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Candidates for public office profess to know all kinds of things: how to make the streets safer, how to make the public schools better, how to make local government more efficient, and so on.
Candidates for the Ward 8 D.C. Council seat need to know at least one more thing: how to make a good motorcade.
The automotive conga line has been revving up this year’s Ward 8 council race. In June, former mayor and Ward 8 D.C. Council hopeful Marion S. Barry Jr. cited an unfulfilled motorcade as one of the reasons he parted ways with campaign manager Dion Jordan. “You promised to plan a motorcade on June 12 with 30–40 cars. On Friday, June 11th, after you failed to produce more than 4 or 5 names with cars participating, I canceled the motorcade,” wrote Barry in a letter to Jordan.
In a race with wildly divergent poll numbers, comparison motorcading is as close to scientific handicapping as LL can get. Here’s how the motorcade race is shaping up so far:
•Incumbent Sandy Allen last Saturday amassed a 20-car lineup studded with a few Mercedes, BMWs, and fuel-efficient Hondas.
•Also last Saturday, perennial candidate Sandra Seegars led an eight-car procession with her 1982 Ford Fairmont, complete with mag wheels. Pal and fellow rabble-rouser Cardell Shelton pitched in with his pickup truck and loudspeaker.
•The Barry campaign has had several motorcades this summer, each with about a dozen cars, according to spokesperson Linda Greene.
•Upstart Jacque Patterson plans to motor through the ward this weekend. “What motorcades really do is get people excited,” he says. “We know it works out here in Ward 8 because…[people] talk about the motorcade that came through.”
•D.C. school-board member and Ward 8 council hopeful William Lockridge last Saturday echoed the youth theme in his six-car motorcade, playing a song produced by his son, 18-year-old Stefan Lockridge. Patterson trash-talked the Lockridge soundtrack: “It was like a broken-ice-cream-truck jingle,” says Patterson. “It was unidentifiable and irritating.”
Most D.C. wards have places where candidates can meet voters without having to wave from a flatbed truck. Take, for example, Ward 2. On Sundays, incumbent Jack Evans might glad-hand at the Dupont Circle farmers’ market, with good reason: Those who want to buy organic basil grown locally, vote locally, too.
Good luck finding such gatherings of registered voters in Ward 8. The east-of-the-river ward lacks a vibrant retail corridor—or even a supermarket.
And just how many mornings can you say hello to the same Maryland voters at the Anacostia and Southern Avenue Metro stations?
Since there’s no secular place Ward 8 voters congregate en masse, candidates have to take their show on the road. “This is the get-on-the-train motorcade,” blared a loudspeaker mounted on the lead SUV of Allen’s motorcade. “She has you first in her heart—make sure you have her in yours.”
The three-hour tour featured several “jump-outs,” during which Allen and her posse knocked on doors and greeted constituents on the street. The incumbent showed a strong command of motorcade-stopping theatrics. Each time she stepped out of her red minivan, she was flanked by a two-man security team.
Never the strongest legislator on the dais, Allen relies on longtime political relationships and her street-level campaigning skills to get her through these quadrennial scrapes with Ward 8’s aspiring politicos. To those who seemed unfamiliar with her this Saturday, Allen stressed her Ward 8 roots and personal history. “I came from welfare mother to councilmember,” she told a mother-and-daughter team sitting on a Joliet Street SE porch. “I was a high-school dropout. I got my GED.”
Not even Allen knows how her populist spiel will do with new voters likely to affect Sept. 14’s Democratic primary. That’s because Ward 8 has changed to a staggering degree even since Allen defeated a packed field in the 2000 race. Saturday’s motorcade took the candidate through the ward’s contrasting terrains: pockets of destitution, where folks responded to her appeals to come out and meet Team Allen, and the large expanse of new town-house developments, whose construction Allen takes credit for in her stump speeches. As the motorcade wound through these Gaithersburgesque colonies, almost no one emerged to greet the council rep.
The tension between the poorest ward and its growing middle class was clear, as well. One woman on Xenia Street SE asked Allen if she could do anything about those receiving public assistance on her block. “I can’t believe that lady asked me if we could get rid of public housing,” Allen told LL as the motorcade pulled away. “It just kind of blew my mind. I said, ‘People got to have somewhere to live.’”
That’s probably the same answer that Allen’s chief rival, Barry, would have offered. In pitching herself to voters, the incumbent doesn’t mention Barry’s name. Instead her appeal goes something like this: In order to pass bills on the council, a legislator needs at least seven votes.
Translation: How many allies would Barry have?
Not too many, right now. Last month, eight out of Allen’s 12 colleagues stood in front of the John A. Wilson Building to endorse the incumbent.
She likes to talk about how much the ward has changed since Barry left office in 1999, and that was clearly visible on the motorcade route. “You wouldn’t believe what this looked like,” Allen told LL as the cars drove through a town-house development named Wheeler Creek. “We used to call it Porkchop Hill, because you could smell the gunfire.”
