LaRuby May has surged to victory at the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s Ward 8 endorsement forum.
One of 13 candidates running in the April 28 special election to replace former Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, who passed away in November of last year, May won the Club’s endorsement Tuesday night at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Anacostia. She was buoyed by an influx of supporters, including many with strong ties to current Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), who has already voiced her preference for May to fill the seat.
In a rare occurrence for a contested open seat, May earned the necessary 60 percent for an official endorsement by the club, which acts as the District’s top LGBT political organization. Sheila Bunn, a former chief of staff for Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and the apparent preferred choice of many longer-term Stein members who offered testimonials on her behalf, came in second, with about 22 percent. Eugene Kinlow received 10 percent, ahead of Marion Christopher Barry, son of the former Councilmember and “Mayor for Life,” who earned 5 percent. Sandra “S.S.” Seegars received one vote, and there was one vote for no endorsement. Candidates Jauhar Abraham and Stuart Anderson received no votes. Six other candidates failed to return a questionnaire that was mailed to all candidates, thus eliminating them from receiving the Stein Club’s endorsement.
The most interesting — and perhaps telling — question of the night, asked by moderator and local news personality Sam Ford of WJLA’s Channel 7, dealt with the late Marion Barry’s opposition to the District’s marriage equality law, which went into effect in 2010. Citing both Barry and Councilmember Yvette Alexander’s (D-Ward 7) explanation for why they opposed the law — namely, that their constituents opposed marriage equality — Ford asked the seven candidates whether they would stand up for LGBT rights, even if their constituents disagreed with their stance, prompting many candidates to hedge their answers in front of an audience that included a significant amount of non-LGBT Ward 8 voters. Most obviously, Marion Christopher Barry said he would “follow the lead” of his constituents, never directly but implicitly defending his father’s vote. Then, Barry hedged again, saying he believed the majority of Ward 8 now is supportive of LGBT rights. Anderson and Abraham offered similar responses, saying they supported the law but needed to represent the will of their constituents, with Anderson saying he would “lay [my] individuality on the table,” and noting that “laws have been made to be changed,” although he quickly clarified that he did not feel the marriage equality law needed to be repealed. Seegars, for her part, defended Barry’s original position, saying she agreed with it but that it was in the past, saying “It’s not for me to second-guess what he did.”
May was a little more obviously pro-LGBT in her response, saying she would represent constituents’ opinions while also saying she believed that the majority are now in favor of LGBT rights. Only Kinlow and Bunn spoke of the need to stand strong on LGBT rights even in the face of opposition from constituent groups.
“I will always be a defender for human rights for all people,” Bunn told the audience. She added that she may not always agree with her constituents if elected, but would always do what’s right on behalf of all people, both in the ward and in the District.
Kinlow said he supported the marriage equality bill but felt that supporters and the Council had done a poor job educating people about the bill, a theme that he frequently revisited throughout many of his answers, talking of the need to keep people engaged and informed of basic civics and what the government of the District is doing and whether it is beneficial to the residents of Ward 8.
“I support leadership,” Kinlow said. “I am a person that will do what is in the best interests of my constituents, but sometimes what is in the best interests of my constituents is to lead them and educate them.”
Other issues broached during the course of the debate had to do with fostering economic development in the ward, maintaining the supply of not just affordable, but specifically low-income housing, and anti-bullying measures, particularly as they pertain to LGBT youth. May, Kinlow and Bunn seemed to get the biggest applause lines following their answers throughout the course of the forum. May, in particular, showed her campaign’s organizing chops in getting supporters, all clad in purple shirts, stickers, and other campaign paraphernalia, to attend the meeting and cast their votes for her.
May, the executive director of Vision of Victory Community Development Corporation, which focuses on real estate development and early childhood development programs, also boasts the support of former Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen, who preceded Barry in the seat he held from 2005 until his death. Throughout the forum, May appeared to have a somewhat strong grasp of various issues, offering statistics that linked the issues raised during the forum to their impact on the LGBT community. She embraced the support of Bowser, saying she hoped to use her relationship with the mayor to benefit her future constituents. Her supporters, during the time for testimonials, also attested to her openness to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, noting that she had taken in a lesbian homeless teen and had helped LGBT friends find affirming ministers to marry them as examples of her commitment to equal rights.
“I’m excited, very blessed, and very grateful for the support of Gertrude Stein, believing in our vision and the work that we’re doing to be inclusive,” May said following the announcement that she had secured the club’s endorsement. “That’s the type of leader I am, trying to include everyone as we seek to cross the finish line on April 28.”
When asked about her score on a questionnaire from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), on which she earned a score of +4 on a scale of -10 to 10, she defended her commitment to LGBT rights.
“I didn’t receive the highest score, but I understand that,” she said. “Again, I think that the work I do with the LGBT community, specifically in Ward 8, is on the daily. It’s about real people, real families, looking at housing, employment, and education. My appreciation for the rating is more about those of us who had opportunities to do it in the public sector. I’m not your typical public-sector servant: I’ve never run for office before, I’m not an elected official,…I’ve just been out in Ward 8, doing the work of the people….When it comes to the LGBT community, I just want to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, on a daily basis, out on the street.”
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