for Sandy Allen," insisted Frank Kameny, a GLAA founder and long-time activist. "For all her faults, she's not an enemy.... She's not a ranting homophobe."
Kameny's opposition was noted, but the poor rating held. Those voting for it said it was based primarily on Allen's position as chair of the city's Committee on Human Services, which oversees the city's HIV/AIDS Administration (HAA).
GLAA summarized its position on Allen's score in an Aug. 19 press release: "[Allen] has completely failed to recognize or deal with the problems at HAA. For six years she has brushed off GLAA's concerns about gross mismanagement, financial shenanigans, sexual harassment, and illegal manipulation of the contract process for the benefit of the friends of the former director. HAA is now the subject of multiple investigations, and defendant in lawsuits from current and former employees."
Allen's campaign office had no comment to offer regarding the GLAA score.
Those voting in favor of the low rating granted Kameny's point that Allen is not anti-gay. Rosendall clarified the process, however, saying, "We're not talking about someone's niceness or decency," but rather job performance.
That GLAA would take issue with Allen and the "contract process" is no surprise. This is a group that abhors corruption of the process. It's something council-at-large candidate Sam Brooks (D) learned at the meeting.
While Brooks was the sole candidate to make an appearance at the Aug. 12 meeting, he had the misfortune of arriving when the meeting started at 7 p.m. The group's schedule called for reviewing Brooks' questionnaire around 9 p.m. Perhaps GLAA would move things around a bit so that Brooks could answer any questions and be on his way?
Not a chance.
Brooks waited about two hours for his audience. For someone who has not held office previously, it was a wise move. Although his questionnaire impressed the group, Brooks' appearance probably helped him earn a +7.5 rating.
"Frankly, for a non-incumbent, this is very good," Summersgill said of Brooks' showing. Out of a field of 27 primary candidates, only incumbents Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) fared better.
The group gave longtime ally Schwartz a +9.5.
"She's done an awful lot for us," said Rosendall as the group decided on a score. "She is always up there [on Capitol Hill] on our stuff, so I would give her a ‘championship' point just for that."
Championship points, which range from negative one to one, are awarded for marked political valor or shame.
Fenty earned similar praise, particularly for his responsiveness to the gay community. The group also awarded him half of a coveted championship point for his staunch opposition to school vouchers for a total score of +8.5.
Jack Evans, however, was the single candidate to earn a perfect +10. "I've been saying for years now that Jack is the best ally we've ever had," said Rosendall.
On the other end of the spectrum, Ward 7 incumbent Kevin P. Chavous (D) was the only candidate aside from Allen to end up with a negative score. Unlike Allen, however, Chavous' -2.5 didn't merit any clarification about the scores representing job performance rather than disposition toward the gay community.
"He's one of the least responsive [council members]," Rosendall opined. "He's one of the most reliable to make trouble.... He's a snake."
Summersgill's suggestion that Chavous has indicated he is in favor of expanding domestic partner benefits could not pull the councilmember out of negative territory.
The District holds primary elections Sept. 14.
For a complete breakdown of GLAA's candidate ratings and procedures, visit www.glaa.org.