At D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp’s rally last week to announce she will run for mayor, a buoyant crowd gathered on the Frank D. Reeves Center plaza to cheer on the new candidate. One prominent Cropp supporter took stock of the scene: lots of gray hair, two canes, a gaggle of political has-beens. The Cropp partisans said the campaign “needs an infusion of youngsters—and how” and described the crowd as “a bunch of old fogies.”
Cropp herself, 57, would never use such a term to describe her people. They’re not old fogies; they’re “veteran” city leaders. They’re “experienced” and “deeply rooted in the community.” The Washington Post employed euphemisms such as “familiar” and “stalwarts of the political establishment” to characterize the Croppites.
The watchful Cropp backer was more on the mark: The initial snapshot of Cropp’s run was heavy on the geezers, especially in the campaign vanguard. To wit:
•Campaign Chair Elijah B. Rogers was hired as D.C.’s city administrator when then-Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. put his first government together in 1979. Rogers is considered one of the brightest stars of the early Barry years. A widely respected executive at the engineering firm Delon Hampton and Associates, he left government unsoiled by scandal. Rogers became the go-to guy for up-and-coming African-American businessmen. He energetically stalked the plaza after the Cropp announcement, huddling with would-be campaign staffers. He’s the kind of take-charge guy anyone would love to have in an intensely competitive venture. Rogers is 65.
•Cropp’s closest adviser is her husband, Dwight Cropp. The affable George Washington University professor and former Barry adviser will be in on every campaign decision. He’s 66.
•Cropp introduced longtime friend Marilyn Tyler Brown as her campaign treasurer. Brown is the D.C. Democratic Party’s national committeewoman. She politely reminded LL that “you never ask a woman her age or her weight” but volunteered that she retired as an assistant superintendent for the D.C. Public Schools in 1997. She’s 71, according to public records.
•Campaign field manager Marshall Brown was on hand at the announcement to say he had dumped mayoral hopeful Marie Johns for Cropp. He has Cropp campaigning door to door and greeting voters at Metro stops, festivals, and block parties. Brown is 60.
•Four former councilmembers who were swept out of office after long tenures joined the Cropp parade: Former Ward 7 Councilmember H.R. Crawford, 65, and former Ward 1 Councilmember Frank Smith Jr., who turns 63 Sept. 17, were on hand. Harold Brazil, 56, who lost his at-large seat in 2004, also made an appearance, along with Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous, 49, the campaign’s legal counsel.
•Jeff Smith, 31, serves as Cropp’s advance man and youth standard-bearer. He serves on the D.C. Board of Education. Smith has been at Cropp’s side at nearly every public appearance since she declared her candidacy.
Only Smith qualifies to be a member of the D.C. Young Democrats. (The cutoff age is 35.)
The Sept. 7 gathering of elders made the 43-year-old LL feel like a boy again. For the most part, the younger people on hand for the announcement were members of Cropp’s council staff, who had requested time off work to shout encouragement to their boss as she took her next big political step.
Marilyn Brown says the aged crowd at the announcement rally was more a function of who could leave work rather than who supports the chairman. “We had it during the week,” she says. “You either get those who are retired, or part-time workers like me.” Cropp says the event was never intended to be a big rally to highlight her broad base of support but “really something for the media.”
Cropp’s golden-ager announcement served notice that the 2006 election won’t merely be a fight over who can best lead the city—it will also be a generational battle.
Her chief rival, Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian Fenty, 34, has been hitting on the Generation X-Y theme for a year now. The Fenty campaign office is brimming with young activists. When he goes door-to-door, his foot soldiers literally run ahead of the candidate to let people know that Fenty is on the way. In the three months since he announced his candidacy, Fenty has walked 46 of the 142 voting precincts scattered across every city ward.
Cropp has hit eight precincts during her week-old campaign.
Fenty’s main campaign field operatives—26-year-old Alec Evans and 25-year-old Sam Brooks—were just coming into the world when Cropp’s key advisers were hanging with Barry. His campaign chair, Bill Lightfoot, 57, is a former at-large councilmember and Fenty’s only link to the old guard. But Lightfoot ran as an independent who portrayed himself as a political outsider.
More than a dozen Howard University students attended Fenty’s Sept. 10 campaign kickoff. At events, he is surrounded by fresh-faced volunteers who aggressively work the crowd and sign up new recruits. Says Fenty: “Our campaign is not based on where we used to be or how far we have come but on a vision that best serves all the residents of the District of Columbia.”
