Yvette Alexander
Yvette Alexander Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Yvette Alexander says she never left Ward 7 politics, but the former councilmember is now officially jumping back in.

After being vanquished from office with her loss to Vince Gray in 2016, Alexander has been quiet. She contemplated a run for an at-large seat last year, but it didn’t pan out after she fractured her patella.

Now Alexander is part of a slate of longtime neighborhood pols trying to oust Gray allies from the Ward 7 Democrats. The officers election this Saturday is shaping up as a half-sided proxy war, with Gray opposing the slate that includes Alexander, who is running for first vice-chair.

Alexander’s former treasurer and campaign aide, Derek Ford, leads the slate as candidate for chairman of the group. Both argue current Chairman Jimmie Williams leads it like snoozy civic association, more interested in community meetings than shaping policy. A former longtime officer for the Ward 7 Democrats, Ford says residents were hitting him up to run.

“They wanted the organization to be rejuvenized,” says Ford, who, two years ago, lost to Williams by 27 votes. “And they liked the way we ran it before.”

But in Williams’ view, Ford’s slate would take the group backward. In his first term, he says he focused on educating voters through meetings on the city budget. He says the ward doesn’t want the old guard back and that he advanced the group into “more than just a social network of people who know each other.”

Ward Democratic groups can be proving grounds for young pols. Their most important function is registering more Democratic voters, acting as the “political heartbeat for the ward,” says Charles Wilson, the president of the D.C. Democratic State Committee.

Alexander is running against incumbent Takiyah “T.N.” Tate, who is Gray’s D.C. Council spokeswoman. Ford’s slate also includes Lee Wilson, who was friendly with Gray until a falling out. An ex-chair of Ward 7 Dems, Lee Wilson is challenging Dexter “D.L.” Humphrey, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7B and part of Williams’ slate, for second vice-chair.

Factionalization aside, nothing riles up clubs like party planning—drama over event management was a running gag on The Office, with Phyllis once taking over the Party Planning Committee through blackmail.

In this election, the Lorraine Whitlock Scholarship Dinner, honoring a matriarch of Ward 7 civic politics, is playing an outsized role. The annual bash used to be a fixture on the political circuit for ward leaders and citywide bigwigs, a night out in the name of helping award small scholarships to college-bound students. Alexander, fretting that it hasn’t been held since 2015, is running to reinstate the dinner and other events.

“It means a lot to me to keep her legacy alive and well in Ward 7,” says Alexander, referring to Whitlock, who was killed in her home in 2003. And who doesn’t love a party?

But Williams says cutting back on those popular events saved the organization from insolvency. He says the Ward 7 Dems’ bank account was $60 in the negative when he took over, and that the dinner cost about $10,000 annually.

“I pulled the receipts … They would have the dinner, and have no funds in the bank after the dinner,” Williams says.

Party boosters are giving Williams and company heat, but “I don’t think it will honestly be enough to tip the election,” Tate says.

This September, Williams plans to host a smaller version of the dinner honoring Lorraine Whitlock. Meanwhile, Alexander also gripes that the annual winter coat drive has been scaled down. Tate says that’s partly because of the unexpected 2017 death of Ward 7 pol Ed Potillo, who was instrumental in putting on both the dinner and coat drive.

“The most they can do is brag about events, but the real things that count are the voting numbers going up,” Williams says about the need to boost voter turnout. 

On that front, everyone agrees, particularly as Democratic turnout in the ward last year plummeted to 14 percent.

“I’m all about voter engagement and voter participation,” says Ford, who was treasurer of the group from 2008 to 2015 and second vice chair from 2015 to 2017.

Tate says the only way to boost turnout is to get new blood—referring, in this case, to reelecting the incumbent slate, which runs under the slogan “No Time for A Change.” Tate has been involved in the Ward 7 Dems since she was a teenager, adding “I have no desire to really hold titles” and that she respects her opponent, Alexander.

“It’s just time to bring some other demographics into the political sphere,” she says. When asking residents to vote in elections, she says she finds indifference, a dig at the old guard: “‘For what? For who?’ That’s what young people ask.”

Voting is scheduled at 10 a.m. this Saturday at the Marshall Heights Community Development Center. Williams’ slate includes incumbents Tate, Humphrey, and treasurer Latisha Atkins(running unopposed), while new candidate Keith R. Towery faces Sirraya Gant from the Ford camp for sergeant at arms. For correspondence secretary, Travis Swanson, running with Williams, is up against the insurgent slate’s Tyrell Holcomb, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7F.

“It has been a pleasure to work with them to reenergize the organization as they promised to do two years ago,” Gray says, endorsing Williams’ slate.

Shawntell Nesmith, the current recording secretary, is running unopposed and is not attached to either slate.