The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club‘s endorsements are usually noteworthy for no other reason than the fact they happen so damn early in the election cycle. This time though, there was plenty of drama on offer at the club’s meeting tonight at the John A. Wilson Building aside from the timing.

The big scoop: Eugene Dewitt Kinlow took the Stein Club event as an opportunity to drop out of a shadow senator race he’d entered little more than 72 hours prior. That race was shaping up to be a civil war of sorts between Kinlow, outreach director for DC Vote, and Paul Strauss, shadow senator since 1994 and an old friend of Kinlow’s. LL was super-excited about the prospect of another contested race and had hyped it up in a Friday blog post.

Strauss, sources tell LL, raised concerns to folks in the voting-rights crowd about the fact that a paid employee of the District’s best-funded voting-rights advocacy group would run for his unpaid seat. Asked his feelings on the matter, Strauss demurred: “I hope none of us in the movement would do things do divide the movement when we need to unite the movement.” He says he met with Kinlow privately after learning of his run.

Kinlow says he “reevaluated what it is I do seven days a week,” explaining that he didn’t want to drive an unpaid volunteer out of the voting-rights-activism ranks; he insists “it was a personal decision” his employer had nothing to do with.

Even his extremely short run, Kinlow says, had its accomplishments: “Since Friday, there’s been a tremendous amount of interest in this position,” he says. “Even by thinking about running I became a catalyst in recruiting more soldier” to the voting-rights cause.

The next big surprise: Ward 8 civil-rights activist/man-of-all-seasons Phil Pannell stepped into the void after he heard of Kinlow’s decision. Pannell, who is gay and a longtime Stein Club member, had a home-field advantage and forced a runoff vote with Strauss, which he won. But because the vote was so close, 26 votes to 21, no endorsement was made.

Says Strauss: “I was very gratified to win the first ballot, which is the one I think that indicates the true support.”

Kinlow made no endorsement, but his wife, D.C. Public Schools ombudsman Tonya Vidal Kinlow rose before the group in support of Pannell. Says her spouse: “She’s a smart woman. She’s a smarter person than I am.”

Other big drama:

  • OK, no huge drama in the Ward 2 endorsements. Incumbent Jack Evans was squarely on home turf. He outflanked challenger Cary Silverman by playing up his record on issues close to the gay community over his four terms. (He held up to the crowed a framed ad run in 1992 by then Whitman-Walker Clinic Director Jim Graham touting Evans as the gay community’s “advocate.” Asked how long he’s been toting that ad to Stein Club endorsement meetings, Evans said, “No comment.”)

    Silverman did score some points with his full-time-councilmember pledge and his response to a question on liquor-license voluntary agreements, but then proceeded to blow it while answering a testy question from Pannell on how the gay community hasn’t been able to get a meeting with the Washington Nationals. Silverman tried to to make a point about a bad stadium deal: “We gave away the store….I don’t know what we can do. I look forward to Councilmember Evans’ answer,” he said.

    Well, Evans promised the Stein Club a meeting with Nats President Stan Kasten, to wild applause. Evans won the endorsement (and a $500 campaign contribution), 54-5, with 3 abstentions.

  • One of the last uncommitted superdelegates in the District’s Democratic delegation has made up her mind: Anita Bonds, chair of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, had long said it was her job to remain neutral while her group assembled the delegation. Now, with that job complete, Bonds says she’s “leaning heavily” toward Barack Obama, pending a meeting with the Illinois senator.

    Bonds says she hopes the meeting with Obama will happen soon—-“I don’t want to have to go to West Virginia”—-and she says she hopes to meet with Clinton, too. Asked if Clinton could say anything to change her mind at this point, Bonds says, “I don’t think so.”

  • Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s congressional delegate, won the club’s endorsement by acclamation after one of her trademark rambles. Incumbent shadow rep Mike Panetta also won an endorsement without a vote. Lots of other big names came out for the festivities. Besides the combatants, Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser showed, as did Ward 8’s Marion Barry. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray also made a brief appearance, and At-Large Councilmember Kwame R. Brown was in the house.
  • As far as verbal fireworks, the highlight of the evening was certainly Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander‘s questioning from Rick Rosendall and Bob Summersgill of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance. Alexander’s speech was pretty darn anodyne, pushing her advocacy for getting rid of discriminatory practices in health insurance during her time as a District insurance examiner and her hard-line stance against sex harassment in a Ward 7 firehouse.

    Summersgill, though, brought up Alexander’s decision during her last election campaign to support civil unions but not marriage for gays and lesbians in the District. After citing her “devout Catholic” beliefs, Alexander said she was “willing to look at those options,” but initially was unwilling to commit to marriage. “That’s still a no!” Summersgill, past president of the GLAA, said repeatedly. Rosendall leapt in Summersgill then added: “In this town, if you don’t support gay marriage, you don’t deserve to be on the council.” Alexander finally said, “I guess I’m in support of it; I’m in support of equal rights.”

    That wasn’t all, though: Rosendall, the GLAA’s VP for political affairs, then went after Alexander for her support of Ward 5 colleague Harry Thomas Jr. on his efforts to keep gay strip clubs displaced by the baseball stadium out of his ward. (Rosendall had earlier, while standing to endorse Evans, announced that he wasn’t speaking on behalf of the GLAA.) Alexander said she tends to defer to the home-ward councilmember in such situations, but Rosendall blew a gasket at that line of reasoning: “She betrayed us on that bill!…You didn’t care about us!” he shouted, while other club members groaned. Said Rosendall, “If you’re more mad at me than at her, then there’s something wrong with you.”

    Alexander won the endorsement by a show of hands, 36-3, with an abstention.