Local gay Republican activist Carl Schmid knows that his candidate in this year’s presidential race, George W. Bush, has taken some hits for embracing Christian fundamentalists and their homophobic leanings. But ever since he met the Texas governor last June at a Washington Hilton fundraiser, Schmid has put aside those concerns.
“He told me, ‘You’ll always have my respect,’” recalls Schmid.
The throwaway line apparently impressed Schmid, who can take heart that he stands alongside Bob Jones and Pat Robertson in the estimation of the likely Republican presidential nominee.
Bush is trying to accomplish what every primary contender is after—namely, expanding his tent as far and wide as possible without allowing the factions inside to tear it down. Last LL checked, the Bush coalition housed mainstream GOP tax-cutters, “faith-based” social-service types, right-wing fundamentalists, and nonfundamentalist bigots of all stripes.
The Texas tentmaker, however, can’t find quite enough canvas to accommodate either gays or just about anyone associated with hometown D.C. As the candidate has listed rightward in an effort to distance himself from rival John McCain, he has scoffed at the notion that he could agree with gay activists on issues confronting the country. And he’s stated point-blank that he opposes D.C. home rule.
Reality check: None of this is remarkable. Bush, after all, is a modern Republican guy, meaning that his bedrock support comes from Southern conservatives who view gay rights the way Roger B. Taney viewed slaves’ rights. And pissing on D.C. is a Republican ritual that stretches back to the years when colleagues of Bush grandfather Sen. Prescott Bush dictated to locals from Capitol Hill committee rooms.
What is worth noting, though, is how D.C. Republicans have embraced Bush. No matter what he says about gays and D.C. voting rights, Bush can count on the support of Republican At-Large Councilmembers David Catania and Carol Schwartz, who have staked their political careers on the very principles that Bush has been dissing. And, just as both politicians routinely play down their Republican affiliation in election years, they’re not exactly issuing press releases these days to announce their good standing as Bush delegates to the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.
Catania and Schwartz should begin preparing now for the culture clash that awaits them in the City of Brotherly Love. Even by Democratic standards, both councilmembers are progressive on gay rights. Catania, one of two openly gay members on the D.C. Council, supports the gay legislative agenda—discrimination protections, marriage, job benefits, and so on—the way he lobbies for just about everything else: loudly.
And, although Schwartz has none of Catania’s volume, she has a far longer history of championing gay causes in D.C. The councilmember routinely opens her palatial Connecticut Avenue apartment—guests can glimpse the Washington Monument from the toilet in one of the bathrooms—to fundraisers for gay groups. And her council voting record on their legislative priorities is unimpeachable. “We love Carol,” says Rick Rosendall of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance.
But, as the city is now discovering, gay issues may not mean that much to Catania and Schwartz after all. How else can you reconcile their support for a presidential candidate with the following credentials?
* He favors existing sodomy statutes and opposes every last gay cause, including adoption and same-sex marriage.
* He said it would be a “political nightmare” to meet with the Log Cabin Republicans, an independent group of gay GOP politicos in which Catania is an active member.
* He has consistently been coy about whether he would deign to appoint any gay officials to his administration.
“What all this means,” says Kevin Ivers, director of public affairs for the Log Cabin Republicans’ national office, “is that you can be a delegate at the convention, but he will never appoint you to his administration. This is clearly a slap in the face to people like David Catania.” (On Tuesday, Ivers said he was heartened by a campaign-trail report that Bush would now “consider” meeting with Log Cabinites after all.)
For once, Catania’s position on the issue is hard to divine. The councilmember, always quick to respond to queries about Mayor Anthony A. Williams and miscellaneous civic issues, failed to return seven calls from LL on the matter over a week and a half. “I wish he would be a bit more progressive on gay issues, but that aside, I think he’s the best man to lead this country,” the San Diego Union-Tribune quoted Catania as saying late last month.
Dodging inquiries is a new MO for a politician obsessed with corralling Williams appointees in the council chambers and publicly calling for the dismissal of officials he deems incompetent. The sudden personality change may stem from a force even greater than Catania’s ego: his ambition.
In November 1994, Schwartz proved that an at-large council post is about as high as a Republican politician will ever climb in this 80 percent Democratic city. In that election, Schwartz was competing against a Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. who was weakened by his drug conviction and a growing citywide awareness about the wreckage of his three previous terms. No matter: Hizzoner leveraged his mighty talk of redemption for a 14-point win over Schwartz. In 1998, Williams pounded her by 36 points.
The Republicans’ concrete ceiling in local politics leaves Catania with a choice: Plow ahead with his career in energy law, or see what opens up in a Bush administration. But since Bush appointees will apparently be judged based on how open they are about whom they sleep with, that ambition seems misplaced.
When asked whether Catania would have a chance at a Bush post, local Republican doyenne Julie Finley responded, “I don’t have anything to say on that. I’m just focused right now on getting the slate registration forms in.” Perhaps the candidate himself should test out that line.
