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On Nov. 2, District voters selected two new school-board members—Jeff Smith and Victor Reinoso. Smith, who won almost 39 percent of the vote, beat out three other candidates for the District 1 seat, while Reinoso, who scored 30 percent of the vote, was able to trounce a whopping six other District 2 hopefuls. How did Smith and Reinoso prevail in such crowded fields? Post-election analysis points to their savvy use of endorsements.
A D.C. public-school teacher for five months, Jeff Smith racked up at least a dozen endorsements, including those of D.C. Councilmembers Adrian Fenty and Jim Graham and such newspapers as the InTowner. Smith also claimed the support of some who were not exactly endorsing him. “He did not ask me my permission,” says newly elected LeDroit Park Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Myla Moss, whose name appeared on some of Smith’s promotional materials. But in the heated race for the District 1 seat, Smith’s greatest endorsement coup was appearing to win the support of the Georgetown Flea Market.
While rival Christopher McKeon set his sights on the Dupont Circle Parents Association, Smith was rocking the vote with the Antiques Roadshow set. Smith recently confirmed that he was endorsed by the flea market but wouldn’t elaborate. Another competitor, Keenan Keller, sent his mother to the flea market to campaign on his behalf—a heartbeat too late.
But a postelection charge surfaced that the flea market didn’t really endorse Smith. “The flea market can’t endorse anyone. It’s not a person. I supported Jeff Smith because I think he’s a good candidate,” says owner Michael Sussman. But Smith was also purportedly responsive to the turbulence beneath the market’s happy-go-lucky surface. The market’s future in Georgetown is uncertain: The vendors use the parking lot of Hardy Middle School, which will be closed for renovations next year. According to vendor Dan Klein, Smith told the flea market’s vendors that he would ensure that the market could continue to operate out of the parking lot; Smith denies this. “Everyone contributed to Smith’s cause because of his promise,” Klein says, adding that Keller’s mother, Inell Keller, made a strong impression on him. “I would have voted for Keller’s mom,” Klein says.
But some of Smith’s opponents who failed to curry favor at the market have stubbornly refused to acknowledge the missed opportunity. After the race, one candidate, who declined to be named, scoffed at the flea market’s political credibility: “That’s like saying I’ve been endorsed by Cap’n Crunch.”
In District 2, in addition to the support of local politicians and educators, many of the candidates sought out endorsements from popular eateries. Hugh Allen, an assistant director at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, convinced the Mocha Hut on 14th Street NW and the Hitching Post on Upshur Street NW to carry his signs; he picked these restaurants because they have a “Cheers-style flavor,” he says. He also secured endorsements from a Tenleytown 7-Eleven and from Camillo Damiano, his barber of 20 years. “I feel bad. I thought that this time he would win. But what are you going to do?” Damiano says.
Federal City Council employee Reinoso, on the other hand, made the politically astute decision to relentlessly dog his competitors with placards of his own. Several establishments showed divided loyalties. The Mocha Hut bore signs for both Reinoso and Allen, while the Hitching Post advertised Thomas Dawson and Reinoso in addition to Allen.
Hitching Post co-owner Adrienne Carter reveals an anguished division in the upper echelons of her establishment: “Mr. Allen says, ‘Mr. Carter, I hope you’re gonna vote for me.’ And my husband says, ‘You have my support.’ As to who I voted for, I’m keeping that to myself.”
Meanwhile, Mocha Hut owner Vernal Crooms is even less forthcoming: “The election is over, and I just want to forget it.”
Even as Reinoso added his signs to the clogged windows of local eateries, he was also reaching out to labor groups, winning the endorsement of the janitors’ union, Service Employees International Union Local 82, and academia, including former District of Columbia Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Anne Gay.
Other candidates sought support closer to home. General Services Administration analyst David Jordan scored endorsements from his wife and daughter as well as Max’s Best Ice Cream. Jordan chose Max’s because: “It’s a popular spot for the kids…as opposed to the gentlemen’s bars that are also in the neighborhood.” Jordan got Max and Marsha Keshani, the Glover Park ice-cream store’s co-owners, to hand out postcards soliciting parents’ opinions about the changes they wanted in the school system. This maneuver ultimately yielded no results. The parents were supposed to mail the postcards back to Jordan—but none of them did. And it’s unclear if any of them voted for Jordan. “We weren’t trying to convince anyone. We were informing and educating,” says Marsha Keshani. She suggests that, in the future, Jordan should go beyond the ice-cream crowd and reach out to other venues.
Reinoso showed a deeper political genius when he decided to seek out the endorsement of Petworth activist Minnie Green, aka Ms. Minnie. At the beginning of his campaign, Reinoso heard about the respect that the 78-year-old commands throughout the city. He accompanied her on an Orange Hat patrol and quickly won her over.
For her part, Green thinks that she convinced more than 300 people to vote for Reinoso. In addition to calling everyone she knew, she stood outside of the voting booths at Clark Elementary School on Election Day. While volunteers for other campaigners were content to merely pass out fliers trumpeting their candidates, Green outmaneuvered them with her patented “smile-and-hug” strategy. Not only did Green smile at each and every voter approaching the precinct, she also conducted exit polls. “And when they came out, I made a little joke and a little love and I asked them if they done good by me,” she says. “And all of them would laugh and wink their eyes and some would nod…Then I jump up and hug them.”
Reinoso, who won by 4,302 votes, has no doubt that Ms. Minnie’s “smile-and-hug” strategy carried the day. “[Green] has a larger-than-life reputation,” he says. “It gave me legitimacy at the neighborhood level.” CP