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At-Large D.C. Council

The contest for the Democratic at-large D.C. council seat comes down to a simple choice between a bald, nerdy, self-effacing public servant—incumbent Phil Mendelson—and an arrogant, self-aggrandizing blowhard—attorney A. Scott Bolden.

During the campaign, Bolden did little to alter his image as a power-hungry wheeler-dealer looking to get ahead. He abandoned an inchoate mayoral bid and later jumped into the at-large race. “I’m getting into a race I can win,” he told LL at the time. His mayoral exploratory effort boiled down to one thing: He raised enough money to pay for a poll to figure out if he could beat Mendelson. It’s the kind of insincerity and Bolden-first mentality that has troubled those familiar with his ways.

Bolden mostly kept his ego in check on the campaign trail, but his few slipups showed what kind of councilmember he would be. When labor unions endorsed Mendelson, Bolden wrote a letter instructing the unions on how they should run their business. He offered up a similar written critique for the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which had the audacity to give Bolden a less-than-glowing score after he provided a different view on gay marriage for ministers than he did for gay activists.

The city’s business elite, which funded the Bolden bid, is looking forward to the tax breaks and other handouts that Bolden would serve up from the dais. Developer Herb Miller told LL that he was supporting Bolden and throwing cash his way to provide some pro-business “balance” on the council.

One problem with Miller’s contention: Nine of the 13 current councilmembers already have open-door policies toward business lobbyists.

Mendelson provides some much-needed weight in the other direction. Sure, he’s famous for getting lost in the council minutiae, but he’s fashioned his council career around supporting run-of-the-mill D.C. residents. LL prefers a councilmember who is sometimes paralyzed by overthinking an issue over one that is almost certain to be a rubber-stamp for special interests. The council needs one person up there who doesn’t need to huddle with his business supporters before casting a vote.

Give Bolden the boot—he would be a bloviating nightmare on the council. Mendelson deserves four more wonkish years.

Mayor

The District demands a mayor with a long record of holding government bureaucrats accountable. They won’t get that, because At-Large Councilmember David Catania is running for re-election to his seat in the November General Election.

So District residents are faced with a choice between D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp, Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian Fenty, and several also-rans.

If you’re having trouble remembering what Cropp has done for the city over two-and-a-half decades of service, consider yourself in good company. Sure, she has refereed many disputes among her colleagues, first on the D.C. Board of Education and subsequently as the council chair. In each episode, Cropp has come off as a perfectly convictionless careerist, a politician driven only by a compulsion to get a bill or resolution passed.

In other words, she has the ideal skills for her current job. Too bad she’s bored with it.

Cropp herself makes the most convincing case for a Fenty administration: She boasts that her leadership helped put the District on firm financial footing, so now it’s time to rebuild our communities. Perhaps Cropp should have run in 1998, at the dawn of gentrification.

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Say what you like about Fenty’s full-steam-ahead campaigning style. But finishing off the job of reforming D.C. agencies and spreading the prosperity of recent years will require tons of energy and focus. Fenty is the only candidate with that kind of stamina, not to mention a healthy disgust with the status quo. Though Fenty has not been a Kathy Patterson–like agent of accountability, he has aggressively watchdogged such dysfunctional agencies as the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration in his two years atop the council’s Committee on Human Services.

Fenty hasn’t just captured imaginations with his door-knocking campaign strategy. He deserves support because he will be a check on a city government that has become dominated by the business elite. Cropp’s donor list is a monument to entrenched power. From her political friends to her nonconfrontational rhetoric—everything about Cropp speaks “establishment,” a group that needs no more help in this town.

LL will say this for Cropp: She’s an extremely pleasant person who is almost impossible not to like. She deserves more time with her grandson. Voters should give her the relaxed and trouble-free retirement she has earned.

Draw the line for Fenty and help ease Cropp down the road to her Eastern Shore getaway.

Council Chair

Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray is by all accounts a smart guy and a fine gentleman. He has done an admirable job of representing a ward that had learned to expect almost nothing from city leaders—for all of 20 months.

During his short stint on the council, Gray has managed to court power brokers from D.C. and beyond, as evidenced by his campaign disclosures in the chairman’s race. If you’ve got cash, Gray will take it. He didn’t even flinch when his fraternity buddy and Maryland lobbyist Bruce Bereano, once convicted of mail fraud, threw a Baltimore fundraiser for him.

A combination of District business leaders and individuals from outside of D.C. provided the bulk of Gray’s haul. LL isn’t naive enough to imagine a politician would say no anyone with a checkbook, but Gray’s “One City” mantra rings hollow when you add up the cash.

He signaled his entry into the chair race with his opposition to a bill sprung by his opponent, Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, that would have imposed taxes on hotels and parking companies to pay for a school-modernization plan. Gray became the Chamber of Commerce darling with the notion that under a Gray-led council, the business muckety-mucks will always know when he’s proposing something so egregious as a tax for a school fix-up fund.

Patterson may not be the best campaigner in town. The rap that she’s a difficult person to deal with and averse to compromise doesn’t mean much when you consider her legislative record, which includes a law to ban toxic shipments on trains running through the city, a measure that prevents the police from detaining demonstrators without probable cause, and legislation that limits the time a police officer can remain on sick leave. Although her specific accomplishments on the council don’t sway voters, Patterson has consistently sided with the public over corporate interests.

