Three openly gay candidates are running for seats on the D.C. Council and another three are running for seats on the city’s nine-member State Board of Education in an election on Nov. 3 with a record number of candidates competing for Council and school board seats.

At least 47 out LGBTQ candidates are also running for seats on the city’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, according to a list compiled by the ANC Rainbow Caucus and separate information obtained by the Washington Blade. That number is about double the number of known LGBTQ ANC candidates who ran in the 2018 election.

Two of the gay D.C. Council candidates – Shaw Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Alexander “Alex” Padro, who’s running as an independent, and Libertarian Party leader Joe Bishop-Henchman – are among 23 candidates running for two at-large D.C. Council seats up for grabs on Nov. 3.

And gay Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Randy Downs, who’s also running as an independent, is one of three candidates challenging incumbent Ward 2 Council member Brooke Pinto, the Democratic nominee, in a hotly contested race.

Downs and Padro have been endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a national group that raises money for LGBTQ candidates nationwide.

In one of the State Board of Education races, gay former teacher and longtime education advocate Mysiki Valentine and gay Howard University Political Science Department Chairman Ravi K. Perry are among six candidates competing for an at-large seat on the nonpartisan education board.

Gay education advocate Allister Chang, who recently served as a visiting researcher at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is one of four candidates running for the Ward 2 seat on the Board of Education. He is running to replace gay Ward 2 Board of Education member Jack Jacobson, who chose not to run for re-election and who has endorsed Chang. Chang also received the LGBTQ Victory Fund’s endorsement.

Valentine, Perry, and Chang have said the D.C. Public School System’s ability to address the needs and concerns of LGBTQ students would be among their highest priority in carrying out their role as a school board member.

Other races on the ballot this year include the D.C. Congressional Delegate seat currently held by Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, a longtime LGBTQ rights supporter who’s considered the strong favorite to win re-election; and the so-called “shadow” U.S. House and U.S. Senate seats, which have no powers but serve as advocacy positions for D.C. statehood and D.C.’s interests in Congress.

Democratic incumbent Paul Strauss is considered the front runner against Statehood Green Party Challenger Eleanor Ory and Republican challenger Cornelia Weiss for the shadow Senate seat. Democrat Oye Owolewa is considered the frontrunner against Statehood Green Party candidate Joyce Robinson-Paul and independent candidate Sohaer Rizvi Syed for the shadow House seat.

Also on the ballot are races for D.C. Council seats in Ward 4, in which Democratic nominee Janeese Lewis George is being challenged by Statehood Green Party candidate Perry Redd; the Ward 7 Council seat in which incumbent Democrat Vincent Gray is running unopposed; and the Ward 8 Council seat in which incumbent Democrat Trayon White is being challenged by Republican Nate Derenge and independent candidates Fred Hill and Christopher Cole. George, Trayon White, and Gray are considered the strong favorites to win their respective races.

Similar to past recent D.C. local elections, nearly all candidates running and all those considered to have any chance of winning have expressed support for LGBTQ rights, with most expressing strong support. Local LGBTQ activists have said that means, unlike other cities and states, D.C.’s LGBTQ voters have the luxury of being able to choose who to vote for based on non-LGBTQ issues with the expectation that no serious candidate opposes LGBTQ equality.

However, local LGBTQ activists sometimes disagree over whether an out LGBTQ candidate should be supported on the basis of their sexual orientation or whether other issues should take precedent. Many activists, including members of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, D.C.’s largest local LGBTQ political organization, say it’s important to have LGBTQ people in elective office, especially on the D.C. Council.

There has not been an LGBTQ member of the D.C. Council since gay Council members Jim Graham, a Democrat, and David Catania, an independent, left the Council in January 2015.

The Stein Club has endorsed incumbent D.C. Council member Robert White for one of the two at-large seats up for election. But the club could not endorse any of the three gay Council candidates under its longstanding rules that prohibit the endorsement of a non-Democrat when a Democrat is running in the same race.

The club endorsed all Democratic Council candidates running in the general election except Pinto in Ward 2 after Democrat Pinto was unable to obtain the 60 percent vote needed under club rules for an endorsement. The no-endorsement vote in the Ward 2 race is considered a clear sign of support among Stein Club members for Downs, whose supporters in the club voted against an endorsement for Pinto.

Observers say Downs, while in an uphill campaign, may have a better shot at winning than Padro and Bishop-Henchman, who are competing with several better known candidates, including former at-large Council member Vincent Orange.

