Last night, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club—-the city’s leading gay-and-lesbian political organ—-wrapped up their endorsements for this year’s Democratic primaries, with picks for Ward 4, Ward 7, and at-large D.C. council seats. (Read LL’s rundown of what happened last month, when the club endorsed in Wards 2 and 7 and for the congressional delegation.)
Unsurprisingly, each incumbent—-Ward 4’s Muriel Bowser, Ward 8’s Marion Barry, and At-Large Councilmember Kwame R. Brown—-won endorsements handily.
But LL goes to these things for reasons other that merely recording the outcomes. He speaks of the lively debate, the friendly company, and the distinct possibility that Rick Rosendall might freak the fuck out.
Which he did. The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance’s VP for political affairs did so while questioning Bowser about her vote last year against a council action to relocate the gay clubs dislocated by the construction of Nationals Park. Even though the measure had been heavily diluted by amendments, Bowser voted against it anyway. Asked why she did so, Bowser gave a classic cop-out line: I was just following the will of the councilmember in the affected ward (Ward 5’s Harry Thomas Jr.).
Bowser also claimed that the bill would limit neighborhood input, and Rosendall wasn’t having any of that. “That’s not true, Muriel!” he shouted. “You’re mischaracterizing it!”
As club president Mario Acosta-Velez tried in vain to keep order, Rosendall kept on, his voice quickly rising to freak-out levels. “They did have a voice! They do have a voice!…You know what the bill said!”
Bowser, to her credit, kept her cool through the Rosendall blowup and also through the off-kilter rantings of fellow candidate Paul Montague. Another challenger, Baruti Jahi, though well-meaning and well-spoken, failed to make much of an impression—-he did score honesty points with LL when he answered a question about his efforts to help gay youth with, “Ma’am, I’ll be honest, I’ve done absolutely nothing.” All three gave the “right” answer on the big question: Would they support a gay marriage bill?
LL did detect one gotcha: A questioner asked whether the candidates would support a universal health care plan now before the council. Call it a (possibly inadvertent) trick question—-such a plan (At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania‘s Healthy D.C. initiative) already has been included in the fiscal 2009 budget. There will be no vote, but that didn’t stop all three, including Bowser, from saying they’d vote for it.
Bowser took the endorsement with 33 votes to Jahi’s 2 and Montague’s 1. Four voted not to endorse.
Next up was the Ward 8 race, where you’d never know it was a race at all, with incumbent Barry beforehand gladhanding his smiling adversaries, five of whom showed: Howard Brown, Darrell Gaston, Chanda McMahon, Charles Wilson, and Yavocka Young.
Young played up her economic-development cred, Brown plugged his youth and energy, Gaston plugged his youth and energy and the fact a parent and a sibling of his are gay, Wilson talked about his community involvement, and McMahon didn’t talk about much of anything. Barry, dressed in a traditional garment whose name LL is unaware of but resembles a Nehru jacket with a half-zipper, started out with a kind word to his competition—-Brown in particular, of whom he said, “I’ve encouraged him to run and get involved. He’s not gonna win, but that’s OK.” (Later, Brown would say, “I’ve already won by trying!”)
Barry moved on to fumble (as LL often does) the preferred syntax of the gay community’s preferred salutation—-“the gay, lesbian…gay, lesbian, transsexual, bigender…or is it lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender”—-before reminiscing about his long, distinguished history advocating for gays and lesbians in the District.
Each candidate, with varying degrees of equivocation, said they would vote to allow gay marriage. Particularly classic was this Barry line, “I don’t think that [gay marriage] ought to be a litmus test for your support; there are a lot of other issues. [Pause.] If that bill were to come, I’d vote for it.”
Barry, buoyed by strong statements of support from Stein Club co-founder Richard Maulsby and Ward 8 activist Phil Pannell, took the endorsement with 27 votes. Gaston and Wilson took six votes apiece, Brown 2. One voted not to endorse. In claiming victory, Barry hailed the large field of challengers, “It just shows we got a lot of talent in Ward 8.”
Last was the at-large race, where incumbent Brown stood with challenger Clarence Cherry, a former firefighter from Ward 5 now a stay-at-home father of five. Cherry won early plaudits for the line, “I am not a political person by nature. I am a human-rights fighter by nature.” Later, however, it became clear his conception of human rights was different from the Stein Club’s, when, in response to the gay-marriage question, he hemmed and hawed in the 30 most awkward seconds of the evening before uttering his endorsement death knell: “I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman.”
LL was expecting Kwame to come in for some hard questioning, and he got ready with other audience members when Bob Siegel, owner of several of the gay clubs ousted by the ballpark, rose to query Brown on matters glory-hole. The question, however, turned out to be a rambling softball, and Brown escaped by promising to work to get the clubs relocated.
Pannell offered perhaps the finest distillation of Brown’s political career to date when he spoke on the incumbent’s behalf, referring to Kwame’s change of heart on gay marriage (where he only would go as far as civil unions four years ago, he’s now an equal-marriage absolutist). Said Pannell, “He is educable, which truly makes him progressive.”
All hail the council’s most educable member! Brown took 35 of 39 votes; none voted for Cherry, but four voted not to endorse.
UPDATE, 10:44 A.M.: Bowser calls in to dispute LL’s assertion that she dropped “a classic cop-out line” with regard to her vote on the gay-club relocations. Indeed, when defending her vote, she never mentioned Thomas by name, but LL felt that he paraphrased her position fairly. At the meeting, Bowser said, according to LL’s notes, “For me, as a representative of a ward, it’s important that the people [have input on a matter] with such a direct impact.” LL interpreted that to mean that the citizens of Ward 5 ought to have a say through their elected councilmember; Bowser says she meant to refer to her own ward.