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Why would LL dare suggest radical change to the composition of the D.C. Council?
This is a legislative body that has:
•a fiscal prudence that has led to seven balanced budgets in a row;
•a strong record of legislative oversight;
•a history of majestic debate over important municipal issues such as whether councilmembers can stomach a vegan breakfast meeting, how to properly pronounce the “Crummel School” and Cirque du Soleil, and whether the air stinks in Ward 5.
Speaking of official frivolity, this year’s crop of incumbent council candidates have filled a pipeline of printable material for LL’s weekly dispatches. The candidates’ pratfalls, flip-flops, and transparent grandstanding certainly endear them to LL, because it’s hard to write columns based on At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson’s air-quality initiatives alone.
Yet LL always places the public interest over our parochial copy needs. So hereupon are our endorsements for the races in the Sept. 14 primaries.
At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil has made some outrageous statements to strike a contrast between the 14-year-incumbent and his young challengers, Sam Brooks and Kwame Brown. At a Ward 6 Democrats forum, Brazil screamed that “it’s not time for on-the-job training, baby!” And in a mailing to likely Democratic voters paid for by his campaign, Brazil stated: “Kwame Brown has never voted in a local election. That’s wrong.”
No, that’s wrong. Brown has voted in one local election, this past January’s presidential preference primary.
LL considers this utterance the biggest doozy of them all, however: “My legislative record is superior to everyone down there on that council,” said Brazil at a forum in Tenleytown.
Indeed, Brazil staffers are now working up the Harold Brazil Best Councilmember Ceremonial Recognition Resolution of 2004.
In one sense, the self-promotion makes sense: Brazil is indisputably No. 1 when it comes to legislative wishy-washiness, non sequiturs, and other buffoonery.
Despite these political handicaps, the chair of the council’s Committee on Economic Development has some powerful backers: the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, the city’s development community, and other business types. As of Aug. 10, these folks had pumped a little under half a million dollars into the incumbent’s campaign to “keep the momentum going.”
Yet even for these Brazil supporters, the councilmember’s performance has been erratic at best. Take the Brazil turnaround on liquor-store hours: First, the councilmember took a pro-business stand to extend the hours alcohol could be sold at grocery and package stores. Then, when community members raised a ruckus, Brazil pushed for an amendment restoring the earlier hours.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who endorsed the candidate on Aug. 23, knows about Brazil’s fickle nature. Among his colleagues, Brazil is seen as a mayoral lap dog. Yet he’s hardly been reliable on the mayor’s most important agenda items. On school governance, for example, Brazil expressed support for a mayoral takeover. When it came time to vote on legislation implementing such a takeover, however, Brazil voted against it.
This year, D.C. Democrats have two intriguing alternatives. The 33-year-old Brown certainly wins LL’s respect for running an energetic campaign. He began knocking on doors across the District and putting up campaign signs to get to know voters 19 months ago.
Brown has been dogged by questions about his résumé and voting record. LL considers these political misdemeanors. Brown doesn’t have a voting record commensurate with his purported civic involvement. That’s disappointing but not fatal, especially in this town.
Yet it’s not his lack of votes or Ivy League bona fides that troubles LL. It’s Brown’s lack of new ideas and ideological consistency when it comes to the city’s most vexing public-policy issues.
For every big-city problem, Brown says he has a “comprehensive” plan. Public safety? Brown has a comprehensive plan. Vocational education? Brown has a comprehensive plan. Health care? Again, comprehensive.
LL has never seen a single one of Brown’s plans. And the candidate removed a “white paper” on affordable housing from his Web site after expressing contradictory statements on housing development at the forum in Tenleytown last month.
Fellow challenger Brooks, on the other hand, has specific action items that he talks about with authority. The 24-year-old grew up in the District and has walked 1,000 miles throughout the city in support of his candidacy.
He seems to have read about 1,000 pages of D.C. Council committee reports, too.
Take his answer on how to get more police officers on the streets. Brooks says the department needs to look at sick leave, an issue that Committee on the Judiciary Chair Kathy Patterson has brought up. And whether the topic is public-schools budgeting, health-care financing, or gay marriage, Brooks has well-developed, thoughtful answers.
And he promises to work full-time. The candidate pledges to hold Saturday office hours in all of the city’s wards.
Yet if the ultimate goal is the ouster of Brazil, LL has to confront this question: Is voting for Brooks akin to living in Florida and voting for presidential spoiler Ralph Nader in 2000?
Brown, after all, has picked up a number of endorsements, and the African-American Hillcrest homeowner would give the council an at-large member who drives across the Anacostia River every day.
