Steve Michael, Ward 6 Council candidate

Steve Michael

AIDS Cure Party, Ward 6

Candidate for Ward 6 DC Councilmember
Special Election: April 29, 1997

Response to GLAA 1997 Questionnaire
for Ward 6 DC Council Candidates

1. Do you support legal recognition of marriages between persons of the same sex?

1. YES. I will introduce legislation in my first term (with GLAA's full and complete involvement in the drafting) that would recognize same-sex marriage here in the District of Columbia Using the upcoming race for Council chair and future race for Mayor, we should be able to garner the public support and the votes needed for passage, putting Mayor Barry on the spot to sign the legislation. Three council members want to be mayor. They want our support. My election to council keeps Gay and AIDS issues on the front burner. I am sure we can win the needed votes to pass legislation that would recognize same-sex marriage. If we time this right, we might be able to pass congressional review as well. After the election we will have to sit down together to discuss the precise timing of the introduction of same-sex marriage legislation. My partner of over five years, Wayne Turner, is not entitled, under current law, to the same health care benefits that other council members take for granted. As an openly Gay Council member, I fully intend to highlight the inequalities faced by our community. Wayne and I have been openly, actively campaigning together throughout Ward Six. We have led by example. When I challenged the Capozzi campaign worker for his anti-Gay slurs during my opening statement at the recent forum at Anacostia High School the crowd erupted in a burst of applause. Wayne has become the most famous candidate's spouse in this special election. Seeing the same-sex partner of a candidate campaigning as hard as Wayne is---conditions people. If I win this seat and press for Gay marriage---I can and will hold our relationship as an example. Doesn't Wayne Turner have the same right to health insurance as Cora Masters?

2. Will you oppose efforts by Congress or other parties to stop the District of Columbia from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in Hawaii or other places?

2. YES. I am the only candidate running with a public track record opposing anti-Gay bigotry and supporting same-sex marriage. My partner of five years, Wayne Turner, and I were arrested at the White House last summer along with Rev. Mel White, his partner Rob Nixon, Jim Bennett and Deacon Macubbin, Wil Brennan of the National Association of Black and White Men Together, Rev Ken South and Rev. Harry Stock protesting the Defense of Marriage Act. In May, 1992, we applied for a marriage license in Hope, Arkansas (we were denied, but the county clerk's grandson called us months later, a young Gay man who had just come out, thanking us for coming to Hope. We were appreciative of the police protection supplied by the Governor).

3. Do you oppose efforts by Congress or other parties to outlaw or restrict adoptions by unmarried couples in the District of Columbia?

3) YES. The best interest of children should be the overriding concern in adoption and child custody cases. Children raised in loving Gay and Lesbian homes do well in school, and grow up to become well-rounded productive members of society. This is yet another attempt to eliminate meaningful home rule in the District. The current foster-care system in DC is being run by a Court mandated trustee. We need to increase the level of adoptions by including unmarried couples. So many children need caring and loving homes and there are so many Gay and Lesbian couples that have so much love to give. I believe that our opponents in congress and in groups like the Family Research Council and the Christian Coalition are more afraid of Gay adoption than anything else.

4. If Congress ever repeals the D.C. Health Care Benefits Expansion Act of 1992 that established the registration of domestic partnerships, will you vote to reenact the same law?

4) YES. I opposed Congressional efforts that separated DC domestic partnerships from the DC budget. We all work too hard to advance our issues on the local level. We must fight to preserve home rule, and ultimately gain voting representation in Congress. I publicized former congressman Steve Gunderson's procedural vote that ultimately separated DC's domestic partnership funding out of the rest of our budget. Many Gay and Lesbian Americans learned for the very first time that congress has a say in the personal lives of District residents. Together, we can work to create a national activist network via phone, fax, mail and the internet that could help protect us from congressional review on specific pieces of legislation. When specific legislation is under attack that affects Gay and Lesbian Washingtonians we could get the word out quickly so that our friends in the fifty-states could contact their legislators. Friends that have access to conservative legislators could remind their member of their comments about local control. Our national, DC-based Gay organizations need to take on a more proactive role. Their lobbyists should be encouraged to work with local activist groups to protect our hard won civil liberties.

5. As a member of the Committee on Government Operations, you would have oversight responsibilities for enforcement of the D.C. Human Rights Law of 1977. Do you support the reestablishment of the Office of Human Rights as an independent, adequately-staffed, Cabinet-level agency whose Director has direct access to the Mayor?

