The first one is easy. Jack Evans’ analog among the candidates vying for the presidency is Donald Trump, as the Post’s Colbet I. King pointed out in December. At the time, both politicians were facing forced ejection from elected office over allegations that they used their public office for personal gain.
The impeached president escaped removal and immediately began firing those who spoke against him and interfering with the sentencing of his buddy Roger Stone.
Evans did not fare as well. On the last business day before his colleagues were ready to make him the first ever D.C. councilmember to be voted out of office, Evans resigned. Then, about a week later, he announced that he’ll run once again for the seat he just vacated.
Evans now says he has enough signatures to qualify for the Democratic primary on June 2, putting him at the center of an already crowded race that includes seven other Democratic candidates.
None of the people running for the Ward 2 seat are completely analogous to the current and former presidential hopefuls. LL can think of no one who aligns with Bernie Sanders’ finger wagging, far left agenda, and devoted following, for example, and grassroots progressive organization DC for Democracy (DC4D) has not endorsed a candidate in the Ward 2 race. (It has endorsed Ward 4 candidate Janeese Lewis George.)
But seeing as the Democratic presidential race has been thoroughly overanalyzed and anyone with access to the internet can likely deliver an assessment of the presidential wannabes, using them to make sense of the many Ward 2 candidates might be helpful for confused voters or local politics watchers.
Here’s our imperfect comparison sheet to help you understand the aspiring leaders of downtown D.C. a little better.
Jordan Grossman is the Elizabeth Warren candidate, with a touch of Tom Steyer.
One of Grossman’s favorite talking points—that he’s a former Obama administration staffer—presents an obvious comparison to Joe Biden. But the Ward 2 candidate’s espousal of progressive positions aligns him more with Warren, minus the detailed plans and the established voting record.
Like Warren, Grossman is among the farthest left of all the Ward 2 candidates. At least that’s how he presents himself, and his endorsements from local progressive groups like Jews United for Justice, the DC Working Families Party, and the Washington Teachers’ Union, seem to back that up.
With regard to wealth, Warren’s net worth of $4 million to $11 million reminds LL of what Grossman’s critics whisper behind his back about his family’s money. Grossman’s family donated more than $10,000 to his campaign, some of which he had to return due to conflicting advice from the Office of Campaign Finance. Grossman and his wife also benefited from a $405,000 loan from his in-laws to buy their condo on M Street NW in 2015, according to land records. The couple refinanced with a bank the following year.
“We started jobs right after we moved in there, so we were both waiting for security clearances,” Grossman explains. “And with mortgages they want you to provide the first pay stub, so it was just a timing issue.”
While Warren did not grow up wealthy, Grossman was raised in the affluent suburb of Potomac, which is a detail his critics are quick to point out when he proclaims himself a “fifth generation D.C. resident.” Grossman was born in the District, grew up in Maryland, and moved back to D.C. in 2008, he says.
The most glaring difference between the political newcomer and the two-term Massachusetts senator is Grossman’s lack of a record. Compared to some of his opponents, Grossman, who also worked for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, can’t claim the same ward-level expertise as Patrick Kennedy, Kishan Putta, or John Fanning, all of whom have served as advisory neighborhood commissioners in Ward 2.
To his opponent Daniel Hernandez, Grossman is more like Tom Steyer.
“He says ‘yes’ to every progressive value,” Hernandez says. “And Jordan’s not a billionaire, but I think he has one of the most privileged backgrounds.”
Patrick Kennedy is the Amy Klobuchar of the race with a little Pete Buttigieg mixed in.
Both Kennedy and Klobuchar can claim some progressivism, but ultimately stake out more moderate positions.
As long as LL is comparing senators to neighborhood commissioners, the New Hampshire Union Leader’s description of Klobuchar’s bipartisan history of navigating the Washington system could also apply to Kennedy’s inclination to favor compromise over ideology.
Recent evidence of Kennedy’s broadening tent comes in the form of a meet-and-greet hosted by David Catania, the Republican former D.C. councilmember-turned-lobbyist. Grossman pounced on the Tuesday morning get-together in Catania’s office south of Dupont Circle.
“He was Jack’s campaign chairman, he has not taken the Pepco pledge because he wants to continue meeting in secret with Pepco, a former Jack client, and now you have former Jack supporters supporting him,” Grossman says, distinguishing himself from Kennedy. “I just think it makes the contrast clear.”
(The Pepco pledge requires signatories to reject contributions from fossil fuel companies, be transparent about meetings with those companies and their lobbyists, and support legislation requiring a study of alternative utility models.)
Grossman and Kennedy are the frontrunners in Ward 2 in terms of fundraising and endorsements. Grossman has the largest overall pot, but Kennedy is a close second, with the highest concentration of donations from Ward 2 residents, according to an analysis by local activist Keith Ivey.
In terms of demeanor Kennedy styles himself more like Warren: pragmatic, with a firm grasp of the issues. But he quibbles with any comparison to Buttigieg, despite their coziness with deep-pocketed donors and relative youth.
“He’s the inexperienced one,” Kennedy says of the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. “I don’t think that fits me at all. There’s a degree of precociousness there, but also a degree of sort of lecturing … and that’s not how I approach issues.”
Brooke Pinto is the race’s Mike Bloomberg.
Both candidates were late entries into their respective races, both secured the endorsements of prominent elected officials in D.C., and both are self-funding their campaigns, at least in part.
Pinto tells LL that she expects to loan her campaign a little start-up cash “just to get off the ground,” but says the exact amount is still being worked out. Bloomberg, by comparison, spent hundreds of millions of dollars of his own money on his now-defunct campaign.
