Members of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city's largest LGBT political organization, overwhelmingly rejected challenges to the club's Dec. 3 executive-board elections Wednesday evening, reaffirming Martin Garcia as its next president, Angela Peoples as vice president for legislative and political affairs, and Vincent Villano as vice president for administration.
Somewhere between 60 and 70 members of the club gathered at One Judiciary Square to address two formal challenges to the Dec. 3 results, in which the Garcia-Peoples-Villano slate, spurred by an influx of more than 45 new members who joined the club in the week prior to the elections, ousted incumbent Stein President Lateefah Williams and two other members of her candidate slate.
After the Dec. 3 votes were challenged, Williams removed her name from consideration for re-election. She also recused herself from the executive-board vote calling for the Dec. 19 special meeting at which members might have invalidated the Dec. 3 results, as recommended by Donald R. Dinan, a lawyer who serves as counsel for the D.C. Democratic State Party, of which the Stein Club is an affiliate. Notably, others countered prior to the Dec. 19 meeting that not only would such an invalidation break club bylaws, but that the meeting itself did so in that it was not called at least two weeks prior.
In her position as president, Williams oversaw the special meeting and served as moderator between those who felt the elections had been rigged as a result of that last-minute surge in memberships – including several who applied for ''special memberships,'' intended for senior citizens, full-time students and low-income people – and those who felt the insurgent slate had recruited and organized newer members both fairly and in keeping with club bylaws.
According to Williams, several members questioned the integrity of the Stein membership roll after the Dec. 3 elections. In responding to those questions, Treasurer Barrie Daneker confirmed that 18 people had selected the designation for ''special memberships,'' which cost $15, compared to $35 generic memberships.
Seventeen of those 18 memberships were flagged as questionable after it appeared that an unusually large number of people had opted for the ''special memberships,'' but had provided employment information that seemed to disqualify them from low-income status. Further, 11 of those members provided addresses that were not in the D.C. metropolitan area. The current executive board members sought the advice of Dinan, who recommended that the results be invalidated and a new election held.
During the Dec. 19 discussion, Stein Secretary Jimmie Luthuli, Daneker and Stein member Ed Craft read aloud letters from former Stein President Mario Acosta and Stein member Jeri Hughes that challenged the election results and asked the members to set aside the Dec. 3 results and amend the group's bylaws to require members to belong for 30 days – the waiting period for participating in candidate-endorsement forums – before being considered eligible to vote in officer elections.
In her letter, Hughes called the Dec. 3 elections ''a farce,'' taking issue with what she perceived as an outside group organizing externally and attempting to take over and potentially change the mission and focus of the Stein Club by drowning out and making irrelevant the views or desires of longer-term club members, with whom the incoming executive officers have not established working relationships.
In the course of the meeting, many on both sides of the debate came to agree that because there is nothing in the bylaws that defines ''low-income'' nor any requirement to establish residency in the D.C. area, the elections were valid.
But the meeting also served as a chance for members to have their voices heard, with longtime members expressing frustration that newer members had not been involved in the club or tried to engage them prior to running a slate of candidates. Some newer members complained of hostility on the part of older members and a sense of being made to feel unwelcome.
Former Stein President Kurt Vorndran submitted a resolution to the members that sought to institute reforms and clarify ambiguities in the club's bylaws, rather than invalidate the Dec. 3 results.
Vorndran proposed four specific reforms: clarifying that, although members may reside anywhere, the club is intended for those in the D.C. metropolitan area, meaning the club should encourage those who live or vote in another jurisdiction to join and participate in the local Democratic affiliates for that area; amending the bylaws to require members to belong for 30 days prior to participating in officers elections; temporarily raising the ''special membership'' price to $30 until the club can amend the bylaws to set eligibility criteria for such memberships; and reaffirming the club's vision of itself as an organization that functions with a sense of community and solidarity among members as a result of a history of interacting with each other and participating in the club.
Local activist Lane Hudson thanked Vorndran for his resolution, but moved to table it until the club's next meeting in January, when such reforms could be more fully vetted. The motion to table Vorndran's resolution until the Jan. 3 meeting passed by more than a 4-to-1 margin.
Daneker then made a motion to reaffirm the results of the Dec. 3 elections, which was overwhelmingly approved on a voice vote, with two members abstaining.
Afterward, Hughes, as one of the chief challengers of the election results, called the meeting a ''Kumbaya moment.'' While she maintained her written characterization of the Dec. 3 elections as a farce, she also noted that the decision by the majority of members to approve the results of the election was good for the club, because it allows members to move forward with a single purpose of making life better for LGBT individuals in the District.
Garcia, the newly elected president, said he felt the meeting accomplished its goal of allowing all members to state their concerns about the club's direction. He said he and his slate were committed healing rifts in the organization and reaching out to longer-term members to build on their accomplishments and harness their energy for the betterment of the club.
Looking forward to 2013, Peoples, the new vice president of legislative and political affairs, said she felt Vorndran's memo did address some of the concerns raised in the course of the special meeting, and said she would be fine with amending the bylaws in accordance with members' desires.
''Our intent all along – as it has been and will continue to be – is to move the Stein Club forward and help it to be unified,'' Peoples said. ''I hope the excitement, and the energy, and even a little bit of drama that's been circulated around this election will serve as a catalyst to show folks that this organization's got some fire in it. We're going to be doing a lot of work, not just to make sure the organization is functioning, but to have an impact and continue the legacy of advocacy and activism for the LGBT community in D.C.''
Williams, as the outgoing president, told Metro Weekly after the meeting that she had withdrawn her candidacy for president because she saw that the contentiousness surrounding the election was not healthy for the club, and hoped her withdrawal would ''take some of the sting'' out of the situation. She also vowed to stay actively involved in the club as a regular member.
''I think the meeting was successful as an initial first step at dialogue between long-term and new members, and bringing both groups together,'' Williams said. ''Unfortunately, due to some motions that ended the dialogue early, some members still feel that they did not have an opportunity to have their questions addressed. I think the key is to look at this meeting as the beginning of the process of healing and not the culmination of it.''
''I hope that all members continue to engage one another to work through any concerns that may still exist,'' she continued. ''I wish the new board well and I hope that they continue efforts to help bridge the gap between long-term and new members.''
[Editor's note: As originally posted, Jimmie Luthuli's name was misspelled as Lithuli.]