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At the Ward 6 Democrats endorsement meeting on July 15, At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil boasted about his “sagacity.”
“No one’s legislative record can even touch mine in the criminal-justice area, nor in pension reform, nor in business regulatory reform, nor procurement-law reform, nor in economic development,” the 14-year incumbent bragged. “You can go…and find what wisdom, experience, and leadership does on the council.”
“It’s not time for on-the-job-training, baby!” Brazil loudly announced.
Brazil’s version of the Howard Dean scream signaled that D.C.’s primary election season had kicked into high gear. All that “sagacity,” however, hasn’t earned Brazil too much party loyalty so far: The veteran pol has yet to win the endorsement of any party organization, including the Ward 2 Dems, the Ward 6 Dems, or the Ward 8 Dems. And his D.C. Council colleagues who face primary challenges haven’t gotten the rubber stamp, either. At Saturday’s Ward 8 Dems forum, incumbent Sandy Allen failed to hit the two-thirds mark needed for an endorsement in her ward.
“If you got 10 people running, I didn’t think anyone would get the endorsement,” says Allen, who received 91 votes out of the 248 cast and counted Saturday. “I did get the popular vote.”
That rationalization didn’t work for Al Gore, either.
On the stump this summer, D.C. Council incumbents have cited their time served in government as an asset. Brazil, for example, touts his double-digit council seniority to voters as a leg up on youthful, unproven at-large challengers Kwame Brown and Sam Brooks. An established track record has its downside, of course: Brazil’s haphazard legislative history allows his rivals plenty of opportunity to harp on misrepresentations, flip-flops, and broken promises.
“Councilmember Brazil talked about on-the-job-training. I think we need someone on the job,” Brooks responds at almost every forum, referring to the hours the part-time legislator, part-time personal-injury attorney spends each week at his law practice.
With comebacks like that, the 24-year-old at-large hopeful might just win a few votes.
Brooks has a few more zingers in his campaign repertoire. He’s been quite aggressive in campaign forums, attacking the incumbent’s lackluster record and ambiguous policy positions. He plays bad cop to his fellow challenger’s good cop. Brown, 33, mostly focuses on his own curriculum vitae: He’s a native Washingtonian who owns a home east of the river. He’s worked with the business community. He and his father, Marshall Brown, have a history of political involvement in the District. He’s knocked on more than 15,000 doors all over the city.
Instead of seeing Brooks as an incumbent-slaying ally, however, one of Brown’s supporters tried to kick Brooks off the ballot this week. “We didn’t authorize it. We didn’t tell them to do it,” says Brown of a challenge to Brooks’ nominating petitions by Brown supporter Sharlene Kranz.
It didn’t work, anyway: The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics determined Tuesday that Brooks has enough valid signatures.
Keeping Brooks on the ballot might help Brown, anyway. According to advisers, Brown’s campaign strategy goes something like this: Campaign energetically east of the river, in Wards 7 and 8, where there are competitive ward races this year. Canvass heavily as well in Wards 4 and 5, which have historically high voter turnout.
And make a good effort in Wards 1, 2, 3, and 6, where a business-oriented, African-American candidate will be an attractive alternative to Brazil. Hope Brooks shaves off some votes from Brazil in those places, as well.
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Fellow at-large hopeful Alvin Bethea, clad for every appearance in an orange prison jumpsuit to advocate for ex-offenders, also has a few laugh lines that poke fun at the incumbent. Bethea’s not the only candidate appealing to the ex-offender vote. (Ward 8 candidate Sandra Seegars notes on her election propaganda that “Felons can register and vote for ‘S.S.’ too!”)
But at one time in almost every forum, Brazil creates his own laughs. At the Ward 6 Dems meeting, the incumbent got into an exchange with WTOP political analyst Mark Plotkin, who was moonlighting as an impartial moderator. Plotkin wasn’t altogether successful: His first question, predictably, was whether the at-large hopefuls agreed with D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s decision to keep the word “statehood” out of the D.C. portion of the Democratic Party platform.
Brazil offered a multifaceted response:
•First, he introduced his family, including his wife and two children. “I’m very happy to bring my clan, but unfortunately only two of the four can vote for me tonight,” he said. “But voting is important, and it’s at the root of what we’re talking about with statehood.”
•Next, he focused on Norton. “Does anybody know her?” Brazil asked. “She’s one of the smartest around. She knows what she’s doing.”
•Finally, Brazil offered a wrap-up of his answer. “I vote, you vote, but the right is no good if you don’t participate in that democracy—if you don’t actually vote, if you don’t actually go to the polls, the right is no good and you disrespected the process.”
Plotkin decided not to move on to the next question quite yet. “I don’t fully comprehend your answer,” he said to Brazil.
“Mr. Moderator, I was really speaking to these people,” said Brazil as he motioned toward the audience. “And the question is: Do they understand?”
“No,” shouted several audience members.
At the Ward 8 Dems, Brazil answered a question about economic development. “You all live in Ward 8,” Brazil told the crowd. “Have you been on Alabama Road?”
“Alabama Avenue!” screamed several members.
The endorsement forum in the Ward 8 race was far less animated. Former D.C. mayor and Ward 8 council hopeful Marion S. Barry Jr. showed up almost an hour and 15 minutes after the official start of the meeting. When Barry arrived at the candidates’ table, he gulped down a bottle of water. The 68-year-old candidate looked gaunt, though he claimed he was feeling fine.
