Primary Pains

A Town Square Opinion

by Richard J. Rosendall
Published on September 21, 2006, 12:00am | Comments

To paraphrase a line from the classic Star Trek episode, ''The Trouble with Tribbles,'' one little robocall is not dangerous! Unfortunately, of course, we were inundated by so many of those charming telephone messages in the run-up to the Sept. 12 D.C. Primary that Washington nearly saw the first-ever phone-generated riots.

Then there was the flood of junk mail. My favorite campaign flyer came from Adrian Fenty. It showed a forlorn looking girl holding a hand-written sign that said, ''Fenty for my Future.'' The little girl looked so pathetic, and the piece struck me as so inadvertently campy, that I was showing it to people and translating it, ''Vote for Fenty or the girl dies!'' I also enjoyed the TV commercial in which Fenty led his followers in Pied Piper fashion up a hilly street in Anacostia. It reminded me of the von Trapp family climbing the Alps at the end of The Sound of Music.

Campaign follies aside, and regardless of whom you supported, there was reason to celebrate. Results from across the city confirmed that GLBT equality is part of the mainstream consensus in hometown Washington. The only candidates who made significant statements against same-sex marriage -- Vincent Orange in the mayor's race, A. Scott Bolden in the at-large race, Jonathan Rees in Ward 3 -- were soundly defeated. The likely new councilmembers from Wards 3, 5 and 6 (Mary Cheh, Harry Thomas Jr. and Tommy Wells, respectively) all support our marriage rights. One indication of our extraordinary progress in the district is that The Washington Post cited gay issues twice in justifying its endorsement in the at-large race.

D.C. voters deserve credit for once again demonstrating their ability to see past slickness. Bolden's dishonest at-large Council campaign did not just fail, it went down in flames. The more people met and heard him, the less they apparently liked him. Incumbent Phil Mendelson won in every ward of the city, which is a tribute to his strong record on consumer and environmental issues in addition to civil liberties in general and gay rights in particular.

In the races for mayor and Council chair, there were multiple gay-friendly candidates contending for our votes, which is a nice problem to have. Our longstanding allies who lost, such as Linda Cropp and Kathy Patterson, deserve our thanks for their leadership and service over many years, as do their staffs. One sad note on election night came as indefatigable gay community activist Philip Pannell was defeated in the shadow senator race by the unknown Michael D. Brown, who benefited from his name's similarity to that of mayoral candidate Michael A. Brown.

With so much upheaval ahead, how will the new mayor lead? The record suggests that Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans was right when he told the Post, regarding Fenty's school modernization bill for which Evans found the funding, ''Adrian introduced the bill, and that's it. He doesn't participate in the actual workings of government.'' Since no one seriously thinks the city can be run on a Blackberry, the question is whether Fenty will appoint experienced hands to contend with bureaucrats unlikely to be awed by his youthful energy, while steering clear of ''palace guard'' types who would undermine his reform efforts by isolating him.

An early test will be how Fenty distributes the ''plums'' that come with the office. He has the advantage of having made few promises. Excluding those who backed the wrong horse, while as old as politics, would redline talent Fenty may find he needs. The myriad difficulties he will quickly face, including budgetary pressure and resistant police and firefighter unions, make this a time for building alliances rather than settling scores or dividing spoils. His initial outreach efforts in the days following the primary are an encouraging sign.

Vincent Gray faces a similarly daunting challenge as the presumptive D.C. Council chairman in sorting out his colleagues' competing claims for committee chairs. Marion Barry reportedly wants the education committee. There is no harm in wanting, but if Gray shares Fenty's desire for education reform, he should refuse. With three decades in public office spanning the school board, the City Council, and the mayor's office, Barry has had more than his share of chances to help ''the last, the lost and the least,'' as he likes to put it. Gray would be wise to give him a relatively harmless post like Parks and Recreation while placing the most important oversight duties in more credible hands.

After special elections for the vacancies in Wards 4 and 7, the Council will have five newcomers. As they find their legislative legs and the returning members jockey for position, the resulting confusion will increase both the risks and the opportunities in 2007.

For now, we move on to the general election, in which there are additional candidates whom the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance will rate on Oct. 10. These include At-Large Councilmember David Catania (I) plus candidates for the Board of Education. To see the new GLAA ratings and other updates after that date, visit www.glaa.org.

Looking past Nov. 7, planning has already begun for a GLBT transition subcommittee to advise the incoming mayor, similar to the one that assisted Tony Williams eight years ago. While we are blessed to live in a gay-welcoming oasis, local politics is still like the lottery in one respect: You have to play to win.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on Salon.com and the Independent Gay Forum. He can be reached at rrosendall@starpower.net.


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