Pinto has support from her former boss, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, while Bloomberg got Mayor Muriel Bowser’s backing. Pinto is the only Ward 2 candidate not participating in the public campaign financing program, and says she has been in touch with Racine about raising money.
“We’re in conversation, and I’m planning some events throughout the spring that will be posted on my website,” she says when asked about fundraising help from the elected AG.
On the other hand, the 27-year-old Pinto differs from the 78-year-old former Republican mayor of New York City in plenty of ways, primarily in their respective records, or in Pinto’s case, a lack of one. The young political newcomer, who has never voted in D.C., finds the comparison to Bloomberg “interesting,” and offers Buttigieg as an alternative.
“I really do respect Mayor Pete’s even-keeled nature and his ability to disagree with someone on an issue without being disagreeable,” she says, adding that she traveled to Iowa to volunteer for Buttigieg’s campaign ahead of the state’s caucuses.
John Fanning is the Joe Biden candidate.
Fanning and Biden are about as similar as an advisory neighborhood commissioner and a vice president can be.
Both have long careers in politics: Fanning was first elected to the ANC in 1990, Biden began his political career on the New Castle, Delaware, County Council in 1970. Both men are close with their respective executives. Fanning has served as a mayoral liaison in Ward 2 for Marion Barry, Anthony Williams, Adrian Fenty, Vince Gray, and Bowser, while Biden will forever beat the I-was-Obama’s-VP drum. Fanning ran for the Ward 2 Council seat in 2000 (he earned 17.9 percent of the vote but lost to Evans); Biden ran for president in 1987 and 2007.
On this comparison, many of Fanning’s opponents agree: “He reminds me of Joe Biden,” Hernandez says. “He doesn’t always say the right thing, but you know his heart is in the right place.”
But while Biden is one of the top two contenders for the Democratic nomination, Fanning is more of a tertiary candidate, if his funding is any indication. Though Fanning has significant support from inside the ward, he trails Grossman, Kennedy, and Putta when factoring in matching funds from the public financing program.
That’s OK with him.
“If I don’t make it, it’s not the end of the world,” Fanning says. “It’s very rewarding to go out and meet people.”
Kishan Putta is the Kamala Harris candidate, with some Mike Bloomberg mixed in.
Putta’s Republican past makes an easy case for Bloomberg. But that’s not quite right. Without the buckets of money and controversial record on policies impacting people of color and women, the comparison falls apart.
If you ask Putta, he’ll tell you he’s most similar to Kamala Harris, who ended her campaign in December.
“I’m tough on agency oversight and ask tough questions of the executive,” Putta says, referencing his dozens of testimonies before the D.C. Council and Harris’ tough questioning during Senate committee hearings. “We were also both raised by strong Indian mothers, who shared a penchant for keeping Indian spices in Taster’s Choice coffee jars,” he adds.
Putta’s opponents don’t exactly agree. Fanning sees Putta as more of a Tom Steyer type of a guy.
“He sort of grabs onto an issue and he runs with it,” Fanning says. Putta consistently trumpets his work as an advisory neighborhood commissioner on access to the Jelleff Field and opposition to Metro bus cuts.
Steyer, the billionaire who dropped out of the race after finishing third in the South Carolina primary, consistently repeated his message of environmental and economic justice.
To Hernandez, Putta is closer to Biden.
“Kishan is an endless self-promoter. Biden constantly talks about what he and Obama did and … is trying to use that as leverage,” Hernandez says.
Daniel Hernandez is the Pete Buttigieg candidate.
Hernandez is the toughest to compare.
He’s progressive, but not as far left as Sanders, and though he personally identifies most with Warren, he lacks her detailed plans for change.
“Structural change, changing the levers to change systems is kind of why I’m in this,” he says, pointing out that local and national structural change looks much different. He’s in favor of ranked choice voting, for example, and banning outside employment for councilmembers. Warren is talking about redoing the whole economy.
In terms of personality, Hernandez sees himself as a Julian Castro “because he’s not super dodgy on issues. I felt he was more direct,” he says. “That’s my favorite part of Sanders. He’s blunt. But I don’t think I have the angry grandpa personality yet. Give me 30 or 40 years and we’ll see.”
Like Buttigieg, Hernandez is a military veteran, and as a 32-year-old could stand to gain some more experience. But unlike the former mayor, Hernandez prefers frozen strawberry margarita caves or vodka soda caves to wine caves.
Yilin Zhang is the Kirsten Gillibrand candidate.
What stands out most about Zhang, a 32-year-old first-time candidate, is her consistent focus on health care.
As a business development executive for Kaiser Permanente, Zhang frames many issues through a lens of access to health care. Similarly, Gillibrand’s campaign largely focused on issues impacting women and families.
Before ending her candidacy in August 2019, Gillibrand struggled to attract donors and raise money, and Zhang is on the bottom rung as far as money raised in the Ward 2 race.
Zhang says she personally most identifies with Warren’s style, but not necessarily her policies.
“She thinks big, very analytical, she’s a very intelligent woman,” Zhang says. “And I just have a lot of respect for her, and I think she works very hard, which I identify with.”
She doesn’t agree with Warren’s stance on “Medicare for All,” which the senator has since backed away from.
“I’ve worked in health care for my entire career, and I think it’s important for people to have a choice,” Zhang says. “I’ve lived in other countries where they have universal healthcare, but they have other options. The model we should be moving toward is the best practice that’s held true in other countries, but the new plan for everyone is a little drastic.”