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July 4 is an important milestone to LL. As an American, certainly, he appreciates that it marks another birthday for the nation. As a native Midwesterner, he’s also vaguely aware of its importance in the arena of maize cultivation. (“Knee-high by the Fourth of July,” anyone?) But most crucially, as a District political animal, he knows that Independence Day marks the kickoff of the DCision ’08 campaign season.
That, folks, is due completely to the Palisades parade, which assembles along a roughly mile-long stretch of MacArthur Boulevard NW the most convenient collection of District voters in one place from now until the Sept. 9 primary. Lately, the Palisades affair, now in its 42nd year, has had increasing competition, both from Capital Pride and the Caribbean Carnival—but in both of those parades the elected officials and wannabes are mere sideshow. On MacArthur Boulevard, the politicos—and their rides and their entourages and their handouts—are the main attraction.
Herewith, the highlights of Palisades 2008:
• Best Campaign Innovation: It’s not often that a new gimmick turns up on the local campaign trail. Color LL impressed, because at-large council candidate Dee Hunter has broken ground with his hire of AArrow Advertising—you know, the guys who perform acrobatic flips and twists with arrow-shaped placards. The “Independent Democrat” showed up with three hired-gun sign spinners, who, Hunter says, are on retainer for the remainder of the campaign.
As for what the full-spin zone is doing to Hunter’s bottom line, inquiries at AArrow revealed that the company’s rates are between $35 and $50 an hour. In any case, Hunter could finance a lot more sign-spinning, had he not been fined $1,560 by the city’s Office of Campaign Finance last month for failing to file the legally required statement of candidacy and statement of organization. Hunter says he made all the requisite financial disclosures as an exploratory campaign and that he has filed a challenge to the OCF ruling. “As of today, I am a formal candidate,” he said on Tuesday, after filing the necessary statements and picking up ballot petitions.
• Best Parade-as-Victory-Lap: The holiday came early for At-Large Councilmember Kwame R. Brown, when on July 2 a pair of Democratic challengers who had picked up ballot petitions both failed to turn in their 2,000 signatures on time, meaning the incumbent will be running virtually unopposed for re-election. Brown was indeed in good spirits for the parade and brought a celebratory caravan. There was the requisite sweet sports car—a black, late-model Corvette—plus the famed Kwamemobile conversion van and a vintage fire truck (a 1974 Mack CF-700, to be precise) provided by the firefighters’ union, which has endorsed Brown.
• Best Stolen Idea: At the Capital Pride Parade last month, Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, aka Mr. Livable Walkable, rode out the parade in the back of a Mini Cooper convertible he had rented from the Zipcar car-sharing service. Wells skipped the Palisades march in favor of the piddling Capitol Hill parade in his home ward, but Ward 3 Councilmember Mary M. Cheh picked up the slack with a Zipcar of her own (also a Mini). LL tried to press Cheh on the copycatting of her Ward 6 colleague, but Cheh, typically a Subaru driver, was happy to cede the credit: “It’s just a good thing to use shared cars.”
• Best Handout: The eyes of the country were on the Supreme Court late last month, when it struck down the District’s handgun ban. Somewhat fewer eyes will be on At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who has to deal with the consequences of the high court’s decision as chair of the council committee on public safety and the judiciary. In keeping with his recent focus on constitutional jurisprudence, Mendelson passed out leaflets listing the Bill of Rights “Courtesy of America’s Founding Fathers,” with a big no-taxation-without-representation message on the back. Mendelson wasn’t entirely happy with the circular: “The printer made a mistake,” he told LL. “They printed the 2nd Amendment too clearly.”
Runner-up: Cheh, who passed out pocket copies of the full Constitution (you, too, can be like cranky West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd!), plus Cheh-branded bottles of water and the most primo candy of the day—mini Twix, Kit-Kats, and Snickers bars.
