In his Palm Sunday sermon on April 9, Mt. Calvary Holy Church Bishop Alfred A. Owens Jr. used the terms “sissy” and “faggot” to refer to gay men. In a striking display of sanctuary homophobia, he also demanded that all “straight men” get out of their seats and come to the altar of his Northeast Washington megachurch.

The sermon drew suitably outraged responses from all around—gay activists and aides to Mayor Anthony A. Williams agreed that there’s no room in D.C. for such hate speech. Radio and newspaper coverage piled on with less-than-glowing coverage.

Through it all, the bishop has been silent, refusing press inquiries from LL and other outlets.

The mayor himself was in Africa when the controversy over Owens, an honorary member of his Interfaith Council, was boiling. But at his May 17 weekly press conference, Williams was very clear on what Owens needs to do if he wants to remain in the mayor’s good graces. He called on the bishop to “publicly apologize to the community,” for his remarks. If Owens does not offer a mea culpa, Williams says the Bishop “could not continue as an honorary member of the [Interfaith] Council.”

After hearing the Bishop’s characterization of gay men, Williams said he was “shocked, saddened and disappointed—all at once. I have to condemn remarks like that.” The mayor has been trying to reach Owens since he returned from his trip. “I think it is important to sit down with him,” Williams said. The mayor, though, has had no better luck reaching out to the bishop than has the press. The bishop has not responded to his request for a meeting, Williams said.

Meanwhile, Owens continues preaching to the choir. This past Sunday, during a part of his church service called the Pastor’s Love Offering, Owens broke his silence on his gay-bashing sermon. “It’s been a challenging week for me,” Owens said. “But I still have praise.” The congregation erupted in applause and shouting. “We know God will allow you to go through challenges, and you still can keep your praise,” Owens preached to more acclamation. “The Lord is good, and He’s good all the time; I don’t care about them,” Owens said of his critics. “Thank you, Mt. Calvary, for your prayers, the prayers of the righteous. I certainly felt people praying for me this week.” A hallelujah-and-amen-laden standing ovation followed. The raucous outpouring of support ran for almost two minutes.

FIRST IN LINE

Picking up nominating petitions from the offices of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE) is a pretty routine affair. All you do is show up, let the staff know who you are and where you live, and walk away with the stack. A candidate can even designate someone else to do the work.

Yet Ward 7 councilmember and D.C. Council chair candidate Vincent Gray was determined to turn the rote into the rousing. When he arrived at the elections office on May 12—the first day petitions were available—he was nattily dressed and surrounded by about a dozen supporters. It took two elevators to get the faithful to the second floor of One Judiciary Square, where the group gathered in the hallway and made a boisterous entrance to the office.

His opponent for the Democratic nomination, Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, arrived with her field director, David Dzidzienyo, an hour or so later, signed her candidacy declaration, and left Dzidzienyo to wait around while the petitions were printed.

For the Gray crew, petition pickup day was just another reason to make some noise. His campaign carries that bandwagon appeal. Official appearances are never left to happenstance.

For Patterson, grabbing the nominating petitions is just another step in a methodical assault on the seat being vacated by current council Chairman Linda W. Cropp. Says Patterson campaign manager Eric Marshall of Gray, “He chose to organize an event, and we didn’t….Our opponent can come in with a big group on May 12, but we will make sure we are celebrating Sept. 12.”

Let’s face it: Petition pickup day doesn’t carry the same political resonance as, say, the Jefferson-Jackson dinner or the Martin Luther King Day parade. Indeed, making a fuss about opening day in the petition office is clearly the domain of down-ballot candidates.

Like D.C. shadow senator hopeful Philip Pannell. This longtime activist planted his slender frame on the floor near the doorway of the elections board at 7:45 a.m. By dragging himself over to One Judiciary Square shortly after daybreak, Pannell snagged the coveted poll position on the first day candidates could pick up nominating petitions.

Even if Pannell loses in his bid to unseat three-term incumbent Florence Pendleton, the Ward 8 resident can now claim one victory. After he left with his stack of nominating petitions, Pannell offered up a well-rehearsed parochial statement for his early-bird obsession. “I’m from Ward 8, and we’re so used to being last,” he says. “I wanted to be first at something.”

Two other political camps came up just short of the Pannell standard. The finance director for Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian Fenty, John Falcicchio, and Republican at-large candidate Antonio Dominguez arrived well before the advertised 8:15 a.m. opening time. Election-board staff took mercy on them all and invited them inside to take a seat on the couch.

