Two of the four Republican candidates in D.C. Council races this year are black gay men. That may seem surprising -- exit polls showed just 27 percent of gay voters chose the GOP ticket in 2008, while just four percent of black voters did so.
In Ward 1, Marc Morgan is challenging Democrat Jim Graham, who is seeking a fourth term. Morgan, a fundraiser and strategist for environmental, HIV/AIDS, and lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender causes, is focusing primarily on green technology as a means to bring jobs and businesses into the ward. He also wants to rebuild D.C. education programs to increase college opportunities.
In Ward 5, Tim Day, an advisory neighborhood commissioner and native, is taking on Democrat Harry Thomas, Jr., who is seeking a second term. Day, the first in his family to attend college, heads his own accounting firm. He is a cancer survivor and serves as a spokesman for the Avon Walk for Cancer. Like Morgan, Day is also an advocate for HIV/AIDS causes.
I asked Day why, in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, he chose to become a Republican.
“I don’t believe being a Republican is a choice any more than any of our other values or beliefs,” he replied. “I am a Republican because I believe in small, accountable government. I am a Republican because I believe in fiscal responsibility. I am a Republican because I believe in designed tax programs to help our small businesses grow, not overbearing tax laws that impede their development.”
If he thought it was a matter of choice, he said, “I would have obviously chosen Democrat in this city, and then wouldn’t have had to worry about a November election.”
But when a GOP leader like Sen. Jim DeMint say gays should not be allowed to teach in public schools, and the official Texas GOP platform says the “practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit,” isn’t it hard to be a member of the party?
“Regardless of your party affiliation, there are going to be certain parts of it that are anti-something,” Day said. “Does it upset me that there are members of the GOP nationally that are not LGBT-friendly? Of course it does. Will it make me change my party affiliation? Not any more than a flag burner makes me renounce my citizenship.”
Day points out that the D.C. Republican Party is a diverse organization.
“Of our four candidates for D.C. Council, three are African-American and two are openly gay,” he said. “I don’t know of another city or state in the country that opens itself up to that kind of diversity. I believe that with the right message the GOP will naturally build diversity within itself, and I think D.C. is one of the places with that message and heading in the right direction.”
Day says he has “received overwhelming support from multiple LGBT and African-American organizations” in his campaign. While he concedes that “at first I probably raised a few eyebrows” with his party affiliation, “once people listen to the message I’m promoting it becomes hard for them to react harshly.”
However, the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance was not so welcoming. When the group released its candidate ratings in late August, both Day and Morgan received scores that, while still positive, were lower than those given to most Democratic candidates.
“While I’m tired of pointing fingers and pushing blame, I do truly believe my being a Republican had something to do with it,” Day said. “Could I have written an encyclopedia of my actions over the past 20 years on LGBT issues and sent it to them? Sure I could have. ... It seems to me that, based on the ratings some Democrats received, they got higher ratings for similar responses, so I don’t quite understand how my answers were worthy of such a low rating -- other than that ‘R’ next to my name.”
Both Day and Morgan are the underdogs in their respective races, but Republicans are taking heart in the results of the Sept. 14 Democratic primary. Graham received just 57 percent of the vote in Ward 1, while Thomas took just 62 percent in Ward 5.
“Since the primary, I’ve received numerous e-mails and notes from people dissatisfied with the results, hoping they can in some way help me win in November,” Day said. “I’m running because I believe D.C. has been mismanaged for quite some time now, and we need some people to hold our government officials accountable.”
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC