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On the evening of Oct. 23, Dupont Circle activist Rob Halligan got an interesting phone call. The person on the other end asked for Halligan by name and proceeded to quiz him on civic matters, starting with questions on what he thought about various city political figures—Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, Mayors Adrian M. Fenty and Anthony A. Williams, and Councilmembers David Catania and Kwame Brown.
Halligan felt right at home. After all, he serves as president of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association and used to be an advisory neighborhood commissioner and so had plenty of experience with Evans & Co.
As the call wore on, Halligan started to wonder what was up. The poller posed several questions testing the negatives of Evans, who is the council’s longest-serving rep: “Has he been there too long?” “Is he actively involved?” “Is he too close to developers?” “Does he spread himself too thin?” Also mentioned at various points: The “Jack PAC” controversy, including its payments to send friend Marsha Ralls to China with Evans on a 2005 mayoral junket.
And then came the twilight zone moment: The poller attributed various statements about Evans to Halligan himself, including the following:
• Evans is “too old and arrogant for the job,”
• he “rarely visits his neighborhoods,”
• and he’s “sold out to developers.”
(For the record, Halligan agrees Evans has sold out to developers and rarely visits his neighborhoods but declines to pass judgment on Evans’ age or level of arrogance.)
Next time Evans might shell out a little more for some brighter pollsters. Despite having started the call by asking for “Rob Halligan,” the woman didn’t piece things together until Halligan told her at the end of the questioning. “She said, ‘Oh, bummer, that means we have to throw out your survey,’” Halligan says.
Perhaps the Evans campaign should ask for a refund for the wasted call. Not that it needs the cash: A glance at city campaign finance records reveals that as of July 31—some 13 months before the 2008 primary elections—Evans had just shy of $135,000 in his campaign war chest. (His only real competition in that department is Brown, who had more than $142,000 banked as of July 31.)
And right now, all he’s got for competition is a pair of relative unknowns, Halligan and Mount Vernon Square activist Cary Silverman. Neither has formally declared their candidacy, and neither’s name recognition can match the guy whose love life over the past few years has made for repeated Reliable Source fodder.
Name recognition, cash, and experience certainly haven’t cured Evans’ lifelong case of the jitters, as the poll makes clear. One of its questions: “Does Jack Evans deserve another four years in his seat?”
The poll also mentioned another challenger, Silverman, along with a few pertinent facts: that Silverman’s from Brooklyn, that he’s been in D.C. only 10 years, and that he’s been active in neighborhoods.
Silverman says nothing that Evans’ poll said about him was inaccurate, and he appreciates the free publicity. “The fact he’s doing a poll this early,” he says,” shows a legitimate nervousness going into the next election.”
Halligan’s take: “I think they’re trying to make me look harsher than I am.”
In his view, the survey amounts to a “push poll,” a device intended to affect voters’ opinions more than accurately record them. Strictly speaking, it doesn’t sound to LL’s ears that this poll has much in common with, say, the infamous George W. Bush poll before the 2000 South Carolina primary that implied that Sen. John McCain had illegitimately fathered a black child. It’s too long, for one thing—more than 20 minutes, according to several respondents. But it doesn’t quite sound like the survey’s out of the George Gallup School of Straight-Arrow Polling, either.
Neither Evans nor a campaign representative returned calls for comment.
After the interview, Halligan asked to speak with a manager; That person revealed that the polling operation was being done by an outfit called CCI out of Lakeland, Fla. He took an earful from Halligan about how the poll had distorted Halligan’s reputation.
“The whole point of the poll,” Halligan says, “is to make me look like a nasty bulldog spoiler and make him look like an angel who’s a single parent raising three kids and doing a great job taking care of his constituents.”
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Is the Big Green Machine Going After Carol?
The District’s second-longest-serving councilmember is taking a somewhat different approach to her own re-election prospects. While Evans is going the early-bird route, At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz is thus far choosing to bide her time.