Her inability to snare the huge number of endorsements is testament to her refusal to make promises she can’t keep. Gray managed to get a top rating from groups as disparate as the Sierra Club and the Chamber of Commerce by telling both groups what they wanted to hear.

Gray will have his say as the Ward 7 councilmember. Vote for Patterson to lead the council.

Ward 1

Jim Graham’s challenger, Chad Williams, pleaded guilty to simple assault during the campaign. Let’s just leave it there.

Graham has earned another term.

Ward 3

Too often during this political season, commentators have talked about an embarrassment of riches in the Ward 3 council race. Bullshit. Voters in the city’s wealthiest ward will find their champion through process of elimination.

Paul Strauss: This man is currently the city’s shadow U.S. senator, an unpaid position responsible for lobbying Capitol Hill for D.C. Statehood. It’s a joke of a position. If Strauss somehow won the Ward 3 race, the elections board would be in the unprecedented position of having to organize a special election for a shadow senator. No way, Paul.

LL is very sad to purge Bill Rice. He has written for the Washington City Paper, and his propensity for gossip is unrivaled among true D.C. political geeks. Rice entered the race after resigning his post as spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Transportation, and as a candidate, he’s adopted the kind of ridiculous bravado he’s mocked in others. His campaign lit stated, “Only Bill Rice can fix the D.C. Schools.” He touted his experience at DDOT by saying that as spokesman he was intimately involved in a turnaround of that agency. Sorry, Bill.

Sam Brooks is a smart and energetic guy. But Brooks’ second run, after moving a few blocks into Ward 3 in January, only proves what worries LL about the young hunk: Brooks is desperate to get elected to something because he wants to get elected to something. Get a job for a few years, Sam.

Erik Gaull failed to sell voters on his long résumé of public-safety bona fides. He joins Rice in the trying-a-little-bit-too-hard-for-his-own-good club. See you during the 2010 election, Erik.

That leaves George Washington University Law School professor Mary Cheh, a smart, fresh face untainted by years of political chicanery. She will undoubtedly be frustrated by all the petty maneuvering on the council. But she’ll also bring the same crusading zeal to the council that Patterson did.

Say “yay” to Cheh.

Ward 5

The city’s fast-gentrifying but often overlooked ward is widely expected to take a step backward by electing either Harry “Tommy” Thomas Jr. or businessman Frank Wilds. Both men carry an anchor of nostalgia into an election that should be about change. Thomas, the son of a former Ward 5 councilmember, has gained most of his support via his father’s legacy.

Democratic Party activist Wilds seems to attract support mostly because a lot of people think he might win.

But Ward 5 voters have a lot of other choices—most of them uninspiring community rabble rousers and former city bureaucrats who don’t bring much energy to the job.

Try Ivy City community activist Audrey Ray, who would supply some much-needed fire and old-fashioned indignation to the council dais. On a body that counts Barry as the only true street fighter, Ray would stand out.

Draw the line for Ray, and prepare for some heat.

Ward 6

This ward race is most notable for the failure of one contender—Will Cobb—to file his nominating petitions on time. Otherwise, the contest has been a snooze.

D.C. School Board member Tommy Wells may have one of the most gentrifier-friendly campaign slogans ever—he’ll work to make the ward a liveable and walkable community. His theme seemed like easy pickings for a candidate who represents the interests of the less-affluent parts of the ward.

No one stepped up.

Wells’ toughest opponent, Curtis Etherly, took himself out of the race when he pledged to remain in his post at Coca-Cola if elected.

Draw the line for Wells, and take a nice stroll home.

D.C. Delegate to Congress

It’s good to see Eleanor Holmes Norton is still forced to run a political campaign. Her challenger, Andrew Miscuk, pushed Norton down from her exalted perch long enough to point out that little has changed in the 16 years she’s held the seat. He makes a good point.

Still, Norton’s stellar performance in a recent interview with Steven Colbert, when she referred to the mock-interviewer as a “vanilla white man,” made LL realize she still provides some value for D.C. residents.

OK, one more term for Norton.

U.S. Senator (Shadow)

D.C. political junkies should do themselves a favor and send Philip Pannell to Capitol Hill. At the very least, Pannell won’t have as much time to butt into every simmering political battle in the city. His legitimate organizing skills will serve the city well as volunteer voting-rights lobbyist.

His only opponent in the primary, Michael D. Brown, picked a great race to run in. He’ll get a boost from the campaign of mayoral also-ran Michael A. Brown.

Don’t be confused. Pannell is the man to make some noise in the federal enclave.

For shadow rep, go with Mike Panetta, No. 1 on the ballot.—James Jones

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LL’s Election Day Cheat Sheet

At-Large:

yes no

Mendelson Boring, plodding, and ultimately worth your vote. BoldenWhy not just put the Board of Trade in charge of D.C.?

Mayor:

FentyAll those Washington Post reporters can’t be wrong. Cropp Because you can’t afford to compromise on your next mayor.

Chairman:

Patterson She’s hated by all the right people. Gray Let’s not open the door for a Kevin Chavous comeback!

Ward 1:

Graham Straw hats for everyone!

Williams Needs more subtle race-baiting message.

Ward 3:

Cheh Patterson with a law degree—how can you beat that? Strauss Don’t let him out of his shadow.

Ward 5:

Ray Future star of cable Channel 13. Thomas Reformed jock now wears a suit—an empty one.