Vincent B. Orange Sr. sat quietly up front at Scripture Cathedral church. Beside him were the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, a fiery District preacher under attack for delivering an anti-gay sermon; the head of the new Black Panther Party, who has previously condemned the white man as "the devil"; and a top representative of the Nation of Islam, whose national leader is notorious for making incendiary anti-Semitic remarks.
But Orange, the Ward 5 D.C. council member and an aspiring mayoral candidate, kept his cool.
He applauded politely throughout the two-hour event on Saturday night, a rally for the Millions More Movement that turned into a rally in support of Wilson. And when he finally rose to speak, Orange overlooked the swirling anger aroused by Wilson's July 3 sermon. He declined to mention comments by Black Panther leader Malik Zulu Shabazz, who glorified the 1968 D.C. riots. Instead, when Orange addressed the church packed with hundreds of black activists, he chose to deliver his mayoral stump speech.
Nattering on about bills he has introduced and economic development projects he has delivered, Orange was, to say the least, out of step with the rest of the evening's speakers, who spoke angrily about the treatment of African Americans in U.S. society. The audience responded with tepid applause. Orange, mission accomplished, quietly sat down.
Out of the Cabinet
Rev. Wilson hasn't been the only source of heartburn in the city's gay community in recent days. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) probably wouldn't win any popularity contests right now, either.
Earlier this month, administration officials stunned gay activists by withdrawing the mayor's support from legislation to permanently enshrine the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Affairs as a Cabinet-level agency.
John Wallace, director of the Mayor's Office of Community Affairs, testified July 7 before the Council's Committee on Government Operations that Williams had signed an executive order in 2004 formally establishing the office and elevating it to Cabinet status. "In light of this action, the executive believes that the legislation before you today is not necessary," Wallace said.
Wallace's testimony came as a shock to the bill's author, gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), as well as a variety of gay activists. They figured Wallace, who has been in his post just a few weeks, was somehow misinformed. After all, Williams had personally expressed support for the bill after the death in March of his LGBT director, Wanda Alston, who was fatally stabbed in her home by a drug-crazed neighbor. "I certainly support efforts to upgrade the level of the office and legislation that's been introduced," Williams told Metro Weekly in April.
But Williams spokesman Vince Morris confirmed the mayor's opposition to the bill, saying Williams is worried that giving the agency Cabinet-level status legislatively would open the door to council mischief. As it stands, the mayor controls the agency's budget, Morris said; if Graham's bill passes, the council would have "line-item control."
"Most council members are sympathetic to the LGBT agenda. But it's conceivable that you could have a council member who is not," Morris said. "By keeping it as part of the mayor's office [created by executive order], you protect if from meddling."
Still, Morris said, the bill clearly has the support of a majority of council members. And if it passes, he said, the mayor would sign it.
Williams "is not going to try to veto or fight the council on a piece of legislation that they all feel strongly about," Morris said.
Meanwhile, Williams has allowed the office to languish since Alston's murder, gay activists charged. Morris said that a search committee is hard at work, and that the mayor hopes to name her successor in September.
So now he's Chairman Mayor-Councilman Barry.
Ward 8 council member Marion Barry Jr. has been appointed chairman of a new committee on vocational education by council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D). According to Barry's office, the panel will be charged with "reviewing, assessing, analyzing, evaluating and making recommendations'' about the vocational education system, which many D.C. leaders consider inadequate. Barry has been a passionate advocate for increasing vocational education programs so students who choose not to go to college can nonetheless prepare for a skilled job.
The new committee is not a formal legislative body, but one of several "special projects'' awarded to Barry and two other council freshmen, Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) and Kwame Brown (D-At Large), after they groused about being shut out of powerful posts due to the council's seniority system. Though Democrats control the council, the seniority system denied them chairmanships while rewarding at-large council members Carol Schwartz, a Republican, and David A. Catania, an Independent.
When the session began in January, Barry called giving a Republican and an Independent chairmanships "craziness.'' Cropp stood her ground, but promised the three that they would have little sandboxes of their own someday. True to her word, Cropp gave Gray a panel charged with preventing youth violence, while Brown chairs a special project on local small and disadvantaged business enterprises.