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Fans of political theater have been blessed with a pretty entertaining election season. Mayor Adrian Fenty appears poised to lose, only four years after winning every precinct in the city, and despite raising enough money for his campaign that he could have taken everyone in town out for a burger and still had money left over for attack ads. D.C. Council Chairman candidate Kwame Brown looks like he’s going to cruise past revelations that he’s pretty bad—OK, really bad—with his money. And long-time At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson’s political career has a good chance of going down in flames because his little-known challenger happens to share a name, but not a middle initial, with Councilmember Michael A. Brown.
Good stuff, to be sure. But for sheer craziness, the best show hasn’t even started. The next race, a special election to fill Kwame Brown’s at-large seat if he moves up to council chairman, could easily become a knock-down, royal rumble between several candidates looking for just a few thousand votes to win.
That’s because if Brown wins, the 82 members of the D.C. Democratic State Committee will pick a replacement. That replacement will enjoy being an incumbent for about four months until a special election can be held where anyone can run, regardless of party. In these types of contests, where turnout and interest is low, it doesn’t take much to win. David Catania got his start on the council 13 years ago, when he pulled in a whopping 10,818 votes in a citywide special election. (That amounts to about 2 percent of the District’s population.)
Winning numbers that low tend to give hope to people who wouldn’t otherwise have a shot in hell. Get strong enough support from one or two groups, and boom! You’ve got one of the best paying part-time jobs in the country. And, oh, yeah, also a vote on the council.
“It’s about identifying your supporters and getting them to the polls,” says Jacque Patterson, president of the Ward 8 Democrats and one of the least coy potential candidates Loose Lips spoke with about the possible race.
“That will be a seat that I expect a lot of people to jump into,” says Clark Ray, who’s running a distant third against Mendelson and (not that) Michael Brown, and has been mentioned as a possible choice to replace Kwame Brown in his at-large seat. “What are you hearing?”
Well, Clark, lots.
First, there are the candidates like yourself: likely losers whose names are being bandied about to replace Brown as a consolation prize. The obvious choice for the pity vote would be Mendelson, if he loses.
Vincent Orange, a former Ward 5 councilmember who is running behind Brown in polls for the chairmanship, is someone people love to mention as a replacement for Brown. Makes sense, right? Gee, VO, you didn’t beat Kwame, but you can have his old job.
“People have been discussing it,” says David Meadows, executive director of the D.C. Democratic Party.
Orange scoffs at the notion he’d be happy with Brown’s sloppy seconds. But he raised some eyebrows last week, when he hosted a cookout for Ward 5 Democratic State Committee members—who, as it happens, would have a say in appointing Brown’s successor.
Orange says the shindig was just a thank you for the Ward 5 pols who hosted a straw poll, which he won, albeit barely. He says he has no interest in being just a regular old councilmember again.
“If I want to be on the council, I would have stayed on the council as a Ward 5 councilmember,” Orange says. But he’s been running for office for 20 years, and it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t be tempted by another bite at the apple. Or in his case, the orange.
Besides Orange, Leo Alexander has said he doesn’t plan on disappearing after he loses the mayoral race. And Ray says he’s open to the idea of being picked to replace Brown, too.
“I would be foolish to say that I would not consider it,” Ray says. He hastens to add that he hasn’t made up his mind, but drops this line about how he thinks he’s viewed by the Democratic committee that suggests otherwise: “They certainly know that I have been a person who has demonstrated the ability to campaign citywide and work hard.”
But hard work alone likely won’t go very far in deciding who the committee picks. This is a rare chance for insiders to reward friends and return favors—or stash some chits away for down the line. So the universe of potential replacements isn’t limited to people who will be on the ballot on Sept. 14.
Some Democrats are pushing for a woman candidate (Deborah Royster, president of the Ward 4 Democrats, has been mentioned). Franklin Garcia, head of the D.C. Latino Caucus, says there’s interest in seeing a Latino on the dais.
In Ward 8, Patterson thinks he’ll have an advantage over other candidates who’ve just slogged through an election. “It’s going to be very difficult for people who are running right now to turn around and ask people for more money,” he says.
Adam Clampitt, who ran against Michael A. Brown as an independent in the 2008 at-large race before dropping his bid to serve as a U.S. Navy Reserve officer in Afghanistan, is another possible candidate. Clampitt, whose been making the rounds at ward forums and is a vocal supporter of D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, says he still hasn’t made up his mind, but has been going on a listening tour to gauge interest. “It’s been, universally, a pretty good response,” he reports.
