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No sooner has Leo Alexander sat down with Loose Lips than he starts telling LL he’s not supposed to be there. “One of my supporters said: ‘Don’t talk to the City Paper, their readership is gay,’” the long-shot mayoral hopeful says during an interview at his Brightwood home.
Gay readers, of course, fall somewhere well outside the demographic Alexander is pursuing in his quixotic bid for the Democratic Party nomination to be D.C.’s next mayor. Alexander has made opposition to gay marriage and illegal immigration the centerpieces of his effort. Which is part of why he lags well behind Mayor Adrian Fenty and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray in the race. (Well, that and the fact that Alexander had $701.55 in his campaign bank account at the end of the last reporting period.)
None of that matters to Alexander, though. He’s so sure he’s going to win that once he overcame his supporter’s misgivings about speaking to a suspiciously gay-friendly publication like Washington City Paper, he informs LL that the Alexander administration will be very, very good to publications that aren’t headquartered at 15th and L streets NW. The “millions” the D.C. government pays to The Washington Post for print advertising, Alexander says, will be spread around to “community papers, especially the ones who have given me press.”
“That sounds like a quid pro quo,” LL says.
“That’s the way politics works,” Alexander replies.
“Yeah,” LL muses, trying to sound like a sophisticated political insider.
“Yeah, I mean—you don’t cover someone, what, do you expect to keep your budget?” Alexander says.
“So, will we be getting any money if you win?” LL asks.
“Absolutely. I said community papers,” Alexander declares.
Choo-choo, Katharine Weymouth! That’s the sound of your gravy train leaving the station.
Or not. Because let’s face it: Alexander is almost certainly the newest member of that small fraternity of men who voluntarily spend their free time and money on the Sisyphean task of losing the mayoral race by a buttload of votes.
In forum after forum, Alexander—who is very nice in person—shows up and gives angry 30-second sermons about how we’ve lost our moral compass, how we need to oppose gay marriage, how illegal immigration is to blame for many of the city’s problems and how there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Fenty and Gray.
That last part may be true when it comes to policy issues, but wedge issues haven’t gotten Alexander very far in deep blue D.C. He’s got no money; he scores only a handful, if any, votes at straw polls; and in case he thought he’d have a better shot if he switched teams, his social conservatism isn’t even welcome in the D.C. Republican Party.
“I think Republicans who live here are generally a little bit more moderate on the social issues,” said Paul Diego Craney, executive director of the D.C. GOP. Craney added that most Republicans in town support Michelle Rhee, which means (as Gray is rapidly discovering) they also back Fenty. The GOP isn’t even planning to run a candidate on their line.
That hasn’t stopped Alexander from running for mayor as if the Family Research Council dueled with the Minutemen for bragging rights over who controls the largest voting bloc in the city. It’s a no-win strategy, especially in the Democratic primary. But it’s fascinating to watch.
Take this past weekend at the D.C. Latino Caucus, where Alexander’s hard-line stance against illegal immigration went over like a lead pinata. When asked by a moderator about his thoughts on the “failed” secure communities program, in which federal authorities identify illegal immigrants who have been arrested, Alexander’s treatise in support of the program and his line about not “selectively enforcing laws” was met with an awkward silencio. Credit Alexander for showing up and sticking to his guns, but one has to wonder what he’s trying to accomplish. His only real hope of playing a part in September’s primary is a faint one: Luring enough conservative, anybody-but-Fenty voters to his column that he spoils the race for Gray.
Which would just be the latest twist in a strange career in Alexander’s public life. Alexander is often referred to in the press as a former television reporter. That’s true, but Alexander hasn’t worked in TV for more than a decade. His last full-time gig was with NBC’s WRC-TV affiliate in D.C., where he started in 1995 after stints in Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans.
Alexander said his two-year contract wasn’t renewed when new management took over at NBC, but some of his former colleagues remember it differently.
“It was not a good hire,” said one former manager. Said another former colleague: “Leo always fancied himself a ladykiller and thought of himself as the next Denzel Washington.”
After one report in which former colleagues say Alexander made inaccurate allegations against the Prince George’s County Fire Department, he was forbidden to go back on air. The remaining time on his contract was left to expire, his former colleagues said. (Alexander says his story about the fire department was “straight” and the station was a “hostile work environment” for black male reporters. Though that doesn’t seem to have stopped Jim Vance.)
The Washington Times reported in 1998 that then-Mayor Marion Barry tried unsuccessfully to get Alexander appointed as head of the D.C. Office of Cable Television. The appointment failed because critics thought Alexander was part of an “elaborate plan to give Mr. Barry unlimited air time,” the Times wrote.
Alexander then worked as spokesman for the D.C. General Hospital and D.C. Housing Authority. “Leo was excellent… he was a get-it-done type of person,” said his former boss at D.C. General, Earl Cabbell. He went into business for himself as an insurance salesman, and says he and his wife have also run a commodities business that has a focus on East Africa.
