The Debate Watcher is an ongoing feature reviewing this year’s D.C. mayoral candidate forums ahead of the April 1 primary.
The Hosts: The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club
The Venue: Metropolitan Community Church in Shaw
The Candidates: Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Vincent Gray, Vincent Orange and Tommy Wells
The Crowd: About 200 highly partisan lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual residents and straight allies
The Stakes: The endorsement proceedings of the Stein Club, the city’s preeminent LGBT political organization, are a highlight of any D.C. election cycle. And in this year’s Democratic primary race for mayor, a Stein nod is a highly coveted imprimatur of gay community support. Few who attended the candidate forum held Thursday night ahead of the endorsement vote were undecided, having been mobilized by various campaigns to support particular candidates.
The Topics: policing, marijuana policy, affordable housing, transgender equality
The Upshot: While Bowser and Wells had vocal supporters among the rowdy crowd, this was really a duel between Gray, who chaired the D.C. Council when it passed the same-sex marriage law and has supported numerous LGBT priorities as mayor, and Evans, who has presided over numerous advances in gay rights, starting with the repeal of sodomy laws, in his 23 years on the council. Evans summarized his record as such: “In the way that Bill Clinton was described as being the first black president of the United States, Jack Evans was described as being the first gay council member.” Said one crowd member: “You go, girl!”
The Moment of Truth: There wasn’t much daylight between Gray and Evans on the issues. Both said they’d support special affordable housing programs for gay seniors, and both said they supported marijuana decriminalization but were more wary of legalization. Evans was slightly more aggressive on policing, saying he’d give “firm direction” to Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier to restore a centralized Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit whereas under Gray’s tenure, the unit has been dispersed into the seven police districts, becoming, according to a new report, “significantly less visible and effective.” The final question asked about the candidates’ performance on the closely-watched ratings issued by the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. Evans lamented dropping from his previous 10 to an 8, and noted he has lodged an appeal. As for Gray: “I got a perfect 10, ladies and gentlemen,” he said to whoops and cheers.
The Crowd Favorite: While The Debate Watcher often must judge the crowd favorite by the seat of his pants, in this case, the ballot box does not lie. On the initial ballot, Gray won 115 votes to Evans’s 56, but the margin was shy of the 60 percent supermajority necessary for a formal endorsement. On a second ballot, between only Gray and Evans, 116 votes were needed to win the nod. Gray could muster only 112 to Evans’s 74. Afterward, Gray campaign manager Chuck Thies blamed “strategic voting” by supporters of Bowser and Wells, who didn’t make the runoff, to deny Gray the endorsement. After joining in chants of “four more years,” Gray said he’s confident his support among gay voters remains strong: “Whether we get the endorsement or not, it certainly doesn’t change our commitment to these issues.”