One name that keeps popping up is Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr., who seems poised to cruise to an easy primary re-election on Sept. 14. That would leave a vacancy in Ward 5, but put Thomas in a citywide seat.
“It’s something I would consider,” Thomas says, adding the obligatory sentence that he’s currently focused on winning the race he’s in. “You know I would meet with my ward folks and make sure that everybody understood what was going on.”
But the best option for sheer political madness? Michael A. Brown.
Brown, you’ll recall, switched his party affiliation from Democratic to independent to win his at-large seat in 2008 with only 20 percent of the vote. He says “a lot of folks” have approached him and asked him to consider switching back to the Democratic Party. Brown says he can’t get a clear answer on whether he can switch his party affiliation and be done with it, or whether switching parties would require that he run in a special election, something he doesn’t want to do. LL also tried and failed (so far) to get a clear answer from the Board of Elections and Ethics about what would happened if Brown switched. Brown said he “probably” won’t, because of the legal uncertainty, but if he did, the Home Rule charter requires that his seat go to someone other than a Democrat.
When asked if he’s considering switching back to the Democratic Party because he is, in fact, a Democrat, Brown scoffed at the very idea, saying he’s an independent with “Democratic values.” Yeah—and LL was an All-Met basketball player!
More Marathon Money
A few weeks ago, Loose Lips reported that the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, a politically connected non-profit that organizes the National Marathon, gets a lot of help from the city’s taxpayers and pays its president more than $400,000 a year.
Turns out that wasn’t all. According to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the District has cut two checks for the GWSA this year, for a total of $675,000. That’s in addition to the $285,263.06 the Metropolitan Police Department waived in security fees at this year’s marathon on orders from Fenty’s office, according to Fox5’s Paul Wagner.
The FOIA request also returned documents saying the city only paid the GWSA $5,000 in 2008, though D.C. Council records and the GWSA’s own tax records show that the city sent the group $500,000 that year. (Officials are trying to double-check the numbers.) But the payments in 2010 look pretty solid. The documents obtained by LL give check numbers for a $425,000 payment on Jan. 21 and a $250,000 payment on April 26. The documents appear to show that the payments originated from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
Questions submitted to Fenty’s office and the GWSA got no answer by press time.
Numbers aside, GWSA’s relationship to the mayor’s office seems to be tighter than many people realized. When Fenty fired Clark Ray from his job as director of the Department of Parks and Recreation in April 2009, city officials arranged to give him a soft landing at the GWSA.
A day or two after he was let go, Ray says, then-City Administrator Dan Tangherlini, who had delivered the news of his dismissal, “called me and said, ‘We’ve got a gig at the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, that’s where we would like you to go.’”
Ray says he then had breakfast with GWSA’s Bob Sweeney, the group’s aforementioned president, whose pay package jumped nearly $100,000 in two years to a total of $415,278 in 2008. Sure enough, Sweeney gave him a job helping out with the city’s bid to host the 2014 Gay Games (Cleveland won). “I didn’t have a title,” Ray says.
After four months, Ray left the GWSA, saying it wasn’t his “cup of tea.” As for his well-paid boss, Ray says he didn’t see Sweeney around the office very much. And he didn’t know how much Sweeney made.
“That’s a lot of money, though,” says Ray. “I wouldn’t mind that job someday.”
(If you’re keeping score at home, that’s two items in this column so far—and two jobs Clark Ray is interested in.)
Harry Thomas, Jr. has a dream
It was hard not to feel a little bit sorry watching Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. on Saturday at the Rev. Al Sharpton’s “Reclaim the Dream” rally at Dunbar Senior High School and subsequent march to the future Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the Mall.
Before the rally, NPR called Thomas a “civil rights leader.” But that was about the last time anyone showed him much respect for the rest of the day.
First, one of Sharpton’s handlers shooed Thomas off the stage while Sharpton was speaking, though Education Secretary Arne Duncan was allowed to stay. Then Sharpton thanked Thomas in front of the crowd as most were already headed toward the door—and only referred to Thomas as “councilmember,” without mentioning his name. (Thomas says he worked on Sharpton’s 2004 presidential campaign.) And as Sharpton left the stage to begin the march, Thomas literally had to run to catch up with him.
After marching directly behind Sharpton for several miles in the heat, Thomas finally got to address the crowd at the future site of the MLK memorial. But this was no “I Have a Dream” speech. Instead, Thomas had to play crowd control, and try to get people to stop blocking the view of the cameras.
“We need to move this crowd back, c’mon,” Thomas declared. “Marchers move back…The camera crews cannot move, we need to move around the camera crews. The people need to be behind the camera crews, so I need the marchers to give me a little space behind the cameras.”
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