Randy Downs and Brooke Pinto are facing off in the Ward 2 Council race that has divided LGBTQ residents. (Photos courtesy of subjects’ respective campaigns)

In the Ward 2 race, Pinto, a 28-year-old attorney and political newcomer to D.C., won the Democratic primary with just 28 percent of the vote in an eight-candidate race. Two weeks later she won a special election to fill the Ward 2 seat until January after longtime Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans (D) resigned earlier this year following allegations of violations of ethics rules.

The Democratic nominee for the Ward 2 D.C. Council seat has won the general election in every election since D.C. began its local home rule government in 1974, a development that would normally make Pinto the strong front runner. But some political observers say Downs, who has received numerous endorsements from prominent Ward 2 activists and small businesses as well as from the Washington Teachers Union, say he has a shot at breaking the longstanding trend of the Democrat winning the Ward 2 seat.

Pinto has expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights and has advocated for LGBTQ supportive legislation during her four months in office. She has also received prominent endorsements, including from the Washington Post and some LGBTQ activists, including gay bar owner and ANC commissioner John Guggenmos. Also backing Pinto is gay Logan Circle ANC commissioner John Fanning, who was one of the unsuccessful candidates running against Pinto in the Democratic primary, and gay Democratic activist Austin Naughton, who serves as chair of the Ward 2 Democrats organization.

Other political observers, while agreeing that Downs has waged a strong campaign, point out that two other candidates are running for the seat that are competing for votes that Downs needs to win an upset victory. The two are independent candidate Martin Miguel Fernandez, who is vying to become the Council’s first Latino member, and Statehood Green Party candidate Peter Bolton. Both have also expressed strong support for LGBTQ issues and are positioning themselves as left-leaning progressives.

Downs has described himself as a “pragmatic progressive” compared to Pinto, who has positioned herself as a moderate to progressive on some issues, according to D.C. Council observers.

Pinto is ahead in money raised for her campaign, with a cumulative total of $189,243 as of the time of the filing of her Oct. 10 campaign finance report. She has selected to enroll in the city’s traditional campaign donor program that allows corporate donations.

Downs’s Oct. 10 report shows he is running a respectable second with $140,730 raised. He points out that he has enrolled in the city’s public financing program where he receives matching funds from the city with donations limited to a maximum of $50 per donor for a ward candidate and corporate donors are not allowed. Downs says he has far more donors from Ward 2 and from within D.C. than Pinto, who has received a large number of out-of-town campaign contributions.

Bolton’s Oct. 10 finance report shows he has raised a total of $2,841 as of Oct. 10. The most recent report that Fernandez has filed, according to Office of Campaign Finance records, is for Aug. 10, which shows he raised $9,446 as of that time. He told the Blade on Tuesday that he applied for an extension for filing his Oct. 10 report but he estimates his total funds raised are about $12,000.

Downs received a +10 rating on LGBTQ issues from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, the group’s highest rating. GLAA gave ratings of +7.5 for Pinto, +7 for Fernandez, and +4 for Bolton. In a statement accompanying its ratings GLAA says each of the four candidates expressed support for all the LGBTQ related issues the group considers important in its candidate questionnaire. The statement says those with the higher ratings gave a greater degree of substance to their questionnaire responses or, like Downs, had a more extensive record of involvement in LGBTQ endeavors.

Downs created a stir in September when he released a statement criticizing Pinto for accepting maximum campaign donations of $500 each from Michigan’s Republican former Attorney General Bill Schuette and Schuette’s wife. Schuette has been an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and civil rights protections for LGBTQ people. Schuette also received the endorsement of President Trump when he ran unsuccessfully for governor of Michigan in 2018.

“These are not our values and we do not accept large donations from politicians who advocate for those values,” Downs said in his statement.

The Blade confirmed from Pinto’s campaign finance report filed with the Office of Campaign Finance that Schuette and his wife made the contributions to her campaign.

“My support for equal rights and the LGBTQ community is longstanding and unwavering,” Pinto told the Blade in a statement. “Views contrary to the rights of our LGBTQ community are abhorrent, and no contributor, politician, or anyone else is going to alter my beliefs, including my steadfast support for same-sex marriage and civil rights protections,” she said.

“I do not vet the views and actions of the thousands of supporters and contributors to our campaign, but I do take my responsibility seriously to educate and encourage all in our community to be inclusive and supportive,” Pinto said. “Mr. Downs might consider discontinuing spurious attacks on me and start discussing policies he would promote.”

Downs told the Blade his campaign website includes information on his numerous policy proposals and his long record of advocacy for Ward 2 residents. He criticized Pinto for not returning the contributions from the Schuettes.

In the at-large Council race, incumbent Democrat Robert White, a longtime advocate for LGBTQ rights, is considered the favorite to win the so-called “Democratic” seat. He received a +10 rating from GLAA. Most political observers say the other seat, which under the city’s election law cannot go to a Democrat, is up for grabs among the better known independent candidates.

