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June 16, 2010

Rev. Willie Wilson endorses Clark Ray

If the above video from the Benning Road Denny's Restaurant were all you knew of Rev. Willie Wilson, how moved and impressed you might be by the inspiring demonstration it presents of people building bridges between disparate parts of our city to advance the common good. But as Bob Summersgill points out in an earlier blog post, and as GLAA President Mitch Wood (a Ward 5 resident) points out in comments below that post, Rev. Wilson has a long history of bigoted and incendiary statements for which he has shown no sincere remorse. The love-fest between him and Clark Ray today, at least judging by Ray's campaign video of the event provided above, entirely glossed over this disturbing history, including outrageously homophobic remarks made by Wilson from his own pulpit at Union Temple Baptist Church.

Joel Lawson (a Ray supporter) commented below the earlier post, "If you want to protect and advance the gains we've made as LGBT residents of this city, you can't do it by sitting comfortably in NW." Gee, really, Joel? What a cynical statement this is, coming from someone who knows full well GLAA's extensive history of coalition work. I myself have represented GLAA on the NAACP-DC Police Task Force; led the successful petition drive seeking justice for the late Tyra Hunter; joined civil rights activists in the Trinidad neighborhood to protest civil rights abuses by police; met with community leaders in Marshall Heights about drive-by shootings that had taken the lives of transgender teens (in addition to participating in vigils at the murder site); and attended community meetings in Ward 8, including in Rev. Wilson's church.

GLAA worked in a broad-based coalition to pass the marriage equality bill, and that effort included gay couples from Ward 8 whose existence their councilmember Mr. Barry brazenly and pathetically denied. The notion that criticizing the notoriously divisive Willie Wilson marks Bob or me as people enjoying insular comfort in Northwest is truly cynical and unworthy of the good man I know Joel to be. It is a pity that partisan campaigns sometimes bring out the worst in people. I am told by one of my friends from Southeast that unhappiness is already brewing in the black gay community over the Wilson endorsement. That will not be chased away by self-righteous and patronizing snark.

Update: It should be unnecessary to point this out, but given the insinuation of partisan bias that was made earlier against Bob (whose openly acknowledged preference for Phil Mendelson does not change the facts he cites about Rev. Wilson), I wish to point out that GLAA has a long, well-documented history of giving fair, non-partisan ratings to candidates based on our issues. We are determined to maintain that tradition, which of course means that we do not put our fingers on the scale either to favor or to disfavor any candidate. Both Mr. Mendelson and Mr. Ray will get the ratings they have earned, notwithstanding our individual preferences, based on GLAA's well-established process which is explained in our questionnaire packets. When we issue our ratings (which for the primary cycle will be late in August), we publish candidates' full questionnaire responses and any documentation they provide us concerning their relevant record. We actually consider it a blessing and a sign of progress when multiple friends of the LGBT community run for the same office. All of which being said, this blog is by its nature a forum in which the contributing authors can let our hair down and give our personal views in a way that would be inappropriate in a formal issuance from GLAA. If that distinction is going to be snidely discounted, so be it. We have backed up our claims, and we also believe that honest readers will see through the fog of others' campaign rhetoric.


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And oh brother, Rick, I obviously am aware of GLAA's work across all Wards. I was speaking about us collectively as an entire population, well beyond those of us who get involved in civic matters. Having read the Sunday WaPo piece about how the recession is crushing some in our city far more than others, you and I both know that tough times form tough hearts. And despite all the advances you and others have achieved, they can be dented by those cultural gaps. When people make these new connections, the improbable ones, it echoes out, down and all around. I get the hurt, anger, etc., but I believe and stand by what I've said, and the bridge that Clark built here, and what I know to be the good motivations behind it all. (And yes, I do feel bloggers should disclose support, esp. financial, when writing about a political contest).