Still, LL has decided no.
Earlier this year, in the context of the presidential primary, LL ranted against the concept of electability. LL believes that smart, energetic candidates are electable in D.C. even if they are white, 24 years old, and reared in Georgetown.
Connect the arrow for Sam Brooks and show some real leadership.
In the Republican primary, At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz faces challenges from Robert Pittman and Don Folden Sr. LL enjoys Folden’s Mr. T–style I-pity-the-fool rants at forums but encourages those few D.C. Republicans to connect the arrow for the council’s trash-truck expert and fashionista.
Political forums are a lot like Family Feud: Survey says that education needs to be a candidate’s top priority, followed closely by public safety and economic development.
Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin P. Chavous has patented the Richard Dawson approach to D.C. politics. As chair of the Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation, Chavous certainly has had the opportunity to be a leader in turning around our city’s troubled public-school system. Yet colleagues looking for guidance from Chavous on education would get dizzy from his about-faces.
Take the issue of private-school vouchers: Chavous wrote a Washington Post op-ed in 2002 saying he was against it. A year later, he was for it.
Or school governance. Last fall, the Education Committee chair announced his support for a mayoral takeover of the public schools. Then this spring, he declared that he was no longer in support of it and wanted an elected board.
The incumbent’s work on the important issue of public safety has been much of the same: lots of 10-point plans, not a lot of action. And at campaign forums, Chavous likes to say that he’s pushed for more retail development in his ward.
As the candidate carries on about his doings in Ward 7, his challengers come at him with one basic attack: You’re never around. The absentee-councilmember offensive has come in handy for the incumbent’s most prominent opponent, Vincent C. Gray.
With Gray, Ward 7 constituents would have a top-notch representative advocating for them down at the John A. Wilson Building. Gray has years of experience in social services, both as former director of the Department of Human Services and in his current position as executive director of Covenant House Washington, an international organization for at-risk teens.
Gray isn’t just the anti-Chavous candidate; he’s what Ward 7 residents hoped Chavous would be when they elected the young attorney in 1992. Gray has innovative ideas about public policy, including using incentives such as tuition abatements and tax credits to attract medical professionals to the city’s underserved areas and creating an ex-offender service corps.
LL’s only concern about Gray is that he doesn’t have the political wherewithal to get enough Ward 7 voters to the polls. Although Gray has all the credentials for office, he’s a bit shy on campaign-trail glad-handing. He doesn’t relish approaching bystanders and commandeering their conversations; his reluctance makes for some awkward moments on the hustings.
Connect the arrow for Vincent C. Gray and bring a friend.
Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen’s appeal to voters boils down to one thing: I’m not Marion S. Barry Jr.
Yet Allen knows that even though the rest of city is highly susceptible to Barryphobia, Ward 8 voters seem to have built up immunity. The four-term mayor and former ward representative, after all, acknowledges that poor people still live and vote in this city. He often says that his redemption—from crack-smoking mayor to prisoner to mayor again—offers hope to those in the ward struggling with their own personal demons.
On the stump, Allen offers this retort: A vote for Barry means that the ward will lose the chair of the council’s Committee on Human Services, which has oversight over many of the city agencies that directly touch the lives of poor Ward 8 residents. Allen has presided over that committee for seven years.
That’s exactly the reason LL considered a possible Barry endorsement a few months ago: In the important areas of health care and youth services, Allen has hardly been a vigorous advocate for her constituents or residents elsewhere in the city. Allen loudly objected to the closing of D.C. General Hospital, arguing that the publicly financed facility was crucial to the health of her ward. Yet her raspy voice has been hard to hear on what to do about the financially troubled Greater Southeast Community Hospital, which is also the largest employer in Ward 8, or the plan for Howard University to build a new hospital complex at the old D.C. General site.
Unlike some colleagues, who make noise about poorly performing D.C. agency heads, Allen has let those under her purview languish without too much scorn. LL cites former D.C. Department of Health head James Buford, who had a number of missteps under his watch until he was terminated this spring, as a perfect example.
But LL cannot support another Barry comeback, and neither should Ward 8 voters. In his three months back in the public spotlight, Barry has not proved that he’s fit for public service.
LL means that literally: Even though Barry has pronounced that he’s in fine health, empirical evidence reports otherwise. Barry has often seemed worn-out and tired as he campaigned.
