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Martha Stewart won’t be lending her notoriety to any D.C. campaigns this time around. In the past few years, the domestic goddess has been entangled in messy legal disputes, the least of which was having her name among thousands of invalid signatures on Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ nominating petitions in 2002.

As campaigns for local office launch this spring, the mayor’s primary-ballot fiasco remains a guaranteed punch line. AFL-CIO head Joslyn Williams reminded D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s supporters at her May 15 kickoff that they needed to collect 2,000 valid, honest-to-goodness, no-doubt-about-it signatures of D.C. registered voters to get Norton on the ballot.

Norton seems off to a good start: LL didn’t spot any members of the Bishop family wielding pens and holding clipboards on her behalf.

As of Wednesday, 23 candidates had picked up nominating petitions to qualify for the ballot for either Norton’s seat or the six D.C. Council positions up for grabs this fall. The double-digit numbers don’t translate into a lot of competition: Half the incumbents face no opposition right now.

Hmmm, what about putting a campaign office in Rehoboth?

So far, most campaign kickoffs have been perfunctory. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans held his Tommy Hilfiger–influenced Ode to Americana last Thursday, May 20, complete with hot dogs, cotton candy, and a master of trickery for all the kids. LL’s referring to the wandering magician juggling blocks, not any of the D.C. lobbyists juggling white wine and cell phones at the event. The gracious host for Evans’ soiree was developer Herb Miller, who owns the lot next to Evans’ Georgetown home.

Magicians, snow cones, and big-time developers—all to commemorate a snoozer of a council contest? Evans’ impending cakewalk prompted chatter among the estimated 300 in attendance that the event was really a very early kickoff for his expected mayoral run in 2006.

Evans clearly has the Harry Potter demographic locked up.

Norton appealed to a more traditional Democratic base: unions. Her May 15 shindig took place at AFL-CIO headquarters, on 16th Street NW. And the delegate opted for a traditional strategy to draw a crowd: lots of free food. Norton supplied lunch to supporters, but staffers kept the sumptuous-looking sandwiches and pasta salads under cellophane wraps for more than two hours while the as-yet-unopposed candidate prattled on and a gospel chorus gave three performances.

Caterer Lamont Mitchell of Imani Catering monitored the food tables while D.C.’s wild woman turned on her usual rant: “You can’t bring democracy to Iraq as long as you deny democracy to your own nation’s capital,” Norton preached at one point. She listed her usual accomplishments: the $5,000 new-homebuyer tax credit and her advocacy of D.C. voting rights. Norton’s solo approach to working on the Hill, unfortunately, hasn’t helped our very worthy cause.

At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil stopped by, mostly to remind Norton supporters to “vote for me, too.” For a while this spring, it seemed as if Brazil was heading for a very tough summer defending his haphazard approach to legislating: A colleague, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, announced an exploratory effort to challenge him earlier this spring. Yet Graham wimped out of the race a few weeks ago at the behest of D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, who thought the contest would be “divisive.”

So the job of dividing the city now falls to Democratic challengers Kwame Brown, Sam Brooks, Alvin Bethea, and Keith A. Silver, all of whom have picked up petitions for the at-large race. Brown has strange bona fides for an office-seeker: As first reported on WAMU’s D.C. Politics Hour, the “lifelong District resident” hadn’t voted in a D.C. election until this year’s Jan. 13 presidential primary.

Perhaps Brown had trouble knowing when to show up at the voting booth: On the candidate’s Web site, Brown noted on May 25 that there are only “142 days to go!” until the Democratic primary. That means Brown might show up to vote for himself in the middle of October, a month after the Sept. 14 primary.

Brown certainly gets the support of his family, and it seems a symbiotic relationship: According to financial statements filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, Brown’s father, Marshall Brown, has collected $10,525 from his son’s efforts so far for consulting and “other” expenses. Kwame’s brother, Che Brown, has received more than $14,000 in reimbursements and fees. “You rarely see African-American families working together in this city,” Brown says. “I have no problem paying my family, who’s been there, been knocking on doors.”

Fellow native Washingtonian Brooks, meanwhile, is definitely taking more of a shoe-leather approach to his candidacy. The 24-year-old candidate plans to walk 1,000 miles during his campaign.

Brooks is reprising the strategy of Michael Dukakis: The campaign is a marathon, not a sprint.

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D.C. voters shouldn’t overlook Brooks just because of his youth and Maret School credentials: The young candidate has thoughtful ideas about public policy and obvious energy. “I can’t tell you the number of people that urged me not to do this,” Brooks tells LL. “The problem is, I grew up here and this is home. I can’t imagine moving anywhere else.”

After having vowed to pack up the Carol! posters after her 2002 mayoral loss, At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz tells LL that she’ll officially announce her re-election campaign in June. That’s really no surprise: Schwartz has run for office in every election cycle since 1994. LL wonders: How many more campaigns can that red Chrysler convertible take?