5) YES. Separate the office, and fund it. It is time that the District got serious about Human Rights, with full cabinet status. The back log of caseloads and lack of adequate enforcement can be deadly. It seems like a lifetime ago when I was working with Jim Hall on his HIV related discrimination case against Adams National Bank: the letters, fliers, and pickets. I just recently reviewed one of Cheryl Spector's videos of the National Coming Out Day rally we organized in 1993 with Jim Hall speaking. He died before his case was ever fully resolved. Particularly now that DC has lost civilian authority over the Metropolitan Police Department, there's no Civilian Review Board, and 'zero tolerance', we need a Human Rights Office with teeth....(see response to question 13)

6. Do you agree that the Boy Scouts of America is violating the D.C. Human Rights Law's ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by excluding gays from participating either as scouts or as leaders?

6) YES. Organizations that discriminate against individuals and groups based on sexual orientation should not be given access to use of government facilities, etc. Compliance with the Human Rights Law should be more vigorously enforced for organizations obtaining government grants. Contract monitors in all agencies shall be required to monitor compliance with that law. Religious exemptions should not be tolerated. Lesbian and Gay taxpayers should not be forced to fund bigotry.

7. Will you vote to repeal the Armstrong Amendment, which allows religiously-affiliated private educational institutions in the District to discriminate against student clubs that promote equal rights for lesbians and gay men?

7) YES. Religion should be a matter of faith, not of social coercion. I propose a monthly breakfast meeting of community activist groups so that we can develop strategies that work on the Armstrong Amendment and other issues (stand alone legislation vs. an amendment strategy). We have so many dedicated activists in our community and organizations concentrating their efforts in areas. However, our efforts are often fragmented. My office as a council member will be open so that we can move forward on a very full agenda. I would be happy to introduce legislation to repeal the Armstrong Amendment. Let's write it up and introduce it and get it passed by the council and signed by the mayor before the 1998 primary.

8. Will you oppose efforts by Congress or other parties to abolish or restrict the right of our public school students to form clubs that promote greater understanding between gays and others?

8. YES. We should be fostering the creation of such groups and I look forward to using the good will of my office to do just that. Having an openly Gay council member going into the schools speaking to student groups will help in the creation of Gay student groups.. I will be an activist council member that will work on these issues on a regular basis.

9. Do you agree that our own elected officials, past and present, bear much of the responsibility for the District's current financial plight because of their reluctance to make tough budgetary decisions, to establish priorities, and to demand maximum efficiency and productivity (rather than political loyalty) from all District government gencies and workers?

9. YES, absolutely. I've spent my years of activism holding elected officials accountable, urging them to do their jobs, demanding leadership. After years of meetings, protests, lobbying, testifying, its clear we have to move forward. We wouldn't have a Financial Control Board if the DC council had properly exercised its oversight authority. I testified at the Financial Control Board's first public hearing on the disastrous state of AIDS and health care here in the District. That testimony laid the groundwork for our Federal AIDS dollars to be separated (sort-of) from the rest of DC's budget. For years we discussed the condition of medical services in the corrections system, yet it took the death of a person with AIDS chained to a wheel chair, a protest at One Judiciary, and court ordered receivership to improve things. While late payments of federal and local AIDS dollars were overwhelming AIDS service organizations, the DC Council was discussing airspace over Hecht's Department Store. The Council does not set and endorse priorities. The committee assignments for the Ward Six representative are well suited to the kind of watchdog activism that I do: Human Services, Government Operations, Public Works and the Environment, and the Local Regional and Federal Affairs Committee.

I asked Mel Wilson, the Director of DC's agency for HIV/AIDS for a budget breakdown and general jobs descriptions for the 72 federally funded employees who work on HIV prevention. Wilson told me "It's none of your business." That response solidified my resolve that I had to run for and win this council seat. I believe that my work as Chair of the Fiscal Oversight Committee of the HIV Planning Council prove that I am uniquely qualified to trim the government bureaucracy. We can and must prove to the nation that we can run our fiscal house---more importantly we must provide the necessary human services to those that need it with the money we have now.

10. As a member of the Committee on Human Services, you would have oversight responsibilities in the public health struggles against AIDS and breast cancer. It has recently been revealed that the District failed to spend $1 million of its own appropriated funds to combat AIDS in the last fiscal year, jeopardizing our city's federal funding from the Ryan White Act and contributing to the District's failure to award a contract for an effective needle exchange program. What will you do to safeguard against such bureaucratic bumbling by our health agencies?

