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The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the District’s largest LGBT political organization, endorsed Edward “Smitty” Smith, in his bid to become the District’s first elected attorney general, and independent Courtney Snowden for the second of two at-large seats on the D.C. Council, giving the club its first fully-endorsed slate of candidates since a leadership change almost two years ago.
The club, which held its endorsement forum at Brookland’s Smith Public Trust, invited all non-Democratic candidates for the at-large seat to attend and participate, as well as the five candidates — all Democrats — seeking the attorney general’s office. Stein previously endorsed incumbent Councilmember Anita Bonds (D-At-Large) when its membership overwhelmingly voted in June to endorse all the winners of April’s Democratic primary. Both Bonds and mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser failed to win the group’s endorsement in the primary, coming in second to Nate Bennett-Fleming and incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray, respectively.
Because two at-large seats on the D.C. Council are up for re-election to a four-year term every two years, and because Bonds, as the party’s nominee, had already won the group’s endorsement, the club decided to hold an endorsement meeting to determine if its members should back a person for the one of two “independent” seats on the Council that is being contested this cycle. While there is no rule requiring anyone to vote for the Democratic candidate for either seat, Bonds is favored due to D.C.’s strong Democratic tilt, as well as historical trends showing a huge drop-off between the Democratic candidate and the next runner-up. As a result, all of the remaining candidates are essentially battling each other for the seat being vacated by mayoral candidate David Catania (I-At-Large).
Eight of the 14 non-Democratic at-large candidates showed up to and participated in the forum, which was packed with supporters wearing stickers touting Snowden, Elissa Silverman and Robert White. Khalid Pitts, Eric Jones, Kishan Putta, the Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler, and Michael D. Brown also participated, while independents Brian Hart, Wendell Felder and Calvin Gurley, as well as openly gay Republican Marc Morgan, Statehood-Green Party candidate Eugene Puryear and Libertarian Frederick Steiner did not attend.
Among the three leading candidates who managed to bring the most supporters to the forum, White largely focused on his experience moving legislation through Congress during the time he worked for Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and his ability to bring together coalitions of people, something that Jones, a former official of the D.C. Young Democrats, and Pitts, a restaurateur, former campaign coordinator for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), board chair of USAction and board member of the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority, also stressed in their pitches to potential voters. Putta, a sitting ANC Commissioner, made a similar pitch, comparing his duties as a commissioner to what he would be expected to do if elected to the Council.
Snowden and Silverman also mentioned their records, but stressed other facets of their candidacies. Snowden, the only other openly gay person running besides the Republican Morgan, mentioned not only her sexual orientation but touted her extensive professional and volunteer work for LGBT-related causes, as well as her longstanding community roots as a sixth-generation Washingtonian.
“You know me, you know me,” said Snowden, before expounding on her work for Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) when the senator served in the U.S. House, for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), among other organizations. “And here’s what I want to say to you guys: allies are important. And experience is, too. And luckily, I have allies, and I am a member of this community, and I have a ton of experience.”
Silverman, a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Washington City Paper, and employee of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, focused largely on her progressive stances on issues such as paid sick leave and a living wage, as well as the need for government oversight and the role councilmembers play in keeping bureaucrats and politicians accountable to the public.
“I do focus on things like oversight, and I don’t think it’s just a good-government ‘buzzword,’” Silverman said, referencing recent controversies including a child who went missing from a local homeless shelter and a man who died of a heart attack after a delayed response by firefighters and paramedics. “Oversight can save people’s lives. It can save Relisha Rudd’s life, if the Council does its job providing oversight. It can save Cecil Mills’ life, so he doesn’t die in front of a firehouse. It can save the lives of LGBT people who suffer from discrimination in our city.”
In the attorney general’s race, all five candidates appearing on the ballot participated, using the forum as an opportunity to introduce themselves to voters, as most lack significant name recognition in a race that only recently was placed on the ballot after the District of Columbia Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision that sided with eight of the 13 sitting D.C. Councilmembers — including Bonds and Bowser — in attempting to delay the District’s first-ever election for attorney general.