Cropp, too, will launch an ambitious door-to-door romp, according to field operative Brown. To be precise, the campaign is committing to three hours of door-knocking every night, though Brown admits that campaign staff will do the canvassing at times.
Cropp says Fenty’s emphasis on moving beyond the old days disses those who have stuck by the city during the tough times and helped usher in the District’s revival. “I find value and worth in all people, regardless of their age,” she says. “We should not focus on our differences as something bad but as something that is positive.”
Lawrence Guyot, 66, an ardent Cropp backer, isn’t so diplomatic about Fenty’s alleged ageism. “You’ve got to be careful about causing an age war,” he says.
Despite the rhetoric, Cropp is getting frantic about closing the age gap. As she rounds out her campaign staff, she’s promising darker hair colors: “We will match them youth for youth.”
If she really wants to hype the youth angle, though, she’ll have to get her people on message. When asked about Cropp’s appeal, former Councilmember Crawford volunteered that she has the support of “old Washington.” “The old guard is very supportive of the council as an institution,” he says. “I consider Mrs. Cropp as part of that institution.”
More young blood is expected to come to Cropp’s rescue. Campaign sources say At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown, 35—Marshall Brown’s younger son—will soon be in the Cropp fold in a prominent role. Kwame Brown says he is talking with Cropp but hasn’t made any commitments. “What was shown at her kickoff could be quite different than what you see in the end,” Brown says.
But if Cropp is vying to project a younger profile, Fenty has gone the other way, looking to add a touch of gray to his operations, according to his rival. “He’s been trying to woo [my supporters] for two years,” says Cropp. “He went after Chavous relentlessly.”
Besides, Cropp says, her campaign isn’t just about symbols and lofty promises of a bright future. “It’s a campaign of reality,” she says, “of an individual who has accomplished things and will continue to do things for the citizens of this city—not a campaign that looks pretty.”
THANKS BUT NO THANKS
Most candidates would be more than happy to have a political action committee (PAC) take potshots at their chief rival.
But a radio ad slamming Fenty that ran early this week on WTOP radio had Cropp wishing Think D.C. would leave the campaigning to her.
Think D.C. is the outfit behind the hundreds of “Think Cropp” signs that are up around town. Cropp has no involvement with the PAC, but she spoke kindly of the spontaneous sign blitz.
In the ad, a narrrator slams Fenty for his opposition to building a new baseball stadium with public funds. The spot also suggests that the Ward 4 councilmember wanted to cut funding for schools, the Department of Health, and the police. After each purported Fenty misstep, an umpire in the background yells out strikes until Fenty is called out. The smart-alecky announcer concludes with a giggle: “Adrian Fenty—heh heh—he’s just not ready for the big leagues.”
The theme seems perfect for a Cropp campaign that will almost certainly pound away on Fenty’s inexperience. But Cropp doesn’t want to endorse negative campaigning. “I don’t like that kind of thing,” Cropp says. She suggests that Think D.C. should focus on other candidates. “I would rather have the money and run my own campaign….So whatever money that is going into the ads, just give it to me.”
Think D.C. Chair Maurice Daniel, who has been involved in a number of national campaigns, says the ad wasn’t directed at a mass audience, as a true slam ad would be. “It only ran on one station. A station opinion leaders listen to.” He says the ad was a way to “get the buzz going for a pretty low investment.”
Fenty didn’t respond to the charges in the ad directly but says it shows his campaign is gaining traction. “I think the Cropp camp is worried,” he says.
•At-large D.C. Council candidate A. Scott Bolden just can’t stay away from a political crowd—especially if another candidate organizes things. The shameless Bolden worked a mob of about 250 at Fenty’s Sept. 10 mayoral campaign kickoff wearing a red-and-white “Bolden 2006” sticker. It was the same stunt he’d pulled when Keith Perry announced his bid for the Ward 6 council seat. Bolden says he was invited to the rally in an e-mail. Fenty campaign staffers might consider updating their supporters’ list. Bolden says he hasn’t decided whom he’ll back for mayor but claims he and Fenty are political kin: “I’m looking for the same thing Adrian is—votes.” —James Jones
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Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photograph by Darrow Montgomery.