In his remarks, Barry focused on his usual agenda: Summer jobs. Reopening D.C. General. Cleaner streets.
Neither incumbent Allen nor hopefuls Seegars, Jacque Patterson, William Lockridge, or Joyce Scott distinguished themselves too much from that agenda.
Ward 7 candidates got their first chance to debate at the endorsement forum of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s predominantly gay and lesbian Democratic organization, on Monday night.
“I have a question,” asked Ward 7 resident and Stein Club member Wanda Alston, who works as the senior adviser for lesbian and gay affairs for the Anthony A. Williams administration. “Where’s the councilmember for Ward 7?
Incumbent Kevin P. Chavous skipped the Stein Club, opting to stay at a crime meeting in his ward. Opponents Vincent Gray and Mary Jackson had decided to trek over to Stein. Both Gray and Jackson cited their disagreements with the incumbent, including his support for school vouchers and his part-time schedule.
“We don’t have full-time leadership in Ward 7, and you can see the results,” said Gray, who secured the Stein Club endorsement. The forum, however, wasn’t a complete wash for incumbents: Allen also secured an endorsement.
Cleveland Parkers battling the expansion of an exclusive neighborhood preschool have taken the Nosy Neighbor Rule to heart: In an effort to block the National Child Research Center (NCRC) from getting city approval to expand on its Highland Place NW property, they have closely watched parents dropping off children. They have carefully monitored traffic flow.
And they have done what it takes to fight Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) Chair Geoffrey Griffis.
Griffis has been seen as a nemesis to those fighting the preschool’s expansion: In January, the BZA chair cast the lone vote for the school’s application for a zoning special exception to expand enrollment and facilities. That failed to get board approval, losing 3 to 1. A month later, however, Griffis announced his intention to reconsider the matter and narrow the board’s decision-making to new construction only. On April 13, Griffis voted again in favor of the preschool building plan, which this time won approval from the board 3 to 1.
That’s when the preschool fight got nasty.
In June, expansion opponents filed a motion to disqualify Griffis “on the grounds of personal bias.” They argued that because of the chair’s personal conflict of interest in the matter, the board should vacate its decisions approving the school’s expansion request.
“This relief is requested based on the recent discovery of incontrovertible evidence that Chairman Griffis does have today and has had for many months a close personal relationship with a Trustee of NCRC who has been deeply involved in the school’s effort to seek favorable action from the BZA with respect to the school’s application to expand,” reads the document signed by Baker Botts attorney William H. Jeffress Jr., who represents a half-dozen of the preschool’s opposing neighbors.
“The relationship between Chairman Griffis and the NCRC trustee is personal,” asserts Jeffress in the documents. “It is not merely social and is not casual. It is unquestionably one that would convince a reasonable person that bias exists towards her.”
How do Jeffress and his clients know this?
They hired a private dick.
Included as supplementary evidence in an additional motion filed Monday, licensed private investigator Darryl Hess details his surveillance of Griffis’ personal residence in Columbia Heights. “At approximately 8:26 PM, on June 4th, 2004, I observed Geoffrey Griffis and Claire Bloch entering the front of his residence,” Hess notes. Bloch served on the NCRC board until April 13, the day the BZA approved the preschool’s new construction.
Hess finished his surveillance the next morning and took photographs and video footage of the two together. “Griffis was carrying two beach chairs over his right shoulder,” Hess observed on June 5. “They walked to the driver’s side door, where they kissed again, prior to her entering the vehicle. Thereafter, she left the area in her vehicle and he left the area on foot.” Jeffress included the photos, as well as letters from Bloch to Griffis persuading him to rule in the preschool’s favor, in the exhibit packet.
In a voice-mail message left Monday night, Griffis told LL that he had not seen the latest motion. He said that he couldn’t speak to the details of the case, but he dismissed any ethics concerns. “It’s very clear that the board and myself unequivocally work very hard and base all our decisions solely on the facts,” Griffis added.
Earlier this year, the preschool’s opponents asked BZA board members to disclose any ex parte contacts they might have had with representatives of the school, including trustees.
Griffis didn’t speak up.
Cleveland Parkers had already opened The Rockford Files on the BZA chair, however. They suspected some kind of relationship between Griffis and Bloch after neighbor Ana G. Tejblum Evans spotted the two talking in an “extensive animated conversation” near Georgetown Day School. Griffis and Bloch each have a child in the same grade at the tony prep school. “I thought it unusual that Ms. Bloch and Mr. Griffis were having such an intense conversation, although I could not overhear it, and I reported my observation to several other neighbors,” wrote Evans in an affidavit filed with the motion to disqualify Griffis.
LL couldn’t reach Bloch for comment.
Jeffress says that Griffis’ home residence is fair game in a decision over preschool expansion. “What this does have to do with is the integrity of the process,” says Jeffress. “When you have a public agency ruling on a dispute between two parties, it is improper for the judge, so to speak, to have undisclosed relationships with one of the parties.”
Jeffress declined to say who authorized and paid for the surveillance. “I won’t comment except to say that I was not involved in the matter at that time,” Jeffress told LL.
He says the matter will be taken up at a BZA hearing on July 27. —Elissa Silverman
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