Loose Lips

Deconstructing Thomas’ Ward 5 Win: Was NOM the Biggest Loser?

A National Organization for Marriage mailer targeting Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr.

A National Organization for Marriage mailer targeting Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr.

Anyone who follows local LGBT politics was nervously watching the D.C. Council race in Ward 5. The incumbent, Harry Thomas, Jr., was embroiled in a crowded battle to win the Democratic nomination. Normally, such a scenario plays to the incumbent's advantage—the more people in the race, the more they split the opposition. But youthful community activist Delano Hunter not only had backing from the National Organization for Marriage—an organization opposed to same-sex marriage—but also from The Washington Post's editorial page. NOM had success backing candidates and ballot initiatives opposed to same-sex marriage elsewhere in the country. And the organization was galvanizing its allies locally in the run-up to the primary, asking its supporters to get behind Hunter, in addition to Doug Sloan, who unsuccessfully challenged D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.

But in the end, NOM and the Post's blessing did not matter. Hunter lost and Thomas sailed to an easy victory securing nearly 62 percent of the vote. On Wednesday, the American Prospect's Adam Serwer declared in a tweet: "DC's biggest loser last night wasn't Adrian Fenty. It was the National Organization for Marriage."

Serwer went on to do a nice job deconstructing NOM's attempts to sway local politics. But it's worth pointing out that Thomas' victory wasn't just of a product of NOM's failures. Thomas—who has been lauded for taking a courageous move to support same-sex marriage in a part of town home to many older, religious African Americans and the Catholic University of America—it seems, built a broad, winning coalition and made a smart move to support D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray's ultimately successful mayoral run.

I asked Chuck Thies, a seasoned local political consultant, about what it takes to win Ward 5. Any successful candidate in the ward, which takes in much of the city's Northeast quadrant, needs "blue collar and older African American" voters. While the southern fringe of the ward is gentrifying, in neighborhoods like Bloomingdale, Eckington and Trinidad, "the newer, younger, more socially liberal voters... aren't a powerful enough constituency to unseat anyone who has the support of a large majority of the blue collar and older African-American bloc."

To Thies, NOM is just another outsider national issues-based organization that failed to gain traction in a local election: "Very few organizations that come to D.C. with a political agenda find success. They think D.C. is easy to understand, but it isn't. It's not black and white, it's not binary, and national issues that people try to foist upon us seldom play a meaningful role at the ballot box. We're not guinea pigs, and we're not pawns on a chessboard that some people would hope us to be."

If you ask Thomas, the other big loser in Tuesday's Ward 5 vote was The Washington Post's editorial page. Writes Chris Geidner of Metro Weekly:

The editorial focused on Thomas's actions of ''trying to stop'' Fenty's various plans, but endorsed Hunter for running a ''grass-roots campaign,'' while downplaying his opposition to marriage equality by stating that Hunter ''is not the homophobe his critics make him out to be.''

Of Hunter's opposition to marriage equality, Thomas said the Post's editorial ''just dismissed it.''

Thomas called the editorial ''short-sighted'' and warned that ''the paper really needs to look at the integrity of the editorial process and how it reflects on them.''

And what if Thomas had been an opponent of same-sex marriage? Even if gay-rights advocates would have been organized to run an opponent, it would taken a "very-skilled candidate" and "a shit ton of money to make the issue relevant," Thies told me.

And that makes sense. Voters locally care more about bread-and-butter issues like jobs, crime and economic development than divisive social issues. And those were things Thomas hit on his road to victory.

Thomas, however, told Geidner that if he had opposed same-sex marriage, he "wouldn't have been as successful." Which means, hopefully, the 2010 elections will be the last D.C. sees of NOM.

  • Southeast Resident

    Congrats to Harry Thomas, Jr. (HTJ)....He's the man! NOM should never come back to town. They should take that Hunter skank with them. Yeah, Hunter had grass, but no roots! The Editorial staffs of WaPO, that Republican rag Examiner, and WCP should get out of town too. Your magic tricks won't work on DC folks no mo! Where were those NOM mofos when we were fighting for our voting rights? No where! When you ask those NOM mofos, all from PG County, to talk to Congress about DC voting rights, they didn't do nothing for us. Now, DC folk showed that we ain't gonna do nothing for you. Maryland and Virginia folks in our DC Government jobs were also trying to get HTJ for sponsoring that law that will make them start paying taxes. Well you out of town folks got your butts kicked twice. Don't worry once Mayor Gray gets in there, you Maryland and Virginia folks gonna get another whoop when he stops your little rats from taking our summer jobs and makes contractors follow the First Source law. Do use a favor and take some trash with you when you go --Fenty, Nickles, Klein, Albert, Hartsock, Rubin, Rhee, and that sell out Jonetta too.

  • outside influence

    Don't look at Gray as pure, local DC, the AFT Union poured about a million into his campaign in order to unseat Rhee, by all accounts, that made a significant difference in the election. Everyone's dirty, we got to know who Fenty's buddy's were, I guess it's time to meet Grey's favorites.

  • Charlie

    If NOM wants to save a little money, the next time they print a picture of a snooty white guy looking down his nose at the voters, they could just run a picture of Brian Brown.

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  • joan

    Another contender for the biggest loser title is Joanne Armeo. The higher ups at the Post should take a good long look at their chief DC editorial writer - not only did she endorse the virulently homophobic Delano Hunter - but the Post's editorial page got increasingly shrill in the weeks preceding the election. There was a time, thankfully in the past, when the Post decided who wins elections in this town. No more!

    Fenty lost big time because he was out of touch. Now, how can we vote out Joanne Armeo - put Colby in charge!

  • Mrs. Lon Cheney

    You're missing a HUGE piece here. The big WINNER in NOM's campaign was Ward 5's Bob King who hoovered up $180,000 in consulting fees to spread the hate through Ward 5. And that's what we KNOW OF. The after the primary financial reports haven't been posted yet. When those come out it's probably that Mr. King made out like a bandit to the tune of upwards of $200,000 in this primary for peddling hate.
    As reported in the source article the Prospect article was based on:

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