Under the city’s election rules voters are asked to select two candidates in the at-large race. The two candidates with the highest vote counts are declared the winners.

Padro is well known and has support from his home base in the Shaw neighborhood in his role as an ANC commissioner and as co-founder and executive director of Shaw Main Streets, a neighborhood advocacy and development group. But he doesn’t have widespread name recognition in other parts of the city, although his campaign signs are appearing in each of the city’s eight wards.

Bishop-Henchman, an attorney who lives in the city’s Eckington neighborhood, serves as vice president of policy and litigation for the National Taxpayers Union Foundation and as chair of D.C.’s Libertarian Party. He ran as the Libertarian Party candidate two years ago in 2018 for the D.C. Attorney General’s position against incumbent Attorney General Karl Racine, a Democrat.

D.C. Board of Election returns show Bishop-Henchman received 14,941 votes, or 6.68 percent, compared to Racine, who won easily with 207,451 votes or 92.77 percent.

Records from the Office of Campaign Finance show that Bishop-Henchman this year applied for and received a waiver from having to file campaign finance reports by committing himself not to raise or spend more than $500 for his campaign. That suggests he may be running as the symbolic standard bearer of the Libertarian Party and not running an active campaign. He has not responded to a call from the Blade for comment as of early this week.

Padro’s Oct. 10 finance report shows he has raised $39,010 for his campaign as of Oct. 10. In the school board race, Valentine has raised $14,488 according to his Oct. 10 finance report. Perry’s report shows he raised $5,255 for his at-large campaign as of Oct. 10. Chang’s report for Oct. 10 shows he raised $2,775 for his campaign as of that date.

GLAA gave Padro a rating of +7, saying he has a strong record on LGBTQ issues and provided “good substance” on his questionnaire responses but lost points for disagreeing with GLAA’s position for decriminalizing sex work in the District. Padro instead has called for legalizing sex work with strict regulations to prevent ill effects, a position that GLAA says “creates more barriers and marginalization” for people involved in sex work.

Bishop-Henchman received a +2.5 GLAA rating. GLAA says in its accompanying statement that he agrees with GLAA on all issues but offered “very little substance” and did not provide any record of working on LGBTQ issues.

Among the other LGBTQ supportive candidates against whom Padro and Bishop-Henchman are competing is Christina Henderson, a former staffer to D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large). Henderson received a +10 GLAA rating. Grosso isn’t running for re-election, and his seat is the one the 23 candidates, including Padro, Bishop-Henchman, and Henderson are running for. Grosso, also a longtime LGBTQ community supporter, has endorsed Henderson as his replacement on the Council.

Also running for the at-large Council seat is longtime LGBTQ community ally Monica Palacio who until earlier this year served as director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights. She received a +9.5 rating from GLAA. Former Council member Orange, who some consider one of the frontrunners for the at-large seat, received a +2.5 rating from GLAA on grounds that he did not return the GLAA questionnaire and his positions on various issues couldn’t be determined.

Record number of LGBTQ ANC candidates

Among the 47 known LGBTQ Advisory Neighborhood Commission candidates on the Nov. 3 ballot, 19 are incumbent commissioners and 22 are running unopposed. At least one LGBTQ candidate is running in each of the city’s eight wards, with most running in Wards 1 and 2.

There are a total of 40 ANCs located throughout the city with each having between two and nine single member districts, with a total of 296 individual commissioners. The commissioners hold unpaid elected positions under the city’s Home Rule Charter that are charged with making recommendations to city officials on a wide range of neighborhood issues for which city officials are required to give “great weight.”

Among those running unopposed is incumbent Monika Nemeth in Single Member District 3F06 in Ward 3. Nemeth’s election to the ANC two years ago marked the first known time a transgender person was elected to public office in D.C. She is a former president of the Stein Club and currently serves as one of the club’s two vice presidents.

Another candidate identified by the ANC Rainbow Caucus as LGBTQ is Raymond Chandler who, along with gay candidate Justin Riordan, is challenging ANC 5C05 incumbent Darlene Oliver in the city’s Brentwood neighborhood. Chandler, who goes by the name Rayceen Pendarvis, is well known in the LGBTQ community as an entertainer, emcee, and community activist.

Riordan told the Blade that both his and Chandler’s campaign signs have been torn down repeatedly while Oliver’s signs have been left alone. LGBTQ candidates in the Logan Circle ANC 2F, Rehana Mohammed and Alexandra Bailey, and Dupont Circle ANC 2B09 candidate Kyle Mulhall have also reported having their campaign signs pulled down or damaged.

SOURCE: Read the full article in the Washington Blade