10) I am eager to get to work on the committees assigned to the Ward Six representative, but none more so than the Human Services Committee. Of all the candidate's running, I am the only one who even discusses health related issues at candidate's forums and in my campaign literature. Human Services consume nearly a third of DC's budget. The District leads the nation in AIDS cases, new HIV infections, and AIDS deaths. The mortality rate for women with breast cancer in the District is the highest in the nation. Women in DC live 8 years less than the national average. For men, the life expectancy is ten years less than the national average.

I was appointed to the HIV Health Services Planning Council, which is charged with allocating and monitoring over $16 million in Ryan White Funds for AIDS treatment and care. Its members elected me to chair the Fiscal Oversight Committee which was dormant for many years. We've done good work in that committee. Most recently we caught the Agency for HIV and AIDS skimming an extra 40% more than their due for administration. We channeled those dollars back into primary medical services. We fought like hell to quickly reallocate up to $800,000 in unspent federal funds that AHA 'lost' and were destined to revert to the federal treasury. AHA officials proposed the funds be spent on office supplies, and new computers, but we were successful in allocating the funds to direct services to people with AIDS by giving priority to primary medical, drugs, food banks, and water filters.

The District's failure to spend locally appropriated AIDS funds could very well jeopardize federal funds, including Ryan White, HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS) and prevention funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is exactly what has happened in the area of substance abuse treatment. How a Mayor in recovery could zero out drug treatment is beyond me. The Detox center at DC General is filled to capacity. Millions in federal matching funds for drug treatment have been lost because the District has failed in its maintenance of effort.

There is still a $1.4 million Shelter Plus grant dating back from 1994 that HUD is holding onto until the DC Government can get around to spending it.

The DC Department of Human Services is a mess. Ryan White funds are unique because the federal government has mandated full community participation and oversight. For other programs, it takes the vigorous work of a lot of community activists to watchdog, yet we do this work, not with the District Council, but in spite of the District Council.

I'm realistic about the DHS monolith, which is harder to get information out of than the Cold-War era Kremlin. We have many people in this town with skill and tenacity whose work would be greatly facilitated with the backing of an activist Council member.

On the issue of needle exchange, we still maintain the underground program with primarily secondary exchanges. It took the DHS two years to get needle exchange through a procurement process-- a shameful delay-- that resulted in untold new HIV infections. Five contracting supervisors were fired or reassigned at DHS for 'procurement irregularities' as a result of our efforts to expose the corrupt process at DHS.

Under the enabling legislation, the District's Needle Exchange will be the sole source of clean injection equipment for an estimated 16,000 injection drug users in DC. The current project is slated at fewer than 100,000 needles per year (about six per user for the year). We're going to have to expand needle exchange services and work to change the drug paraphernalia law to decriminalize the sale and possession of syringes if we ever hope to make substantial in roads in stemming the tide of new HIV infections among injection drug users and their partners.

One of my primary opponents is Sharon Ambrose, who worked for years as John Ray's legislative assistant. Ambrose brags about writing his legislation. John Ray was the biggest single obstacle to needle exchange. John Ray passed mandatory HIV testing. John Ray supported legislation barring HIV positive persons from becoming licensed massage therapists.

It is clear that none of the other candidates running is committed to the basic health and survival of DC residents. As an HIV positive Gay man who has been on the front lines fighting AIDS, fighting for health care, I guarantee that my term on the Human Services Committee will yield results.

In my role on Fiscal Oversight and as an HIV positive member of the HIV Planning Council I have worked to move hundreds of thousands of the Federal dollars we controlled into the AIDS drug assistance program. During that time I have asked AHA staff to "Tell me how much money we need to lift the cap on the AIDS Drug Assistance Program"---finally, after inviting a Washington Blade reporter to my committee meetings---I got an answer---$3 million. As council member I will introduce the legislation to fund this vital program. Some might say, "We can't afford it."--- My response will be, "We can't afford not to fund ADAP." I know many people that are on the waiting list for AIDS drugs. Their lives matter and I will fight for their access to those drugs.

I will also work hard with the Control Board and other council members to change our contracting laws so that we can give small community-based AIDS service organizations a chance to compete for grants. We have lost three small AIDS vendors in the last year, all three provided services to underserved populations. I will work with groups like DC Care to find capacity building funds. I will convene a meeting of AIDS vendors with DC Care's involvement on a regular basis to help these organizations get strong. We must develop a strategy that gives these groups access to skilled grant writers.

