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During a year in which the antics of the White House and Congress seemingly, um, trumped all political conversations, you may be wondering “Wait, what the hell happened in the Wilson Building this year?”
Turns out, not a whole lot! Well, that’s not entirely true—the D.C. government did enact a (yet-unfunded) paid family leave law, approved a $13.8 billion budget with notable investments in housing efforts, and passed emergency legislation letting dog owners bring their furry friends to restaurant patios. But as we poured over the 2017 archives in an attempt to make sense of this crazy year, one thing became apparent: There wasn’t a whole lot of drama in or out of the Wilson Building this year. Even the council scandals of past years and decades seem tame compared to the current White House.
Jim Graham, 1945-2017
The District lost one of its most colorful and hardest working former Councilmembers in June. Jim Graham, who served as the Councilmember for Ward 1 from 1999 to 2015, was best known as a fierce advocate for the District’s most vulnerable and underserved residents. During his political tenure, Graham worked tirelessly on issues like homelessness, public transportation, LGBTQ rights, and juvenile justice. Though Graham was unseated in the 2014 election by challenger Brianne Nadeau following a corruption scandal, his contributions to the city expand well beyond Ward 1. We will remember Graham for all he did for the District—and of course, the bow ties.
New Challengers Arise For the 2018 Election
As boring as 2017 was for local politics, at least we’ve got an election to look forward to next year. It’s not clear yet who (with a fighting chance) Mayor Muriel Bowser will be up against in her campaign for a second term (Would the real Vince Gray please stand up?), but new challengers in Council races began to emerge this year. One recent curveball is a potential comeback for former Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, who says she “most likely probably will” run against At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman. (She’d have to change her voter registraction from Democrat to Independent or Republican to do that.) But Alexander isn’t the only one eyeing Silverman’s seat: Dionne Reeder, a community service veteran and owner of Anacostia’s Cheers at the Big Chair cafe, launched an at-large campaign this year.
The Ward 1 race is also heating up, with Nadeau now facing five challengers for her seat: ANC 1A Chairman Kent Boese, former D.C. Superior Court magistrate judge Lori Parker, architectural drafter Sheika Reid, 30-year-old sign language interpreter Jamie Sycamore, and former D.C. Public Schools teacher and local Renaissance man “Beltway” Greg Boyd (who will run as an Independent). And At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds has a few challengers for her seat in a trio of fresh-faced millennials: real estate acquisitions associate Marcus Goodwin, environmental organizer Jeremiah Lowery, and communications professional Aaron Holmes.
Oh, we forgot to mention, Bowser does have at least one challenger thus far: Dustin “DC” Canter, the millennial yoga teacher who plans to crowdsource policy ideas from his social media followers. Good luck, bro.
Vince Gray vs. Muriel Bowser
And while we’re on the subject of elections, what is going to happen with Vince Gray in 2018. Thus far, now-Ward 7 Councilmember Gray has been coy about whether or not he’s going to throw his hat in the ring for mayor—which will undoubtedly be seen as a shot at redemption after his crushing defeat in 2014, amid a scandalous investigation into an alleged shadow campaign to get him elected in 2010. (And Gray’s bulldog, political consultant Chuck Thies, has gone dark on Twitter, where he appeared to get off on attacking anyone who said anything remotely resembling criticism of Gray).
Karl Racine vs. Muriel Bowser
Will he or won’t he? That was the question most people wondered when they talked about D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine earlier this year. Will he run for mayor against Bowser in 2018, or not? At-Large Councilmember and former Racine employee Robert White shrugged off the notion that Racine would run for mayor. “I’ve never understood the origin of that rumor,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the most healthy dose of speculation. People always assume that politicians aspire to higher office, but I don’t see him as an opportunist. I think he’s an authentically good person.” But some other D.C. political insiders also told City Paper about Racine muttering “Four years, gentleman” as Bowser was sworn into mayoral office.
What—or who—it came down to, some speculated, was Gray. A source told City Paper earlier this year that Racine sees Gray as a mentor and would not run against him, and might even lend his support if Gray decides to step into the ring for a rematch with Bowser. But now that Racine has declared he’s running for reelection as D.C. attorney general, whoever he chooses to endorse could have an impact. “I’m really happy,” Racine said when asked on the Kojo Nnamdi Show last week whether he regrets not running for mayor. “I’ve not endorsed the mayor—nor has she asked me to endorse her.”
Bowser’s Leadership Exodus
Here’s a list of several officials of Bowser’s administration to step away since 2015: Leif Dormsjo, director of the D.C. Department of Transportation; Ana Harvey, director of the Department of Small and Local Business Development; Christopher Weaver, director of the Department of General Services; Bill Howland, director of the Department of Public Works; and Deborah Carroll, director of the Department of Employment Services. Do they know something City Paper doesn’t? What’s the story here?
Perhaps it’s nothing. Silverman, the at-large councilmember, told WCP that these kinds of leadership exoduses are par for course. “People don’t stay in these jobs forever,” she said. Chances are there’s probably no mass conspiracy against Bowser—after all, these are hard jobs to do, ones that amount to great pressure (which is what, in part, led to Weaver’s resignation, after he was reportedly asked to meddle in a controversial contract award). Still, with an eye toward reelection next year, it’s not a great look for the Green Team.
Brandon Todd’s Campaign Finance Woes
The biggest local campaign finance scandal of 2017 goes to Brandon Todd, Bowser’s protégée and successor in her Ward 4 Council seat, who struggled to report roughly $134,000 in campaign contributions, as well as a trio of expenditures in April of 2015 to a West Trenton, New Jersey firm called Block By Block. It’s a sketchy company with a track record for get-out-the-vote services that City Paper found didn’t have a working phone number or any kind of a presence at the address listed on Todd’s expenditures.
But Todd’s campaign finance discrepancies aren’t unique; it’s a tale as old as time (time, in this instance, dates all the way back to 1973, when the Home Rule Act was passed into law and established an elected government for the city). A call for campaign finance reform has been a rallying cry for D.C. politicians running for office for years now, and campaigning on it amounts to nothing more than lip service, it seems. “We’re hoping to look at reforms more broadly,” a council staffer told City Paper this year amid the Todd controversy, “but can we get something in place in time for the next election?” Not going to happen.