Town Danceboutique, near the U Street corridor, doesn’t usually draw a crowd on a Monday night. But on March 14 about a hundred people – members of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, among the city’s most influential Democratic groups, and various politicos – occupied the first floor of the nightclub to listen to Democratic candidates in the April 26 special election to fill the At-Large City Council seated vacated by Kwame Brown (D) after he won his 2010 race for Council Chair.
Onstage – minus candidate Tom Brown, who was present at the beginning of the event – Sekou Biddle, who has filled the post since January as interim councilmember; Dorothy Douglas; Joshua Lopez; former Councilmember Vincent Orange; Jacque Patterson and Bryan Weaver fielded questions from the group, posed by moderator Darlene Nipper, one-time director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs and current deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
”How will you deal with LGBT issues when you have some other residents in the city who are banging on your door telling you should act differently than pro LGBT?” Nipper asked the candidates to get the ball rolling.
In the simplest terms, the candidates answered this question – and a few others – in ways that helped to distinguish them somewhat from each other. Biddle’s and Patterson’s answers underscored their willingness to stand up for what’s right, regardless of the consequences. Douglas emphasized the need for the city to treat all residents fairly and to ensure that services are delivered to those who need them. Orange, trying to distance himself from his 2006 mayoral-campaign opposition to marriage equality, emphasized his pro-LGBT track record in the interim and political determination. Lopez cast himself as a social-justice activist, while Weaver mixed his progressive career credentials with his willingness to build bridges.
After the candidates fielded the Stein Club’s various questions, club members were allowed an opportunity to speak in favor of a candidate, though no more than three supporters for any one candidate. The maximum three spoke on Biddle’s behalf, one for Patterson, and two for Orange – including his wife, Gwendolyn Evans-Orange. ”I’m speaking from the heart,” she told the crowd. ”Mr. Orange deserves a chance.”
An initial round of voting was too close for the club to make an endorsement, with Biddle taking 30 votes, Orange 16, Patterson 4, and one each for Douglas, Lopez and Weaver. Biddle’s 30 votes equated to 56 percent of the vote, while Stein Club rules require 60 percent for a club endorsement. In a runoff vote between Biddle and Orange, the club’s interim president – following Jeffrey Richardson’s appointment to head Mayor Vince Gray’s (D) Office of GLBT Affairs – Lateefah Williams announced the final results just before 9 p.m.: ”We had a total of 49 votes for this round of voting. Councilmember Biddle received 30 votes. Vincent Orange received 19 votes. And for a percentage of 61.2 percent, our endorsed candidate is Councilmember Sekou Biddle.” She then handed Biddle the microphone.
”To those of you who don’t remember me, this is where I got my start,” he said, referring his the club’s endorsement of him in his successful 2007 election to the D.C. Board of Education. ”This endorsement means everything in the world to me.”
While the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics announced Tuesday evening, March 15, that it has ruled that Patterson did not submit 3,000 valid signatures and will not appear on the ballot, the remaining, non-Democratic candidates who will be listed in the special election for the At-Large seat are: Arkan Haile (I); Patrick Mara (R), expected to pick up an endorsement from the D.C. chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans this weekend; and Alan Page (Statehood Green).