Showdown at Stein

Sekou Biddle, Vincent Orange split LGBT Democrats support

By John Riley
Published on March 8, 2012, 12:10am | Comments

Former Councilmember Sekou Biddle (D-At Large) and sitting Councilmember Vincent Orange (D-At Large), who replaced Biddle in an April 2011 special election, sparred over their positions on LGBT issues at a meeting of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club March 1. But neither reached the required threshold of 60 percent support, resulting in ''no endorsement'' from one of the city's top Democratic clubs ahead of the April 3 Democratic primary.

Backers of both candidates packed the room at the Democratic National Committee headquarters as a show of support. At Large candidates Peter Shapiro and E. Gail Anderson Holness also took part in the forum, arguing that they would be better advocates for the LGBT community.

Orange's opponents, particularly Biddle and Shapiro, raised the issue of Orange's past statements opposing marriage equality and his low rating (.5 on a scale of -10 to 10) from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), where he ''showed no understanding of the issues,'' according to GLAA's analysis. In contrast, GLAA rated Biddle 5.5, highest among the At Large candidates.

''What you've seen over the years is someone who is an unwavering ally and advocate for the LGBT community,'' Biddle said of himself. ''I'm not representing issues based on which way the wind is blowing.''

But Orange and his LGBT supporters, including his scheduler and administrative clerk, Doug Payton Jr., argued that Orange was not bigoted against members of the LGBT community, but had instead been a champion for them. Orange said he, along with gay Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), had produced legislation to establish the Mayor's Office of GLBT Affairs in 2005, pushed for the inclusion of transgender individuals in the Human Rights Act and, as vice president of Pepco in 2007, pushed the company to provide domestic-partner benefits.

The candidates also showed differences in style. Orange fended off attacks from both Biddle and Shapiro, both seeking the mantle of ''progressive'' in the race, and calmly made his pitch to the Stein members, exhibiting a familiarity with several members of the audience. In response to a lighthearted question by moderator Christopher Dyer, Orange pointed out he's visited Ziegfeld's and several other venues with LGBT friends and colleagues.

Conversely, Biddle performed more strongly from a policy standpoint, showing a strong grasp of LGBT issues and reminding Stein members of their support for him when he was on the Board of Education. When Orange said he no longer supported legislation he co-introduced to create permanent prostitution-free zones because ''my understanding of the bill is different from what it seemed to be,'' Biddle pounced, slamming the bill as an election-year ''gimmick'' that ''masks what the real problem is'': employment discrimination against transgender people.

On the first round of balloting, Biddle received 45 percent of the votes, while Orange received 37 percent and Shapiro received 19 percent of votes. Holness received no votes.

On the second ballot, a run-off between Biddle and Orange, Biddle won 55.35 percent of votes, to Orange's 39.28 percent. The remaining 5.37 percent opted for ''no endorsement.'' With neither candidate passing the 60 percent threshold, the win went to ''no endorsement.''

At Thursday's meeting Stein also endorsed Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who is running unopposed for re-election. Evans recently earned an 8.5 rating from GLAA.

Evans told those in attendance that he would be an advocate for the community and promised to remain vigilant, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, in correcting or updating outdated laws that are biased against LGBT people. He also promised transgender activist Ruby Corado that he would arrange a meeting between himself, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier and LGBT activists to look into revisiting the sensitivity training that MPD officers receive.

Evans was later endorsed by a unanimous voice vote.

In related news, despite failing to receive Stein's endorsement for the Ward 8 race on Feb. 23, ANC 8E Commissioner Sandra ''SS'' Seegars submitted a late GLAA questionnaire and earned a 5.5 rating, overtaking opponent Darrell Gaston, who received a 4, giving her the highest GLAA rating in the Ward 8 race against former mayor and incumbent Councilmember Marion Barry (D).