Between his time on the air and when he announced his mayoral run last September, Alexander has been mostly out of the spotlight. His name pops up on a couple of archived stories; he was part of a grassroots group that championed an ill-fated attempt to rebuild D.C. General. And in 2006, he wrote semi-regularly for D.C. Watch, a political e-newsletter, about the hospital effort and other political items du jour.
Like on the campaign trail, where he frequently lobs verbal grenades at the two frontrunners, Alexander wasn’t shy in his writings. Gary Imhoff, the editor of D.C. Watch, once apologized to his readers for an article Alexander wrote in which he called a Jewish pediatrician, Dr. Eric Rosenthal, an “ill-informed, racist, Hebrew lost soul.” Alexander said his comments were justified because Rosenthal had called his grassroots group, which was made up of black members, “intellectually lazy.”
Imhoff, incidentally, has challenged the validity of the petitions the Alexander campaign handed in to run for mayor. Imhoff said the challenge was based only on the fact that he believes Alexander didn’t get the necessary 2,000 signatures, not because of his political views. (Alexander campaign volunteer Valencia Mohammed also filed challenges against two other long-shot mayoral candidates, Sulaimon Brown and Carlos Allen). Alexander says he wasn’t aware of Mohammed’s efforts to knock his competitors off the ballot, but he’s confident his petition will stand up against Imhoff’s challenge. At press time, the challenge was still under review.
If not, Alexander says he’s eager to try again next go-round: “I’m going to stay with it.” That could be the good news City Paper’s budget needs.
The Politics of the No-Show
Some candidates think they can do without the business vote. Others write off union voters. Fenty has apparently decided to shun organized interest groups altogether.
How else to explain the fact that the mayor—locked in a tight re-election race—has spent his summer as a conspicuous no-show at endorsement events and straw polls organized by groups ranging from education advocates to church groups? And a recent set-to demonstrates that Team Fenty hasn’t exactly been polite in responding to the invitations, either.
As LL reported earlier this week, the RSVP controversy involved a D.C. Latino Caucus event last Saturday. The organization’s president, Franklin Garcia, provided LL with e-mails that appear to show that the caucus had changed the event’s timing to accommodate Fenty’s schedule. In the e-mails, a Fenty advisor confirms that Hizzoner will be there.
“Franklin: We’ve agreed to attend the July 24th endorsement forum,” declares a message from Fenty money man John Falcicchio.
But “agreed to attend” apparently doesn’t mean the same thing as “confirmed.” Later e-mails provided by the Fenty campaign show that after the original acceptance, the Fenty campaign called back to say he couldn’t make it after all.
“Franklin: As we discussed earlier when you and Angel called me about rescheduling the conflicting forums on the 24th, the Mayor is not confirmed for this event on the 24th,” the Falcicchio e-mail states.
In the end, the mayor wasn’t there and Gray was. The hosts of the event, and Fenty-baiting mayoral long-shot Sulaimon Brown, got to bash the incumbent a little. Safely above the fray, Gray scored some easy points attacking Arizona’s recent immigration law. He walked away with the group’s endorsement, 37 to 1. Garcia later sent around an e-mail chronicling various other alleged mayoral no-shows during the past four years.
The resentment was hardly unique. About the best defense for the mayor is that he’s been an equal-opportunity event-dodger: Even though he’s basing his re-election in large part on school reform, Fenty’s most famous summertime absence was his sudden decision to skip a one-on-one debate with Gray that was hosted by the Young Education Professionals in June. Even the Fenty-friendly Washington Post editorial board took him to task for that one.
Contrast that to four years ago, when Fenty, then an eager young scamp, was hungry for endorsements and approval. He won the support of the D.C. Latino Caucus in 2006 because D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp didn’t bother to show.
“Last time we were in need of credibility, we were the punk kid in the race who was fighting to be taken seriously. At the time, these [endorsements] were much more significant and important,” says a Fenty watcher.
This time around, the thinking in the mayor’s camp seems to be that Fenty doesn’t need to convince people he’s ready to run for mayor; he needs to convince undecided voters that he deserves to be rehired. Summertime interest-group forums, by that logic, are a waste of time: They tend to attract people who pay close attention to city politics, who know who they’re going to vote for, and who show up hungry to either applaud or boo the candidates.
As with so many other aspects of the Fenty record, the scheduling decisions demonstrate that the candidate really, really doesn’t care about bruising the egos of people who are already involved in politics. But as the summertime no-shows pile up, the list of offended parties only grows—and starts to include voters farther and farther from the actual corridors of power. Fenty’s camp seems to think the disses won’t damage his 2006 reputation as a pol who can get things done. LL isn’t so sure.