San Diego Queer Demos Split Support in District 4 Council Race

by Mark Gabrish Conlan/Zenger's Newsmagazine Sunday, Sep. 02, 2001 at 7:03 PM
mgconlan@earthlink.net (619) 688-1886 P.O. Box 50134, San Diego, CA 92165

The San Diego Democratic Club, a largely Queer organization whose major focus is the rights of Queer (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered) people, couldn't agree on a candidate to replace anti-Queer African-American District 4 Councilmember George Stevens. At their August 23 meeting they rated former Assembly candidate Dwayne Crenshaw and Stevens staffer Charles Lewis both acceptable.

errorSan Diego Queer Demos Split Their Support in District 4 Council Race
Former Assembly Candidate, Stevens Aide Both Rated Acceptable

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright 2001 by Zengers Newsmagazine Used by permission

Former Assembly candidate Dwayne Crenshaw probably thought he had a lock on the endorsement of the San Diego Democratic Club, composed largely of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered members, for his District 4 City Council campaign when he came before the group August 23. After all, theyd endorsed him over the eventual winner, former District 8 Councilmember Juan Vargas, when he ran for the Assembly last year. Though he hadnt been a club member when he got the earlier endorsement, he had joined since and had publicized the clubs endorsement during his unsuccessful primary campaign despite the conventional wisdom that an African-American candidate loses credibility in his or her own community when he or she takes a strong stand for Queer rights.

But as things turned out Crenshaw had to share an acceptable rating from the club with Charles Lewis, currently working as an aide to incumbent Councilmember George Stevens. Club members noted that Lewis had scored almost as high on their questionnaire as Crenshaw 93 out of a possible 100, to Crenshaws 97 and he successfully convinced them that he would not follow the anti-Queer issue positions and actions of his current boss.

Stevens has long been a thorn in the side of San Diegos Queer community. A licensed Baptist minister, Stevens appeared before the San Diego Democratic Club when he first ran for City Council in 1987 and said he had once been homophobic, but had got over it. During that campaign, running against fellow African-American Wes Pratt under San Diegos old system of district-only primaries and citywide general elections, Stevens felt he needed to make a broader appeal beyond the largely African-American voters of his district. In 1987, he carried his own district in the general election against Pratt but lost the citywide vote.

In 1988, San Diego voters changed the city charter to provide for district-only Council elections, so Stevens didnt have to reach out beyond his district when he ran against Pratt a second time in 1991. That time he avoided the San Diego Democratic Club but spoke to a short-lived rival group of largely Queer Democrats. Asked at that meeting how he would deal with Queers in his district, Stevens denounced them as a special-interest group to whom he would not pay special attention. He shocked members of his audience when, asked if he personally knew any Queer people in his district, he answered, I have many people who are members of the church, who are associate pastors there, who are Gays. They are all truly Gays. If you remove Gays from the Black community, then the churches probably wouldnt have no piano players or organ players. I know that.

Stevens won the Council seat in 1991 and has held it ever since, though he will have to give it up because of term limits in 2002. During his tenure on the Council he has continued his attacks on Queers, regularly voting against the citys proclamations of Lesbian/Gay Pride Week in San Diego and against honoring open Queers for community service even when the services they were being honored for had nothing to do with the Queer community. He has also strongly supported the Boy Scouts of Americas right to lease 18.5 acres of San Diego city parkland for a nominal $1 per year, and on April 6, 1993 he appeared as the only Democrat on the program at a Support Our Scouts rally in Mission Valley with Right-wing talk-show host and former San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock, Congressmember Randy Duke Cunningham and other anti-Queer Republicans.

Lewis came into the Democratic Clubs August 23 meeting knowing that, while he could take credit for community improvements made under Stevens, he also had to distance himself from the Councilmembers record of anti-Queer remarks and votes. I am not George Stevens. I believe I am more tolerant, Lewis said evoking knowing laughter from the audience. I respect diversity and I can work within the City Council to get things done for the city of San Diego.

All four candidates present Lewis, Crenshaw, Robert Tambuzi (a former Stevens aide) and Butch Hubble said they would agree to vote for a city proclamation honoring San Diego Lesbian/Gay Pride Week and would sign the official document. (For years Stevens has not only voted against it but has refused to sign it once issued.) Crenshaw went one step further by saying hed already participated in the Pride Parade.

The candidates split on the issue of clean needle and syringe exchange to keep injection drug users from being infected with blood-borne viruses. Crenshaw said he would support it as long as the funding came from private sources. Lewis said he would support it as long as it were part of an integrated program ultimately aimed at getting its clients off drugs and into treatment for their addictions. Tambuzi gave a rambling answer during which he mentioned that his sister is a heroin addict and blurted out, If I were part of the status quo I would give them clean needles. Only Hubble opposed needle exchange outright.