AHA must be forced to account for its spending practices. Remember none of us knew knew the amount AHA had underspent until Hank Carde and others filed various Freedom of Information Act requests. AHA's budget must be made public. Community activists must be made full and equal partners in the District's fight against AIDS.

I have fought for two years to convene a District-wide AIDS housing Summit. As a member of the council I will be able to convene such a summit. Our goal will be simple---to secure and spend Federal dollars to develop quality housing for people with AIDS. Federal law requires that the District match part of the costs---we have no cash, but we have some great vacant school buildings in the District. In Ward Six, buildings like the Bryant School at 1325 Independence Avenue should be considered. Such a use would protect neighborhoods from commerical encroachment and create quality housing for poor people with AIDS. The creation of a private-public partnership modeled after New York's Housing Works would go a long way in solving the housing needs of many people with AIDS. But we must act quickly--real estate interests have their eyes on some of the best buildings.

11. Do you support the legalization of the medical use of marijuana when a patient's doctor recommends it as a means to combat the effects of AIDS, cancer, and other diseases when more conventional treatments for alleviating symptoms fail?

11 YES. Working with groups like GLAA, The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Drug Policy Foundation and the ACLU, we have crafted a medical marijuana ballot initiative here in the District, "Protecting Medical Patients and Providers from Marijuana Prosecution Initiative Act of 1997." This would cover AIDS, cancer, and other diseases when conventional treatments fail. I stood up to General McCaffery and the Clinton Administration when they threatened to prosecute physicians recommending marijuana to their patients. I will oppose efforts to impose federal sentencing guidelines in the District, and the proposal by Charlene Drew Jarvis which would turn AIDS patients using medical marijuana into felons. I will also work an amendment strategy on appropriate legislation that would protect patients and providers from Marijuana prosecution. I will work to educate my future colleagues on this important issue. I recently labeled the National Institute of Drug Abuse's opposition to the use of medical marijuana as 'political science.' It has stuck. National medical journalists from CNN, ABC and others have caught on to the term and have used it in several articles. The initiative that we wrote is so tight that Charlotte Brookins-Hudson, General Counsel of the Council of the District of Columbia wrote, "The proposed initiative would allow residents of the District to organize nonprofit corporations for the purpose of cultivating, purchasing, and distributing marijuana for the medical patients authorized to use it pursuant to the initiative. If adopted, this provision would seem to alleviate a major shortcoming in the California and Arizona initiatives."

12. Do you support the condom availability programs that have been established in the District's public schools and prisons?

12. YES. They are a great first step. As the open only Council member with HIV, I will use this office to expand prevention in schools and detention facilities including the availability of latex condoms and water based lubricant. I have been a long time advocate of HIV prevention and education targeting youth that's frank, open, honest, and age appropriate. It would take practically no money to produce HIV prevention graphics targeting young people to publish in school newspapers. One out of forty teenagers in DC is infected with HIV. Clearly HIV prevention needs to be more aggressive. I am particularly concerned over privatization efforts in prisons, and we could lose what little HIV prevention and education we have. I will also work to implement discharge planning, which DC spends tens of thousands of dollars on, but no one can identify the program. Each time another council member introduces legislation that would move prisoners into a federal or private prison I will add an amendment that requires HIV prevention materials be available. I have worked closely with members of Blind Faith, an group of ex-offenders living with HIV and AIDS, in their efforts to create and expand the network of support services for prisoners and ex-offenders with HIV/AIDS.

13. In 1995, the Council summarily abolished the Civilian Complaint Review Board, thereby allowing the Metropolitan Police Depoartment to handle all public complaints about excessive use of force or abusive language by the police. Last year the Council failed to enact the Police Conduct Review Board Act of 1995, to establish an improved system for civilian review of such complaints against the police; the Council claimed there were no funds for establishing the new board. Will you vote to establish and fund the Police Conduct Review Board for FY 1998?

