It's endorsement time in the Ward 5 race.
With less than a month remaining before the May 15 special election to replace former Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. (D), the candidates seeking to replace him are reaching out to various groups, including the LGBT community, as they scramble for the votes needed to tip the election in their favor.
Thomas, who earned praise from LGBT advocates after voting in favor of the District's marriage-equality law in 2009 despite fierce opposition from some constituent groups in his ward, pleaded guilty to embezzlement and tax fraud in January.
In an effort to find a candidate who would be at least as strong an ally as Thomas, several LGBT groups have been grilling the field of candidates on their positions on issues ranging from marriage equality to anti-transgender employment discrimination.
On April 19, six of the nine Democratic candidates running for the Ward 5 seat presented themselves to the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, among the city's most prominent partisan clubs, to vie for the LGBT club's endorsement. With David Mariner, executive director of The DC Center, moderating, Kenyan McDuffie, Drew Hubbard, Shelly Gardner, Frank Wilds, Ron Magnus and Kathy Henderson fielded questions about LGBT issues.
Candidate Ruth Marshall was absent due to a scheduling conflict, and organizers said they were unable to reach candidate Rae Zapata. The remaining Democrat, Delano Hunter, initially accepted, but later backed out.
Hunter came under fire during his 2010 primary race against Thomas when he said he would have opposed the marriage-equality law. He also attended an Aug. 15 rally held by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) opposing marriage equality, and received campaign donations and other support from NOM.
Stein Club President Lateefah Williams read to the group a statement Hunter submitted to the Stein Democrats. In it, Hunter thanked the group for the invitation, but said he would not appear after being advised that LGBT leaders closely tied to Stein had made statements indicating Hunter would not be favored for the endorsement.
''I completed both the GLAA and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club questionnaire, neither for political gain nor favor, but rather as a means to continue establishing working relationships between myself and the LGBT community,'' Hunter said in his statement. ''I would like to extend again my sincere apology to the LGBT community for materials disseminated unbeknownst to our campaign throughout Ward 5 during the 2010 primary election. Furthermore, neither me nor members of my campaign condone rhetoric that pushes intolerance. Our shared interests and concerns should trump any personal political agenda, and if elected as the next Ward 5 councilmember, I look forward to discussing these issues with the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club in a more fair and objective environment.''
Prior to the Stein Club meeting, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) of Washington, D.C., asked all 11 Ward 5 candidates, including Republican Tim Day and Independent John C. Cheeks, similar policy questions. GLAA does not endorse candidates, but it does rate them on a scale of -10 to 10.
Hubbard, who has worked for the past seven years as a legislative director and policy aide for former Mayor Anthony Williams and Councilmembers Kwame Brown (D-At Large) Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Michael Brown (I-At Large), began his remarks to the Stein Club citing his 5.5 GLAA rating, the highest of all 11 candidates. As the meeting continued, the largest Stein blocs appeared to form behind Hubbard and McDuffie. GLAA rated McDuffie a 4.
The three other Democrats to complete the GLAA questionnaire, Zapata, Magnus and Hunter, received scores of 2, 1.5 and 0.5, respectively, with Hunter losing two points for his ties to NOM and for accepting $5,500 in bundled donations from the Stadium Club, a Ward 5 strip club, which financially benefited from the sale of a warehouse that was intended to house an HIV/AIDS nonprofit.
On the first round of Stein Club balloting, McDuffie earned 54.7 percent of votes, compared to Hubbard's second-place showing, 23.8 percent of the 42 ballots cast. The remainder fell to the other candidates, as well as votes for no endorsement. With no candidate meeting the club's 60 percent threshold for endorsement initially, McDuffie won endorsement in a run-off with Hubbard, securing 70.4 percent of the votes.
''This endorsement really means a lot to me,'' McDuffie said following his victory. ''I came before you all two years ago, and I didn't get it, but I didn't disappear. I worked with folks in the LGBT community. I know that your issues are my issues. Our concerns are similar concerns. … I look forward to working with everybody who's a member of Gertrude Stein and everybody who's a member of the LGBT community so we can positively change how we do politics in Ward 5.''
But LGBT support has not only gone to Democrats. Republican Tim Day, an out gay man who ran against Thomas in the 2010 general election and helped expose the councilmember's corruption, has been getting his own endorsements.
Day, who earned a 5 rating from the GLAA, beating out every Democrat except Hubbard, has received the backing of the D.C. Log Cabin Republicans and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national organization that seeks to elect openly LGBT, qualified candidates.
Robert Turner, the president of DC Log Cabin Republicans, said that his organization was enthusiastically backing Day. Turner said Log Cabin has donated to Day's campaign and will be organizing volunteers for voter-outreach efforts.
''I think Tim's message resonates with voters once people remove the idea of Democrat or Republican from a candidate and just look at the candidate for what they stand for, what they've done in the community, what their track record is,'' Turner said. ''Then they see that this is a good person, he would do well on the council, he represents my views, my values, and he would help weed out bad and unethical behavior like he's already done with Harry Thomas Jr.''
Added Denis Dison, Victory Fund vice president of communications: ''Tim is an accomplished and committed community leader, a small business owner and a good government activist who has already made a difference for his Ward. As an openly gay person of color, Tim's service on the D.C. City Council would also reflect the diversity of the city's LGBT community. He's incredibly well-qualified to help lead D.C., and we're proud to endorse him.''