On the controversy surrounding the Boy Scouts lease on 18.5 acres of city parkland which current San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy and City Councilmember Byron Wear are pushing for renewal now even though it doesnt expire until 2007 Lewis said, I could not support the Boy Scouts lease as it stands right now but said he favored keeping the Scouts in Balboa Park.

Hubble, who did least well on the clubs questionnaire of the candidates who responded at all (77 points out of a possible 100), answered similarly. I support the Boy Scouts the way they are, but I do not approve of the discrimination they have exhibited, he said.

I would not support that deal, said Tambuzi. The arrogance of them asking for an extension when the discrimination is still going on I was a Boy Scout and I was discriminated against for my color, not overtly but covertly. In the midst of the economic challenges of the Fourth District and the low per capita income, the Boy Scouts should get in line with everybody else that works with young people.

Crenshaw made the strongest statement against the Boy Scouts lease. While the other three candidates seemed to support renewal if the Scouts agreed to pay market-rate rent on the land, or close to it, Crenshaw said, The lease expires in 2007 and I would not support renewing unless they change the national policy.

But any points Crenshaw might have scored with the clubs members on the Boy Scouts issue were neutralized by his position on another controversy affecting the city: redistricting. One of the San Diego Democratic Clubs big local lobbying priorities this year was to go before the Redistricting Commission, an independent body charged with drawing new City Council district boundaries, and insist that the areas of the city with the largest Queer populations be kept together in City Council District 3.

The clubs representatives worked closely with community and neighborhood organizers in City Heights, an area with a heavy concentration of people of color. The City Heights leaders wanted to keep their area divided between three Council districts to have greater access to city redevelopment and federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money for neighborhood revitalization projects. On the other hand, a number of activists of color sought to put all of City Heights into District 3 even if that meant splitting the areas with high Queer populations into two or three districts.

During the redistricting hearings, Crenshaw spoke in favor of reuniting City Heights, while Lewis favored keeping it divided. I support keeping City Heights in three Council districts, Lewis explained to the Democratic Club. I was a community representative for Webster (one of the neighborhoods within the City Heights area) and theres no way it should be part of City Heights. Working with three City Council districts has been beneficial for the area.

There are a number of folks from City Heights here tonight, but I dont think City Heights should be split into three City Council districts, Crenshaw said. The issue is bigger than City Heights. Its about empowering the minority communities. Creating three majority-minority districts is important.

Crenshaw said the plan his group supported, the Voting Rights Renaissance Map, would have actually concentrated more Queer voters in District 3 than the final map the Commission approved August 22, since it would have left two largely Queer neighborhoods west of Balboa Park, Park West and Cortez Hill, in District 3 instead of moving them to District 2.

But it would also have stretched the eastern boundary of District 3 to the San Diego/La Mesa border, thereby including more socially conservative suburban communities around San Diego State University in District 3 and it would have moved the growing Queer community in the Azalea Park neighborhood of City Heights into District 4. The initial map we saw put the core of the District 3 communities with a bunch of areas out to Mission Valley, San Carlos and other non-LGBT [Queer]-friendly communities, club member Alex Sachs said during the debate on the endorsement. I did not see the later map.

Club member Christopher Ward urged an endorsement of Crenshaw. I like the guy and trust him on the Boy Scouts and needle exchange issues, he explained. Im a member of MCC [the Metropolitan Community Church, a Queer-friendly Christian denomination founded by openly Gay Rev. Troy Perry in 1968] and hes of Baptist origin, but hes thought well about how to accept homosexuality. I invited him to MCC one Sunday and he came back two weeks later on his own.

But club member Ellis Rose said he wasnt impressed with Crenshaws performance and thought hed been considerably more conservative on his positions on Queer rights and womens reproductive choice when hed spoken to a group of Baptist ministers than he had been at the San Diego Democratic Club. Im also concerned that during the redistricting process Dwayne did not approach us about the redistricting plan, Rose said. He felt it was appropriate for him to decide what was right for City Heights without consulting the neighborhood activists.

Stan Lewis, a longtime club member who worked as an aide to former City Councilmember Valerie Stallings and is one of the few African-Americans to serve in the clubs leadership, said he thought Charles Lewis was going to win anyway and the club should not risk alienating him by supporting someone else. He advised the club to let the district voters winnow the field of candidates down to two in the primary before considering an endorsement. Charles Lewis also won points with club members for agreeing to sign the Councils Pride proclamations.

The final vote to rate both Lewis and Crenshaw acceptable passed with 20 in favor, 10 opposed and two abstentions. An earlier motion to endorse Crenshaw outright failed with 13 in favor, two for endorsing Lewis, one for endorsing Tambuzi and 24 for no endorsement.