13 YES. I will vigorously work to establish and adequately fund the Police Conduct Review Board for FY1998 and for future years. There has been much discussion about the 'New York Miracle' and 'zero tolerance' law enforcement. Yet in New York there were more than 9000 complaints filed charging police misconduct, and the death of a young man whose football hit a police car (an ACT UP member with AIDS was hospitalized after being beaten by NYPD at a peaceful protest). I am the candidate who introduced the discussion of civilian review in this campaign. In my one on one debate with 'law and order' candidate Sandy McCall, McCall relented and endorsed civilian review over the police. Now that there is no civilian authority over the Metropolitan Police Department, we cannot afford NOT to fund civilian review. It will be reinstated, but we'll need GLAA's help. Again,. I will look at an amendment strategy. The police unions oppose civilian review. I will stand up to them. In my work an the Mayor's Gay and Lesbian Advisory group representatives of both the Fire and Police Chief always used the unions as a way out of our informal investigative process. We need real civilian review with a broad range of community activists on board. It can and must be funded to operate. We cannot tolerate a police department that is not controlled and check by civilian authority. With no accountability currently in place, Washington DC is right now essentially under martial law.

14. Do you support sensitivity and community relations training for all elements of our public safety system (police, fire department, etc.) that includes strong recognition of gay and lesbian community concerns, so that the District will never again tolerate the kind of insensitivity and incompetence reflected in the Fire Department's handling of the Tyra Hunter case and similar incidents?

14 YES. Sensitivity and community relations training is the first step. Working on the Mayor's Gay and Lesbian Advisory Committee, I pushed the Barry Administration to be address community concerns directly. The delays and vague promises by DC government fly in the face of public accountability. The good work of community activists, including GLAA and GLOV, have yielded measured success. One training session does not solve the problem. In the course of my campaign, I was on the receiving end of anti-Gay heckling by one of John Capozzi's workers. I offered the services of one of my volunteers to conduct sensitivity training with other campaign volunteers, staff, and candidates (a licensed social worker who developed the initial sensitivity training for EMS personnel after the Tyra Hunter case). John apologized for the incident, but he fired the worker, which concerns me because instead of educating that individual, the heckler lost his job, and will probably hate Gay men forever. As the only openly Gay man elected to the DC Council, my office will set the tone that there is no place for fear and bigotry in DC government, especially in essential services. Since one of the excuses not to do sensitivity training is the cost, I will use my office to help facilitate training programs.

15. Will you support legislation to authorize and regulate the issuance of liquor licenses to establishments (in designated nonresidential commercial districts) that want to offer nude dancing as entertainment?

15. YES. I look forward to writing the legislation that authorizes the issuance of liquor licenses to establishments that want to offer nude dancing as entertainment. Current ABC regulations make safe sex demonstrations with bananas or dildos illegal. How ridiculous. We must change that law. We all know that Gay bars and clubs are our first line of defense in HIV prevention. I have been a vigorous opponent of the onslaught of attacks on Gay bars amounting to harassment in both regulation and enforcement. As a Council member, I will continue to demand that ABC regulators call off their attack dogs and give greater priority to clubs where drug dealing, gang violence, and shootings are a matter of course. I have told the mayor and his senior staff that there is a double standard out there---his government closes down Gay clubs when men show affection to each other---but it takes one man murdering another to close down a heterosexual establishment. If Liquor inspectors went to the Ibex instead of the Green Lantern last year---a police officer would be alive today. My advice to the Mayor on this issues has been ignored. Gay bars have a cultural significance. The Stonewall riots igniting the modern Gay rights movement began with government harassment of a Gay bar. Businesses that contribute so much to the economic and cultural vitality of the District should not be hounded out of business. (One of Sharon Ambrose's chief supporters is Marilyn Groves, who has lead the fight against JR's sidewalk patio, the Circle, and special Gay community events like the high heel race on 17th st.). We need to elect a council member who'll fight to keep Gay bars open, not someone who'll fight to close them. I am looking forward to working with GLAA on the issue of nude dancing. The crackdown on Gay bars and nude dancing in New York is well underway, having a chilling effect of oppression on New York's Gay community. Police raids, bar shut downs are taking their toll here in Washington. By electing me to Council, we can stop this trend of oppression in its tracks. With strong advocacy and leadership, we can turn Washington DC into a major Gay travel destination. We need to think big, matching other cities with special events like 'Hotlanta' or Philadelphia's 'Pridefest.' The International Gay soccer tournament is a step in that direction. Think also of the dozens of AIDS and Gay conferences held around the country. We need to bring those gatherings to the national capital. Its time DC became a Gay friendly city, which is good for business, and good for our community. Instead of electing another career politician who feels our pain, it's time we elect an activist who get the job done.

Sincerely,

[Signed]

Steve Michael
candidate, District Council, Ward Six


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