Update: D.C. gay Democrats back Harry Thomas in Ward 5 council primary fight
Gay Democrats are rewarding D.C. Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) for his vote last year in favor of the city's same-sex marriage law. Thomas was endorsed by the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club at a meeting Monday night.
In the weeks leading up to the historic council vote in December, Thomas was under intense pressure from ministers and same-sex marriage opponents in Northeast to oppose the measure.
Although most District council members who represent neighborhoods west of the Anacostia River felt confident a majority of their constituents supported same-sex marriage, the electorate in majority-black Ward 5 appeared narrowly opposed. The Ward 5 Democratic Committee even approved a resolution opposing same-sex marriage.
But Thomas supported the bill, saying before the vote he would not stand for the "disenfranchisement of any individual in the District."
Thomas is facing four opponents in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, and his decision not to support putting the matter before voters could become an issue in the campaign.
Update, 3 p.m.:
Our colleague Mike DeBonis was present at the club meeting. Here is his report from the scene:
Thomas was not shy about telling the well-organized group of gay and lesbian Democrats about the political heat he had to endure in his ward - one of the city's most socially conservative.
One of his 2006 election supporters, he pointed out, was longtime advisory neighborhood commissioner Bob King, who has become perhaps the District's most outspoken opponent of gay marriage. Thomas told Stein Club members that he did not hesitate to cut ties with King.
"I cut Bob King loose," he told the audience. "I told him, 'I'm going to do what's right for the District of Columbia.'"
Thomas also, for the first time, publicly referred to a conversation he'd had with "his pastor" ahead of the gay-marriage vote. In that colloquy, he said, the priest asked him to follow church teaching and vote against the bill. Thomas, a member of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Brookland, described his retort to the ecclesiastical entreaty this way: "You're not talking to your parishioner, monsignor; you're talking to your council member."
The pastor of St. Anthony's, the Rev. Frederick Close, said today that he did not speak with Thomas ahead of the vote and declined to discuss any other conversations they may have had on the subject. He also pointed out that he is not a monsignor, an honorary title held by some priests.
In a subsequent conversation with a reporter, Thomas said he wasn't referring to Close. He declined to say which priest he spoke to.
Ron Collins, a Stein Club member and D.C. Council staff member, rose in support of Thomas: "I know the angst that was in this community in Ward 5. Harry Thomas stood his ground. He didn't hem and haw. He was clear, unequivocal, and he was in support of it."
Thomas also won kudos from colleague Jim Graham of Ward 1, also up for endorsement Monday night. "You talk about courage, he was courageous," he said of Thomas.
Kenyan McDuffie, a former Justice Department lawyer who is challenging Thomas, tried to outflank the incumbent to little avail. "I would not only have voted for it, I would have stood beside you to support the bill," McDuffie told Graham.
Graham, the first openly gay Democrat to serve on the council, won the Club's endorsement for a fourth term. Running against two heterosexual men, Jeff Smith and Bryan Weaver, Graham told Stein Club members it was important to keep gay council members in office.
"If you don't have a seat at the table, you're on the menu," he told the crowd at the Thurgood Marshall Center in Northwest. "We've got to keep these seats we have now."
Graham easily outpolled Simth and Weaver, garnering 77 percent of member votes. Thomas vanquished McDuffie with 89 percent.
Gertrude Stein member will continue to debate candidate endorsements in the coming weeks, including a June 14 mayoral endorsement and what's expected to be a heavily contested July 14 endorsement for at-large Council member.
-- Tim Craig and Mike DeBonis
Tim Craig and Mike DeBonis
May 18, 2010; 11:29 AM ET
Categories: 2010 District Election , D.C. Council , Tim Craig | Tags: Harry Thomas, Same-sex marriage
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