Then there’s the fuzzy math of the self-professed “financial wizard.” For the past two months, Barry has squabbled with his former campaign manager, Dion Jordan, over his finances. Although Jordan left the campaign in late June, Barry has blamed Jordan for all of his summertime mishaps, including an incomplete campaign-finance report. Barry failed to provide the city with a list of his campaign contributors, mystery donors who supposedly contributed over $17,000 to his second comeback.
Ward 8 voters looking for an alternative to the same-old, same-old have about as many good choices as they have grocery stores: LL enjoys challenger Joyce Scott’s rousing Sunday-sermon-style speeches and perennially hopeful Sandra Seegars’ one-liners. At one candidates’ forum, Seegars bragged to the audience about her work negotiating with big-name supermarket retailers, but she didn’t want to give specifics because “people steal your ideas.”
D.C. Board of Education representative William Lockridge has one problem as a candidate: his record on the Board of Education. Lockridge, LL reminds voters, advocated last year for the financially strapped school system to ignore its budget and just spend with abandon.
That financial approach wouldn’t go over big with the Alan Greenspan–ish councilmembers.
LL finds promise in one candidate, Jacque Patterson, a resident of Ward 8’s Oxon Creek development, a pocket of new housing distinguished by the nearby faux-tropical Splash Park. In his polished stump appearances, Patterson has forged a message consistent with the Splash Park set—namely, better services and amenities for an area that is becoming solidly middle-class.
Patterson’s politics do raise concerns about the exclusion of those who can’t afford entry into exclusive patios. Yet LL asks: Just what have Allen and Barry done for the city’s most disadvantaged residents beyond rhetoric?
Patterson will learn quickly that progress for Ward 8’s middle class hinges on careful attention to the needs of its distressed communities.
Connect the arrow for Jacque Patterson and say goodbye to the politics of the past.
Other Council Races
Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian M. Fenty run unopposed this year. Connect the arrow for these mayoral wannabes and look forward to 2006.
U.S. Shadow Representative Ray Browne sends LL a letter every two years citing his accomplishments. It’s really a form letter, because Browne has had little competition from within the party.
Browne might want to beef up the letter for November, when he faces pesky Statehood Green Party candidate Adam Eidinger.
Connect the arrow for Ray Browne.
D.C. Democratic State Committee
John Nowicki, Ron Magnus, Keshini Ladduwahetty, June E. Johnson, Tamela Gordon, Dan Wedderburn, Robin T. Kelley, Charles Gaither, John Capozzi, Victor D. Wenk.
Who are these people?
Well, these no-names occupy much more real estate on your D.C. Democratic ballot than the more prominent Chavouses, Brazils, and Barrys. These are the folks vying for spots on the all-important D.C. Democratic State Committee, the body best known for meaningless bickering, infighting, and Norm Neverson.
D.C. Democrats have the chance to change direction: This year’s ballot contains two competing slates of candidates. LL encourages Democratic primary voters to support the Running Against Bush slate.
LL prefers to call this the Running Against Bolden slate, as in A. Scott Bolden, the party’s Machiavellian chair. He’s part of the Victory 2004 slate, a group made up of mayoral sycophants and hacks, with some exceptions. Those exceptions in the ward races have been endorsed by the Running Against Bush slate.
D.C. Dems have the chance to vote for up to six male at-large delegates and six female at-large delegates and up to two male and two female ward delegates.
The cleverly named Running Against Bush slate is populated by many supporters of former presidential hopeful Howard Dean. These folks mostly got involved with grass-roots D.C. politics during the presidential primary, in the failed effort to elect the former Vermont governor. And some of them have decided to remain involved in local affairs by vying for positions in the local Democratic party.
LL wants to encourage these new voices.
Connect the arrows for members of the Running Against Bush slate and don’t stop.
Race for the Sinecure
The three council veterans below have one thing in common: multiple terms collecting the $92,000-per-year part-time paycheck that accompanies a seat on the D.C. Council. But each has compiled a unique record of futility in the District’s halls of government.
Tired Ol’ Pol
1) Kevin P. Chavous
Ward 7, Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation chair
2) Sandy Allen
Ward 8, Committee on Human Services chair
3) Harold Brazil
At-Large, Committee on Economic Development chair
Claim to Fame
1) “District All-American” hoopster at Wabash College
2) Brought cookie-cutter town houses to Ward 8
3) Successfully opposed a tax hike about a decade ago
1) Routinely blasts those slackers on the school board
2) Works well with gay white men
3) Explores all sides of an issue—publicly
1) The state of D.C. public schools
2) The state of D.C. social services
LL’s Preferred Alternatives
1) Vincent C. Gray
2) Jacque Patterson
3) Sam Brooks
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