Rick had a nice comment July 13, 2005 about Rev. Wilson:

Willie Wilson is one of the most influential ministers in town politically. When Marion Barry got out of prison and had his rebirth or whatever he called it, it was Rev. Wilson who gave him his new Afrocentric name, Anwar Amahl. When Eleanor Holmes Norton came under attack for her involvement in compromises associated with the Revitalization Act in 1997, she went to Willie Wilson's church to explain herself; I was there. On the other hand, Wilson was soundly defeated by Mayor Williams in the last mayoral election, when the Democratic primary suddenly appeared up for grabs due to the Mayor having to do a write-in campaign. So it appears that Wilson alienates more people than he attracts with his over-the-top, sensational, divisive speeches and sermons. It is certainly appalling, if not surprising, to hear a self-professed minister of God spewing such hatred from the pulpit of a church.

Years ago, Rev. Wilson notoriously talked about rolling the heads of Korean shop owners down the street. In the summer of 1997, after the tragic death of Dr. Betty Shabazz (the widow of Malcolm X), a memorial service was held in an auditorium at Howard University, which I attended along with other members of the NAACP DC Police Task Force. Rev. Wilson was one of the speakers at that service, and he attacked the school desegregation that followed Brown v. Board of Education as having left black people worse off than before. Yes, he attacked one of the landmark racial justice decisions in our nation's history. Justice Marshall would roll in his grave.

You would think that such a divisive figure would be treated as persona non grata by the city's leaders, but this has not been the case. In 2000, Mayor Williams appointed Rev. Wilson to the UDC Board of Trustees, and the D.C. Council confirmed him. As long as the man is rewarded for his behavior, he will have little reason to stop -- even if the rewards are accompanied by cheap "let's be nice" rhetoric.

Rick Rosendall
Vice President for Political Affairs

Nice pivot, Joel, but it is sad that you refuse even to address the extensive evidence that the person with whom Ray built a bridge is a notorious scoundrel of longstanding who has shown little sign of reforming his ways. Yes, Rev. Wilson has done some good things, but as we say in "Agenda: 2010," good works do not excuse discrimination or bias. If bridge-building means whitewashing the extensive and troubling record regarding Wilson, then I challenge its value. But building a sturdy bridge requires truthfulness.

As to your continued pose of shining a light on others' partisanship, once again: Bob's support for Mendelson has been well-reported and he has made no secret about it. This does not require Bob to run boilerplate every time he posts something, though you will insist otherwise. Mendelson has been a superb ally on the Council and has more than earned that support. And spare me the umpteenth repetition of your line that you are not a one-issue voter, because no one here has ever claimed to be a one-issue voter--that is a total red herring (and if Ray should be assumed to be just as good on gay issues because he is gay, your applause for his embrace of the noxious Rev. Wilson refutes that nicely). For one thing, Mendo is strong on environmental issues, something Bob cares a lot about. And speaking of parts of the city other than Northwest, Mendo won every ward of the city in 2006, which he is likely to do again.

BTW, I have given money to Phil. If you want to insinuate that this somehow puts my claims and arguments under a cloud (which you will probably deny, your motives always being Simon pure despite any superficial appearance of campaign snark), then go ahead and believe what you like. Most readers will not be fooled. Bob and I both have long records of advocacy that prove our integrity beyond any reasonable doubt; if that were so easily negated by other people's glib flackery, then words would have lost their meaning. I don't think so. But this is a sidetrack. The topic was the reliability of Rev. Willie Wilson as a partner in bridge building to bring together the people of our diverse city. Excuse me, but he is a well-proven blower-up of bridges. Spare me the head-patting about hurt and anger. I said the man is a scoundrel, not that he hurt my feelings.

Adrian Fenty's 2006 GLAA questionnaire:

13. Will you refuse to appoint to your Interfaith Council ministers such as Bishop Owens and Rev. Willie Wilson who have publicly hurled vile language against members of the District’s GLBT community?

Yes. I have spoken out against the remarks of both individuals you mention in the strongest terms. It will be the policy of my administration to appoint only persons to any agency or commission or to any job who understand that discrimination and bigotry are unacceptable in the District of Columbia.

Clark Ray would presumably respond to that question a little differently.

Thanks, Bob. That question, thanks to the PFOX flap and today's endorsement at the Benning Road Denny's, has gained renewed currency.

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