Most candidates who appeared in person chose a low-key performance instead. Ward 3 council hopeful and notorious community e-mail discussion group pest Jonathan Rees was so intent on getting to the office early that he appeared to have passed on the shower and shave. And his clothing choice apparently slipped by his fashion advisers. Rees presented himself in an oversized white T-shirt emblazoned with a glittery label: “Crazy Caribbean.”

With a field of more than 50 announced candidates vying for office this fall, shoppers at local Safeways can expect to be fighting off mobs of signature-gatherers. Candidates have good reason to start collecting names as soon as possible.

The first guy in line, though, professed to be in no hurry to gather his John Hancocks. “It just feels good to be first,” says Pannell. “I just hope the biblical admonishment does not prove to be true. You know, ‘the first shall become last.’”

BOBB FOR PRESIDENT?

As the Williams administration winds to a close, the mayor’s right-hand man, like the rest of the executive staff, is plotting his next move. Speculation about a political future for City Administrator Robert Bobb has run rampant ever since his boss said, “No más.” Most of the buzz has been about a possible Bobb Squared mayoral run.

Now it’s time to add another option to the list of possible Bobb career moves: a campaign for school-board president.

On May 2, Bobb invited a handful of local education leaders to breakfast at the J.W. Marriott, across the street from his John A. Wilson Building office, ostensibly to talk about his latest passion: improving urban schools. Two of those munching on bacon and eggs were representatives of EdAction, a group of D.C. education professionals focused on recruiting and electing high-caliber candidates for the D.C. Board of Education. The group engineered the successful bids of former school-board member Julie Mikuta and current board member Victor Reinoso.

EdAction member Abigail Smith, of Teach for America, is pretty clear about Bobb’s table talk. “He certainly was interested in what we were doing and what we are looking for in candidates,” says Smith. “The impression was he is open to lots of different options after he leaves [his current job].”

Kaya Henderson of the New Teacher Project broke bread with Bobb that morning but was reluctant to say how much of the meeting involved talk of a possible Bobb candidacy. “He is taking a broad look at what his life will look like, post-city-administrator,” she says. Henderson did not deny that the conversation at times veered to discussions about who would head the board of education.

Bobb would bring some experience to an education job—he’s a 2005 graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy, a rigorous management program designed to prepare senior executives to lead urban public-school systems. Last spring, rumors swirled that he was being considered for the top schools job in his old stomping grounds of Oakland, Calif. At the time, he denied ever being a candidate for the job.

A superintendent’s job would certainly appeal to his pocketbook more than leading the school board. In 2004, D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey signed a three-year contract that will pay him $250,000 per year plus performance bonuses. The school-board presidency, on the other hand, is a part-time position that pays $16,000. Bobb’s current $185,000 salary is among the highest in the Wilson Building, according to city records.

As usual, Bobb is tight-lipped about his plans and has a very logical explanation for his breakfast with EdAction. “I wanted to talk to some people who know a lot about urban education,” he says. “Everyone knows I have a strong interest in the schools.” Asked whether he is exploring a run for school-board president, Bobb says, “When I get ready to do something new, I’ll call you all and make an announcement.”

He refused to rule out a run for the school-board presidency but nixed one future job prospect: Bobb tells LL he will not serve as city administrator under the next mayor.

POLITICAL POTPOURRI

On the same day Cropp was endorsed by Mayor Williams in her run for his seat, one of her opponents, Michael Brown, was basking in his own mayoral pat on the back.

Unlike Cropp, who is supported by the mayor of the city in which she is running, Brown is traveling farther afield to get backing for his bid.

On Tuesday, at a fundraiser hosted by several Atlanta political bigwigs, Brown picked up some much-needed cash and high-profile Peach State endorsements: those of former Atlanta Mayor and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, U.S. Rep. Sanford D. Bishop (D-GA), and Valerie Jackson, widow of former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson.

Too bad Brown’s not running for governor of Georgia.

“As the true outsider candidate, I don’t have much choice but to raise money outside of the city,” says Brown, who claims Young is only the first of several former big-city mayors who will give him the nod. He’s planned a fundraiser in New York City where he’ll get the backing of former New York Mayor David Dinkins. Former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial is on the Brown supporter list as well. “These guys know what it takes to be a big-city mayor,” says Brown. “They think I have what it takes.” —James Jones

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