• Best Color Coordination: There’s a grand tradition of councilmembers using their personal wheels on the campaign trail. Take At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz, who regularly pilots her signature canary-yellow Pontiac Firebird in parades (including this one). Then there’s Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, whose purple Chrysler Sebring convertible had a prominent place in his Capital Pride caravan. But for Palisades, Evans decided his personal wheels weren’t going to cut it, so his campaign rented a red Corvette to match his bright-red campaign signs and T-shirts. Sort-of match, anyway: “We wanted red,” Evans said, “but this is more of a burgundy.” Challenger Cary Silverman had more success matching his forest-green campaign scheme to a Jeep Wrangler Sahara.
• Best Recycling: What’s old is still good enough for Schwartz, who is still using her campaign signs from her last run, albeit with a big notch cut out of the corner where the old date used to be. Same goes for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who amped up his eco-cred not only by parading his dorky Smart car past Ward 3 greeniacs but also by handing out the same beads left over from the Capital Pride and Caribbean fests. For a lesson in catering to the occasion, he needs to look to Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray. At Capital Pride, Gray offered strings of round rainbow-colored beads, with Gray’s “One City” logo dangling on a pendant; for the more patriotic Palisades crowd, Gray ditched the rainbow scheme for strings of red-and-blue stars.
• Best Dose of Americana: That came courtesy of Schwartz’s Republican challenger, Patrick Mara, who not only showed up with loads of tiny American flags for parade watchers (courtesy of his burgeoning campaign fund), but also the talents of an honest-to-God baton twirler. And, mind you, not just any old majorette but a champion beauty queen—the lovely Angelea Busby, Miss Kansas 2003, whose twirling skills won her a commendation in that year’s Miss America contest. Busby, who recently moved to D.C. from the Sunflower State, says she made pals with Mara through the local Young Republicans, a group responsible for a goodly part of Mara’s two-dozen-strong contingent.
• Best Camaraderie: In a scene not so far removed from a Scooby-Doo episode, elected members of the State Board of Education—Sekou Biddle, Mary Lord, Laura Slover, and Ted Trabue—piled into a vintage burnt-orange Volkswagen Beetle convertible. The Bug, which belongs to Trabue, also hosted more than 1,200 Frisbees, which became popular receptacles among kids for candy collection. Lots of smiles were seen on this Mystery Machine, but that might have to do with the fact that with Fenty having gutted the board’s responsibilities, there’s just not a whole lot to be fighting over.
• Best Caravan: The Special Election Ladies—Ward 4’s Muriel Bowser and Ward 7’s Yvette Alexander—dueled for the overall automotive crown this year. Alexander, perhaps influenced by $130-a-barrel oil prices, chose to forgo the giant International CXT pickup spotted at campaign appearances earlier this year. Campaign manager Darryl Rose, who owns the semi-tractor-sized behemoth, said, “We scaled it down for the Palisades.” Rather, Alexander’s brigade included a Yamaha Rhino all-terrain vehicle and—so much for the scale-down—a Ford F-250 pickup.
Bowser gets LL’s nod on sheer quantity, however, with a green Jeep, a powder-blue Mercedes CLK320, and a sleek Nissan hatchback in her lineup.
• Biggest Disappointment: Where the hell was V.O.? Former Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent B. Orange Sr. has for years set the standard for political parading in the District, long showing up with the finest wheels around. To wit: the 1982 Clénet roadster Orange piloted back in 2005. So when LL discovered that Orange was contemplating a return to electoral office, with a run for a spot on the Democratic National Committee, he was pumped. No Agent Orange—though incumbent Arrington Dixon showed, and he made up for Orange’s quality with quantity, with an Acura SUV and a VW New Beetle in his caravan. With two cars for a four-person entourage, he could boast the highest vehicle-to-supporter ratio of the day.
LL’s second-biggest disappointment was missing the breakdown of the centerpiece of Gray’s delegation, a beautiful blue ’66 Cadillac. A few blocks before the parade’s end, the land yacht had to be turned off and then wouldn’t restart, says Gray, leaving marchers to push the machine to Arizona Avenue NW. “People started applauding,” he says.
Perhaps that was in appreciation of Gray’s enviro cred: “People thought it was our green policy,” says his chief of staff, Dawn Slonneger. “We were going green.” The engine trouble was short-lived, she says: “Once the police jumped it, it started right up.”
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