Running on a reform platform, Toby Quaranta, 28, won nearly 60 percent of the votes for president of the D.C. Young Democrats, Saturday, May 5, becoming the second openly gay president of the organization since home rule. The last out gay president of the group was longtime community activist Philip Pannell, elected in 1979.
According to Pannell, Quaranta is also the first white president of the D.C. Young Democrats since the District was granted home rule in 1973.
Quaranta told Metro Weekly he felt ''honored and humbled'' by his show of support, which allowed him to upset Brandon Todd, a former staffer and campaign operations manager for Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) by a vote of 80 to 54. Todd was one of nine people who had run on a slate for nine open positions, with seven of the slate members running unopposed.
A former field director and organizer for the Human Rights Campaign and the former executive director of the Virginia Young Democrats, Quaranta knew the importance of publicizing the event, which took place at the JW Marriott Washington hotel downtown, and getting his supporters to the polls.
Because a good deal of his support was expected to come from college students, less than 20 hours before the election Quaranta sent out a press release decrying a proposed interpretation of voting-eligibility rules for the D.C. Young Democrats. Central to the confusion was the question of whether college students living in and attending school in the District who are registered Democrats in their home states, but not in the District, would be eligible to vote in the special election. In a May 4 email to Quaranta, Rod Snyder, president of the Young Democrats of America, suggested that only students registered to vote in D.C. would be eligible.
However, according to rules for the D.C. Young Democrats and a provision of the D.C. Official Code that defines a ''statutory resident'' as a person who ''maintains a place of abode within the District for an aggregate of 183 days or more during the taxable year, whether or not such individual is domiciled in the District,'' college students who are registered Democrats in their home states are eligible.
Following his victory, Quaranta said he is looking forward supporting President Obama's re-election. He said the D.C. Young Democrats may travel to Pennsylvania or Virginia, crucial swing states, to help with field operations.
Quaranta said he hopes that bringing in new blood will help reform the party's image by making its elected representatives more responsive to people's concerns, particularly after some unflattering political scandals at the Wilson Building, including the resignation of former Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), who pleaded guilty to embezzlement and tax fraud in January.
''A lot of Washingtonians don't trust city government, or take it seriously,'' Quaranta said. ''I want to change their perceptions of the party, and focus on doing good, not just keeping political power.''