So Allen gets an A for Ward 8 lore. But on the more crucial issue of tunes selection, the councilmember fell a bit short. In planning for the motorcade, the Allen campaign wanted a stirring soundtrack to pump up her constituency.
“Get up, get on up,” blared a speaker mounted on the motorcade’s lead SUV as it rolled up Atlantic Avenue SW. “Stay on the scene like a sex machine.”
“C’mon y’all! Do we have some other music than ‘Sex Machine’?” asked Allen, rifling through a CD case. “Anything other than James Brown? It’s not a good image.” Eventually, she settled on a tune from the gospel duo Mary Mary.
•When Barry kicked off his Ward 8 D.C. council campaign on June 12, none of his big-shot cronies of yore showed up in support of a second comeback. But couldn’t they at least chip in with a contribution for their buddy’s 2004 run?
That remains a mystery.
Late Tuesday night, in the last hours of a 10-day filing extension, Barry faxed his financial report to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance. The fax that city officials received, however, did not include Schedule A of the report—the detailed list of contributors and amounts they gave to the campaign.
It was not a fax-transmission error. In a letter to Office of Campaign Finance Director Cecily Collier-Montgomery, Barry campaign Chair Robert James blamed the “incomplete” reporting on former campaign manager Jordan. “We have repeatedly requested Mr. Jordan to return the campaign’s financial records to no avail,” wrote James.
Jordan responds that he doesn’t have anything at all belonging to the Barry campaign. “I do not have financial records,” says Jordan, who left the campaign June 29. “I turned in everything I had—the petitions and the T-shirts….I was just the campaign manager; I was not the campaign treasurer.”
On Wednesday, Barry campaign spokesperson Greene said she had not seen the report and declined to answer questions about it. Barry declined to answer LL’s questions, as well.
Barry had several interesting campaign expenditures, including three cash payments to Velda Bell for “petty cash,” “housing,” and “salary.”
According to the report, Barry has raised $17,242 and spent $16,074, which leaves him with $1,168 cash on hand. Incumbent Allen has raised $99,810 and has $40,075 on hand.
The report reveals that Barry gave a $4,000 loan to his campaign, of which he’s been paid back $3,810. The campaign also reported collecting $848 in cash contributions from its June 12 campaign kickoff. Contributions below $50 do not need to be itemized, says Office of Campaign Finance spokesperson Michael Simpson.
•Barbara Lett Simmons has been one of Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ most vocal critics. This spring, Simmons spearheaded a petition drive to recall Williams. Last month, Simmons and her Williams-hating cohorts failed to collect enough signatures to place the mayoral recall on the November ballot.
Now Williams wants to recall Simmons.
At the last minute, Williams recruited Marilyn Tyler Brown to challenge Simmons for the local Democratic Party’s national-committeewoman position in September’s primary. “She’s going to do a great job, and she’s got my support,” said Williams about Brown at a press event announcing his endorsement of At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil on Monday.
Whatever that job entails. Supposedly, the national committeewoman represents the interests of District Democrats at quarterly Democratic National Committee meetings. Yet if Brown has the ability to be ornery, unruly, and loud at monthly D.C. Democratic State Committee meetings, then she’ll be doing at least as well as the current officeholder.
Brown isn’t a newcomer to D.C. politics. A retired associate superintendent from D.C. public schools, Brown served on the state committee and has chaired past campaigns of D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp.
“I was encouraged to run by several city officials,” says Brown.
Brown could show Simmons a thing or two about collecting signatures on petition sheets. According to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, Brown picked up nominating petitions for the committeewoman position on July 6. She turned in approximately 800 signatures a little over 24 hours later on the July 7 deadline.
Brown’s petition circulators included some prominent members of the Williams administration: The mayor’s special assistant for gay and lesbian affairs, Wanda Alston, pitched in, as well as D.C. Office of Boards and Commissions Director Ron Collins and Williams’ school-board appointee Marian Saez, among others.
Even newly appointed Chief of Staff Alfreda Davis found time the day her appointment was announced at the mayor’s weekly press conference to collect some signatures for Brown. “Do you believe that lady was out getting signatures when she was being honored as chief of staff?” asks Simmons. “I think the mayor’s very interested in getting rid of me. If he could off me without being caught, then he would do that, too.”
•Lately, it seems, everyone has a plan for D.C. Office of Planning Director Andy Altman. Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Eric W. Price believes Altman would make a terrific head of the newly approved entity overseeing the city’s waterfront development. “The government would be lucky,” Price told LL earlier this year.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has a different waterfront project for Altman: the San Francisco Bay.
According to news reports in the San Francisco Chronicle, Altman is Newsom’s top pick to head his city’s office of planning.
Altman is out of the country and couldn’t be reached for comment.
D.C. officials believe that the District still has a lot of challenges to offer Altman. In addition to the ambitious Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, Altman has been involved in the redevelopment of the old convention center and plans for a publicly financed major-league-baseball stadium.
“Andy is flattered to be considered for the job in San Francisco, but right now there’s a lot of exciting opportunities here in Washington,” says Altman’s chief of staff, David King. “There’s a lot going on here that needs to get done.” —Elissa Silverman
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