Popular Ward 4 incumbent Adrian M. Fenty plans to hold an open house at his campaign office in the next few weeks.

And, in case you need further evidence that election season is coming, just check out any D.C. Council hearing. Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin P. Chavous has lately been grandstanding in front of Channel 13 cameras from his opening statements straight through to the closing rap of the gavel. When the legislative body debated school governance, he lectured about being “fully engaged.” When his colleagues tried to reduce the rate of spending in the budget, Chavous advocated compassion over cutting. And on any other hot-button issue, such as the explosion of violence involving youth, Chavous has been outspoken and outraged.

Is the book tour over?

Here’s another reason for the grandstanding: On May 15, at the Marshall Heights Community Development Center, Vincent C. Gray officially launched his challenge to the incumbent councilmember. He subscribed to a party planner’s rule of thumb: Choose a small room to make the event seem packed. Indeed, the standing-room-only crowd included much of the Ward 7 political establishment: Williams-administration housing official Paul Savage, his wife, Barbara Savage, schools advocate Emily Washington, and activist Charles Cotton were among those supporting Gray at the announcement.

The last time Hillcrest got this upset? That was in 1998, when Chavous’ constituents helped draft CFO Williams to run for mayor.

After serving the ward for 12 years, Chavous should have his finger on the pulse of the community, you’d think. But lately it seems as if he’s sticking up his finger to the wind: For example, on school vouchers, Chavous initially opposed the Republican-backed idea. Then, a year or so later, he came out in support of them. Now he says they’re no panacea.

Well, that makes him a candidate for everyone!

Chavous has duplicated this public-policy-making approach on other issues, as well, such as school governance. First, Chavous supported a mayoral takeover; recently, he voted to maintain the hybrid appointed/elected school board.

Gray, meanwhile, has spent the last year building his base as president of the Ward 7 Democrats.

At his kickoff, he pointed to his track record in the human-services field. As executive director of the D.C. Association of Retarded Citizens (ARC), Gray spearheaded the effort to shut down Forest Haven, a residential treatment facility in Maryland that served as a warehouse for many of the city’s mentally retarded. In 1991, Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly made Gray director of the city’s Department of Human Services.

Gray has served for a decade as executive director of Covenant House, an international organization that focuses on at-risk youth.

In his remarks, the challenger cited statistics: For example, he stated, last year 84 percent of Ward 7 children were born to single parents. Gray preached personal responsibility. “As your full-time councilmember, constituent issues will be addressed quickly and effectively,” Gray told the crowd.

“Thank you!” replied one supporter.

The other east-of-the-river council race looks to be the packed field it always is. Incumbent Sandy Allen has announced that her campaign kickoff will take place Saturday at Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church. Ward 8 rabble-rouser Sandra Seegars has picked up petitions, along with Wards 7 and 8 school-board member William Lockridge, former Williams religious adviser Carlton Pressley, Seegars’ neighbor Leon J. Swain Jr., and Ward 8 Democratic State Committee member Jacque Patterson.

Patterson has an interesting campaign consultant: Ron Dennis, Allen’s former chief of staff. Dennis says that he believes the ward needs new leadership. “I’m ready for a change, and he can be the one that will lead us,” says Dennis.

POLITICAL POTPOURRI

Last Friday, May 21, the Marlborough Golf Club in Prince George’s County hosted the “DCRA Golf Classic.”

Is that some new financial institution in town?

Naw, that’s DCRA, as in the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

When LL called department spokesperson Gwen L. Davis Friday morning to find out tee times, we were told that Davis was “unavailable.” In other words, Davis was somewhere between the first and 18th holes, looking forward to the barbecue buffet at the end of the course. Municipal government golfers had the option of playing 18 holes and chowing down at the barbecue, participating in a golf clinic, or simply hanging out at the barbecue. “The club house has a fully stocked bar and television,” reads an e-mail sent out to DCRA employees. “It is very relaxing and having a group of you all as we turn at the 9th hole or come into the 18th hole would be great!”

DCRA employees spend their days confounding such folks as business owners and developers, who bitch and moan that the inefficient and archaic city agency slows them down, taking away hours better spent conducting business on the links. Apparently agency workers figured, If you can’t properly regulate ’em, join ’em: The municipal Tiger Woodses and Vijay Singhs included Director David Clark and Deputy Director Theresa Lewis, who coordinated the event and sent around several e-mails notifying government workers of the golf tourney.

Davis tells LL that all the participants—who according to an e-mail LL received numbered approximately 50 people—took leave time and paid the tournament fees with their own funds. “Several employees at DCRA play golf and we created an opportunity for others interested in the game to give it a try,” Davis e-mailed LL on Monday. —Elissa Silverman

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