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Polling is afoot in Ward 2, LL has learned.
At 5:38 p.m. last Thursday, Ward 2 resident Jeff Rueckgauer received a call from an out-of-state number asking “to get an opinion about political issues in the District,” he says, consulting his notes from the call.
Mother Jones reporter and former City Paper staffer Stephanie Mencimer recently tweeted about potentially getting polled by Ward 2 candidate Jordan Grossman‘s campaign, noting that “he must have some dough!”
And Ward 2 candidate John Fanning tells LL he’s spoken to his neighbors about text messages they received containing links to an online poll that dangled the chance of winning $100 in front of willing participants. LL also received a link to a poll about the Ward 2 race, as well as screen shots from another participant’s poll, but was not offered the chance to win 100 bones.
In a phone conversation earlier this week about whether his campaign is behind the polling, Grossman at first tells LL “we’re thinking about it,” and says he’s happy to talk in more detail “if we end up doing it.”
Asked more directly, Grossman doesn’t deny that his campaign has started polling. “All I’m saying is I don’t have anything to share right now,” he adds.
In response to LL’s follow-up email today, Grossman acknowledges that “we’re working with a highly respected opinion research firm to reach people by phone and online.”
Rueckgauer says the pollster listed the names of each Ward 2 Council candidate and asked who he would vote for if the election were “today.” He currently supports Patrick Kennedy.
The pollster later launched into more specific questions about only some candidates—Kennedy, Grossman, Fanning, Jack Evans, and Brooke Pinto—and citing specific details about their backgrounds. Questions about Pinto, for example, mentioned her previous job at the Office of the Attorney General.
Questions about Evans were “very very negative,” Rueckgauer says, describing him as a “former councilmember who resigned under the scandal of expulsion, and now he’s running for his job back.” Questions about Kennedy connected him to Evans’ previous campaign and said he is receiving contributions from the same political action committee that formerly supported Evans, Rueckgauer says.
Evans got in a bit of trouble in 2006 with the Office of Campaign Finance for using the “Jack PAC,” as it was once known, to reimburse himself for entertainment and travel expenses, including $6,772 he shelled out for a friend to accompany him on an official trip to China. (The text polls that LL saw used the term “corporate special interest groups,” rather than “political action committee,” but Rueckgauer is confident his phone poll asked about a PAC.)
Either way, Kennedy clarifies that he never worked as Evans’ campaign manager, but he is listed as the chairman for Evans’ 2016 campaign. Kennedy says it was more of an honorary position and that he didn’t actually do any work. Kennedy did however attend a meet-and-greet this week hosted by David Catania, the former Republican councilmember who now runs a lobbying shop. David Julyan, another lobbyist and friend of Evans’, sent an email to his network encouraging them to donate to Kennedy’s campaign.
“I cannot legally accept PAC money,” he says, due to his participation in the public campaign financing program. “And I have not accepted PAC money, so if somebody is predicating their campaign on attacking their opponents, I think that’s pretty sad.”
Kennedy has a guess about who is behind the poll, but says “I think the honorable thing to do would be for that person, if this is the messaging they want to use, to identify themselves and own it. So I’ll give them the opportunity to do that.”
Questions about Grossman described him as a “fifth generation Washington resident,” and a former staffer in the Obama administration, Rueckgauer says of the phone poll. Both are major selling points from Grossman’s campaign, the former of which irks his opponents, who whine that he actually grew up in a Maryland suburb 12 miles from D.C. and moved back to the District as an adult.
“The impression I had is that it’s always hard to say … if it could be the campaign or a third party trying to stir things up and pit one candidate against the other,” Rueckgauer says. “The tone of it could be construed as favoring Jordan.”
Those phone poll questions largely match up with those that LL saw and with what Fanning says he heard from his neighbors who took the text poll.
The online poll asked, for example, whether certain attributes factor into voters’ decisions, such as if a candidate:
• “Comes from outside the influence of D.C.’s local politics”
• “Is a current elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, or ANC”
• Is “A woman”
• “Worked for President Obama”
• Is “A moderate who promotes business interests”
• “Is backed by the same corporate special interest groups that supported Jack Evans”
• “Was the chairman of former Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans’ campaign”
• “Resigned from the D.C. City Council in a corruption scandal”
• “Is a fifth generation D.C. resident”
• Is “A progressive who will stand up for their values”
• “Resigned from the D.C. Council in a corruption scandal”
• “Has said good things about Donald Trump”
The text poll then provided descriptions of some candidates and asked how “interested you’d be in voting for that candidate.”
• “Brooke Pinto was an Assistant Attorney General in D.C.”
• “Kishan Putta is the son of immigrants and ANC member”
• “John Fanning was a D.C. community outreach worker and is an ANC chair”
• “Jordan Grossman is a fifth generation D.C. resident and former Obama administration official”
• “Jack Evans is an attorney and former Ward 2 Councilmember”
• “Patrick Kennedy is a community leader and ANC chair”
Screenshots of the text poll that LL viewed ask about Grossman specifically, describing him as a “lifelong Democrat” who is focused on affordability and recognizes families are struggling with “increasing costs of housing, childcare, transportation, and student loans.”
Another question mentions Evans’ resignation in lieu of expulsion, and followed up with Grossman’s belief that “Ward 2 needs a clean break from Evans and his political machine.”
More questions ask whether endorsements from At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, Chairman Phil Mendelson, Attorney General Karl Racine, and the Washington Post hold sway and by how much.
“It took about five to six minutes to do it, and it was in depth,” Fanning says. “There was a lot of data and a lot of questions. Of course you don’t know how many people they sent it to, but something like that costs money, and I guess he has it.”
Grossman leads the Ward 2 field in total contributions and amount of money raised so far, according to an analysis by local activist Keith Ivey.
Fanning’s campaign has also started polling, but the final results have not come back yet.
Adam Eidinger, the local activist who is coming off a failed attempt to recall Evans and has now turned his attention to a ballot initiative seeking to decriminalize magic mushrooms and other natural psychedelics, is also planning a local poll.
He says the poll will test voters’ knowledge about psychedelic mushrooms, ayahuasca, and mescaline, as well as gauge support for members of the D.C. Council and ask whether they have a favorable view of Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Eidinger expects the poll to drop within the next two weeks and to have the results by the end of the month.