Schwartz, who goes out of her way to disavow national political ambitions, is left to articulate the obvious excuse for supporting an anti-gay standard-bearer. “There are two schools of thought,” says the councilmember. “You can either sit it out and criticize, or you can try to work from the inside to make it better, and I’ve always been a work-on-the-inside-to-make-it-better person.”
Ivers, for one, thinks Schwartz, Finley, and Catania may yet convert Bush: “In fact, to large extent, they are having an impact on the candidate.”
They’re having no impact whatsoever, though, on the candidate’s position on D.C. home rule and voting rights. On Feb. 25, Channel 4 (WRC-TV) anchor Jim Vance asked Bush about those issues and received a decisive response: “I have a position on home rule: I don’t support it,” said Bush.
Local Republicans—again—vowed to work behind the scenes to “enlighten” their candidate. “Hope springs eternal,” says Schwartz.
DEPARTMENT OF PRIVATE WORKS
Last December, Department of Public Works Director Vanessa Dale Burns earned a rebuke from Mayor Williams for gathering a group of subordinates and then chewing them out with the aid of just about every profane word in the English language. Burns convened the meeting because several of the employees weren’t getting to the office on time. “I was just trying to make sure that we get a dollar’s worth of performance for each dollar of taxpayers’ money,” said Burns at the time.
Well, if Burns is so concerned about employee punctuality, perhaps she could provide them with the same arrangements she uses to get to work in the morning: a chauffeured trip in a sleek, white, city-owned SUV.
Over the past week, LL has twice watched Burns board the SUV in front of her Porter Street NW apartment and head straight to her office in the Reeves Building at 14th and U Streets NW. Last Friday, the vehicle, a Ford Explorer, pulled up at her building at 8:12 a.m. and waited 15 minutes until Burns hopped in for the ride to DPW HQ. On Tuesday, the same SUV—license number GT-0072—arrived at 8:11, and the director popped right out the door.
DPW spokesperson Linda Grant was dispatched to excuse her boss’s waste of taxpayer money: “On occasion, yes, the director is picked up,” admits Grant.
The director’s shuttle service violates a congressional ban on using D.C. government vehicles for commuting. The city’s 1999 appropriations act expressly allows the use of government vehicles only for “official duties,” a term that under the law “does not include travel between the officer’s or employee’s residence and workplace.” (Exceptions can be made for certain police officers.)
Grant, however, says that Burns’ trips from home to work in the departmental coach are “strictly for government business. What I’m saying is that if there is an early-morning meeting, for instance, or if she is doing a survey of the streets…Those are the types of occasions.” By that standard, LL, too, qualifies for a DPW chauffeur.
Scandalized by a local tradition of official vehicle abuse, D.C.’s Republican congressional overseers hold the car ban sacred. In February 1998, for instance, D.C. financial control board Chair Andrew Brimmer tried to convince D.C. appropriations subcommittee Chair Charles Taylor to allow emergency personnel in the corrections and fire departments to use D.C. vehicles. Taylor referred Brimmer to the statute: “[The law] grants no authority to include home-to-work transportation as ‘official duties’ or to otherwise grant the exceptions you propose…,” wrote Taylor.
Taylor also noted that violations of the law “may be subject to administrative and criminal penalties.” A report by the Congressional Research Service on that very topic decreed that vehicle abusers “shall be suspended without pay for at least one month, and when, circumstances warrant, for a longer period or summarily removed from office.”
The Williams folks won’t touch that one. “We first have to get to the bottom of this,” says mayoral spokesperson Peggy Armstrong. “But we will absolutely look into what’s required.”
In the meantime, Burns should consider the various transit options sprouting from her conveniently located residence. According to Metro spokesperson Cheryl Johnson, the quickest strategy would be for Burns to grab the H4 bus from across the street and ride it to the Columbia Heights Metro Station at the corner of 14th and Irving Streets NW, where she could pick up the Green Line to the U Street station—a mere block from her office in the Reeves Center.
But that trip, according to Johnson, would take at least 20 minutes. When LL followed Burns’ SUV across Rock Creek Park,through the torn-up back streets of Mount Pleasant, onto Adams Mill Road—LL ran a red light to keep pace—and finally down 18th Street to U, the DPW Express made it in 8 minutes. That’s an awful quick street survey.
* Mayor Williams is desperate to avoid the political missteps that marred last year’s budget negotiations with the D.C. Council. While councilmembers were scribbling in red ink all over the administration budget documents, the mayor himself was meeting with senior citizens, ambassadors from distant countries, and church representatives—every group, it seemed, except for the one charged with approving his proposals.
Now the reform mayor is reforming himself. Over the past week, Williams has met in private with every single councilmember in preparation for the budget. Oops, not quite: According to Williams aides, he has met with 12 of the 13 councilmembers. “No, I haven’t been invited,” says odd man out Catania. “That’s not a surprise.”
Credit the Republican with keen self-awareness. Catania is reviled on One Judiciary Square’s 11th floor for ambushing mayoral aides at council hearings, refusing to allow them to answer his questions, and harping on Williams’ flip-flops in the school-reform debates. “There’s no point in meeting with him,” says an administration source. “He is not constructive at all and is only interested in the glory of the TV lights.” CP
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