Brianne Nadeau Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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When the D.C. Council freshman class of 2015 arrived, Ward 1 Member Brianne Nadeau was among the newcomers who were seen as a breath of fresh air. In unseating Jim Graham, the late incumbent known both for championing the disadvantaged and for questionable ethics, Nadeau cast herself as a Graham-type fighter minus the contract meddling.

Now, after an undistinguished first term, Nadeau faces a challenge from a newcomer who touts a populist platform yet appears unencumbered by the political establishment. 

Former D.C. Superior Court Magistrate Judge Lori Parker, a third-generation Washingtonian who has worked in multiple branches of D.C. government, says she will campaign by engaging residents and looking for solutions to systemic issues such as affordable housing, underperforming schools, and senior care. But she’ll do it, she says, without excessive reliance on the mother’s milk of politics.

“To quote Shirley Chisholm,” Parker says, “I am ‘unbought and unbossed.’ I don’t think campaigns should be won or lost by how much you raised. That’s not what public service is all about.” 

Music to our ears. But it remains to be seen whether a grassroots campaign of  inclusiveness and coalition-building can survive without big corporate money.

That’s a limitation with which Nadeau seems unconcerned. Witness the fundraiser hosted by lawyer-lobbyist David “The King” Wilmot in April. Checks to her re-election campaign came from supporters ($500), friends ($250), and guests ($100), and co-hosts included former Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, who recently launched a “government relations” firm; Alexander’s former chief of staff and “government affairs” specialist J.R. Meyers; and Alexander’s former campaign treasurer, consultant/lobbyist Derek Ford, who now works for the D.C. Economic Partnership. 

Insider money might not be enough, though. “She seems disengaged,” says a veteran political observer. “I can’t name one issue she has taken on. [Jim Graham] was a master of constituent services, but with her, I think there’s some resentment in Ward 1.”

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Minority developer Abiud Zerubabel certainly feels it. He had planned a 24-unit building  in Nadeau’s ward to replace vacant rowhouses, but it was down-zoned under her watch after community pressure. “We have done business in other wards where all voices are heard and council members work to find consensus,” Zerubabel says. “I wish she had done more to hear both sides and understand the risks and hardships of a minority-owned business like ours.”

Longtime Ward 1 resident Greg Boyd is so unimpressed he says he might run as an independent. He caught Nadeau rolling her eyes at a community meeting when he spoke about traffickers targeting seniors for their opioids. “It was clear she had no solutions or insight,” says Boyd, a former Marine and D.C. public school teacher. After he heard Nadeau say it takes a “shitload” of money to run for office, Boyd noticed that in 2014 she received contributions from Pepco and numerous petroleum companies that listed a Virginia address.

Nadeau is proud of her record, saying she has accepted contributions lawfully and hopes for “a public [campaign] financing system that levels the playing field for those seeking office.” (The Office of Campaign Finance found 17 unaccounted for contributions to Nadeau in 2014 totaling $2,948, though Nadeau provided documentation when requested.)

Parker, who is excited to spend the next year before the election primary campaigning, isn’t taking any political bait: “I’m looking to be informed, inclusive, and engaging,” she says. “Our campaign is about issues the ward as a whole, and the city, cares about.”

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There’s nothing like political beefs that spill over into campaign season. Such was apparently the case last week when Mayor Muriel Bowser sent a staffer in advance of a fundraiser for Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, then failed to show.

The day before, Cheh had released a 900-page transcript of a closed-door hearing on contract steering at the Department of General Services, along with her own report.

Cheh invited Bowser and council colleagues to her fundraiser at Cactus Cantina, where Bowser loyalists Jack Evans and Brandon Todd showed up. But no Bowser. “Yes, I did see her advance team was present,” Cheh says. “But she didn’t come. No one said why.”

LL can think of a reason: Cheh’s most recent report, at which Bowser & Co. have thumbed their noses, isn’t isolated. She has hounded the Bowser Green Team with committee probes in the past. Says one FOM (friend of Muriel): “It’s grandstanding, looking to ding those in power, creating a narrative that they are steering contracts to their friends.” 

So did Bowser snub Cheh because of the DGS report? “Probably,” says the FOM. “Any logical person would say, ‘Hey, this person is talking loads of shit. I’m not going to badmouth them, but I won’t be around them if I don’t have to be.’”