Schwartz’s competition at this point, however, is more serious than Evans’. Ward 1 lawyer and advisory neighborhood commissioner Dee Hunter says he’s “99 percent” certain to file to run against Schwartz as an independent. And last week, fellow independent Adam Clampitt became the first council challenger to officially file his papers.
What should be lighting a fire under Schwartz is the prospect that Clampitt plans to take up the Fenty mantle of youth and energy. That image got a serious boost when Clampitt announced last week that his campaign chair is none other than Judith Terra, the socialite and arts patron who took a heavy interest in the successful campaigns of Fenty and Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser. A 2005 fundraiser at Terra’s Crestwood mansion, White Oak, brought more than $35,000 to the Fenty campaign (“The Art of Political Fundraising,” Loose Lips, 8/19/2005).
Terra fancies herself a keen judge of young political talent (she’s two for two in the local political campaigns she’s backed so far), and she’s quick to lump Clampitt in with her other favorite candidates. “I think he’s a very, very energetic, dedicated, and interesting young man,” she says. “As I look at Adam, I see the same thing,” she says. “The same fire in the belly, the same determination.”
And in Schwartz, Terra invoked similarities to the entrenched Ward 4 incumbent Fenty took down in 2000, Charlene Drew Jarvis.
Terra says her role “more than anything, will be to tell him things as I see it—what he’s doing right, what he’s doing wrong, just being there.” But Terra’s not above advising Clampitt of more tactical concerns. Her first piece of advice, straight out of the Big Green Machine playbook: “He will have to go door to door.”
Asked whether she plans to bring in the big guns from the Fenty and Bowser campaigns, Terra demurred: “I’d rather not answer that at this point,” she says. Fenty’s main campaign brain, Tom Lindenfeld, says he’s fielded no inquiry from Clampitt or anyone else with his campaign.
In yet another demonstration of the utter ridiculousness of the non-Democratic set-aside for at-large council seats, all three non-Democratic council candidates attended the Democratic State Committee’s Oct. 17 Kennedys-King Dinner, schmoozing away with the best of them.
At the dinner, Schwartz expressed to LL her dislike of fundraising (“even though I happen to be pretty good at it”) and her desire to put off the dirty business of hitting friends up for money as long as possible.
In the post-Fenty and postnKwame Brown world, where shoe leather’s a proven difference-maker, Schwartz seems content to follow the Linda Cropp same-old, same-old game plan. What Schwartz has, of course, is name recognition. Clampitt also has name recognition. Unfortunately, that name happens to be associated with such activities as “shootin’ at some food.”
Clampitt and Hunter think they have the issues on their side, though.
Hunter, the only black candidate thus far, ran down the facts that both challengers are relying on to oust the four-term incumbent: Schwartz voted against the mayoral school takeover and the smoking ban and voted for the baseball-stadium deal—all issues where she went against the majority of D.C. voters. “She’s out of touch,” he says. “The general consensus is it’s time for her to go.”
• On Tuesday, D.C. Vote held its 7th annual “Champions of Democracy” awards reception at the Carnegie Library (né City Museum). The festivities, like at many a fundraising bash, included a silent auction of lunches with D.C. politicos, with the proceeds to benefit D.C. Vote’s general operations.
Such a fundraising tactic has always held a certain appeal for LL because it’s about as close as one can get to a free-market determination of a councilmember’s relative clout. After all, who shells out big bucks to have lunch with a politico who can’t get things done? Herewith, an accounting: $275 for Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh; $250 for At-Large Councilmember Brown; $200 for Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry Jr.; $105 for Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham; $90 for Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells; $70 for Ward 4 Councilmember Bowser; $60 for Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander; $60 for Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr.
Now to be fair: Cheh’s number is inflated, considering a bid gave you a shot at an eight-person dinner with the councilmember at the home of local filmmaker and D.C. Vote board member Aviva Kempner, rather than the usual restaurant lunch for two.
The true champion of clout, though, was Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, who got $500 for his offering. That, however, was a little bit more than just a meal: four spots in the city’s Verizon Center luxury box for a Wizards game.
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