Paul Zukerberg, a lawyer known mostly for his advocacy surrounding marijuana issues, including decriminalization, touted his success in arguing the case before the appeals court to overturn the Council’s attempted end-run around a 2012 voter-approved charter amendment.
“I don’t know who the next attorney general of the District of Columbia’s going to be, but I do know how that person is going to be chosen,” Zukerberg said. “It won’t be a backroom deal on K Street, it won’t be a political payoff. The next attorney general is going to be chosen by you, and by thousands of other voters across this city. I am proud of our Court of Appeals, which put this, unanimously, back on the ballot, and I’m proud of the work that I did to help make it happen.”
Out lesbian attorney general candidate Lateefah Williams, herself a former president of the Stein Club, stressed her ties to the LGBT community, her wide-ranging résumé in the legal field, and her local D.C. ties, in both professional and civil matters, to illustrate her desire to serve the people of the District.
All of the participating candidates for both offices, as well as some who didn’t participate, largely share the same pro-LGBT views on various issues ranging from youth homelessness to enforcement of hate crimes statutes for anti-LGBT and specifically anti-transgender attacks that have occurred in the city. As a result, the meeting was largely an exercise in turning out each campaign’s most committed voters.
The most organized campaign appeared to be the Smith campaign for the attorney general’s race, as the political newcomer came in first on the first round of balloting with 82 votes, falling just one vote shy of the 60 percent threshold required to gain an outright endorsement by the Stein Club. Zukerberg placed second with 18 votes, followed by Williams with 16, Karl Racine with 12 votes and Lori Masters with 6 votes. Three other members voted for “no endorsement.” On the second round of balloting, Smith won outright, obtaining 76 votes, or 72 percent, to Zukerberg’s 23 votes, with 6 members voting for “no endorsement.”
In the at-large race, Silverman and Snowden appeared to be in a tight race following the first ballot, earning 47 and 44 votes, respectively, while White won 21 votes, Jones earned five votes, Pitts earned one and four members voted for “no endorsement.” But on the second round of balloting, support for Snowden surged, giving her 68 votes, or almost 65 percent, to Silverman’s 36 votes, with one vote for “no endorsement.”
Following the announcement of the endorsements, Smith and Snowden appeared on stage to address the crowd. Both took pictures with Bowser, who arrived near the end of the meeting to congratulate the candidates, shake hands with potential voters and give a rousing rally-the-base speech in which she touted her recent endorsement by President Obama and Democratic Party principles, and also with Brianne Nadeau, the Democratic nominee and presumptive winner in the Ward 1 Council race.
“I’m very proud of my endorsement here,” Smith said. “I’m proud and honored to have the endorsement of the Gertrude Stein Club, which has done a whole lot of good in this city, for LGBT residents, and for District residents in general. I think I performed very well because my message is resonating across the city. People realize that we need somebody who is both able and ready, and dead-set on working for every Washingtonian, and I think that was reflected here.”
Snowden also attributed her showing, at least partially, to good campaign messaging and dedicated effort.
“I think we worked really hard…. We need representation from our own community on the Council, and people recognize that,” Snowden said. In addition to acknowledging her multiple identities — as a native Washingtonian, a mother, and lesbian — she also touted her detailed and in-depth answers to the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance’s candidate questionnaire, which earned her a perfect rating of +10 from the nonpartisan organization, something she said was “crucial” to convincing LGBT voters to back her on substance.
“We’re going to make history in this race, and Stein’s vote of confidence and significant support, is really going to make a difference for us bringing this home,” Snowden said.
Martin Garcia, Stein’s vice president for legislative and political affairs, celebrated the club’s two endorsements, which rounds out the club’s first fully-endorsed slate since he and President Angela Peoples first became officers in late 2012. Garcia said the turnout and the number of candidates actively wrangling for an endorsement demonstrates the club’s reputation and its influence on D.C. politics.
“Our membership came together, they made their voices heard, we had a packed house, we definitely had many more people here than we anticipated would show up, which is fantastic, because it means that people are paying attention and they’re becoming engaged,” Garcia said. “I’m thrilled that the organization has an entire slate of endorsed candidates, and that we can move forward in the last three or four weeks until Election Day, to support all of them, and hopefully, we can win the whole ticket up and down.”
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