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When politicians attempt comebacks, they’re generally eager to push their name, rhetoric, and platform before the public. So D.C. voters are wondering why Arrington Dixon, the former D.C. Council chair who is seeking an at-large council seat in the Dec. 2 special election, is doing so little. Dixon doesn’t make many campaign appearances. When he pleads for votes, he doesn’t hand out campaign lit or talk issues. And despite being the perceived frontrunner, he doesn’t pack candidate forums with followers, a time-honored practice in D.C. politics.Is it because:
a.) Dixon doesn’t want to say too much for fear voters will be reminded he once was married to failed former Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon Kelly?
b.) His campaign strategy requires keeping the election secret until the last minute in hopes uninformed voters will rush to the polls and punch their ballots for the only name they recognizehis?
c.) He has no Election Day strategy, beyond praying for good weather?
d.) He’s too cheap to pay a union shop to print his campaign materials, a cardinal rule for Democratic candidates in the District?
e.) He doesn’t want voters to find his campaign web site, where they will get no more information about his council bid than they learn from the candidate in person?
f.) He and his campaign staff can’t even find their web site, which would explain why nothing about the campaign is posted there?
LL suspects that all of the above are true, to some degree, about Dixon, a computer business owner who boasts that he stands out in the field of four because of his “organizational skills, leadership skills, and futuristic knowledge.”
So far, Dixon’s campaign casts him in the mold of a traditional D.C. councilmemberdevoid of energy and ideas for reviving the city.
The self-proclaimed futurist has yet to bring any of his master organizing skills to the campaign. Earlier this month, Dixon mailed out absentee ballot applications prepared by campaign staffers. In doing so, however, Dixon ignored the advice of Board of Elections officials on how to register as an absentee voter. As a result, his applications omitted key information required by the Board of Elections and will not guarantee absentee voters a vote in the upcoming election.
“He just made a mess of everything,” notes a board official.
Last weekend, Dixon was spotted putting up his own campaign posters near 16th Street and Park Road NW. Less than three weeks before the election, a real frontrunner would have his minions affixing campaign posters. But plastering the town with his campaign posters appears to be Dixon’s key campaign strategyif not his only strategyin the contest to fill the at-large vacancy created by Linda Cropp’s step up to the council chairmanship last July.
Judging from the qualifications of his campaign chairman, Everett Jennings, perhaps it’s best that Dixon do all the chores himself. Whenever Jennings takes the spotlight, the whole venture looks more like a bid for student council than for the city council of the nation’s capital. During the Nov. 8 opening of the campaign’s headquarters at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Jennings fumbled the introduction of speakers, and couldn’t correctly identify the wards of key campaign workers.
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Dixon bristles when opponents bring up his record from his prior tenure on the council during the District’s first eight years of home rule. He wants voters to focus instead on his 15 years off the council since he lost re-election in 1982. After that defeat, Dixon abandoned Ward 4, which he represented on D.C.’s first elected council, and moved to Anacostia in Ward 8. In his new environs, Dixon started a computer business that he says now employs 50 people and became the driving force behind the Anacostia Coordinating Council civic organization.
“Arrington has done a lot of things that should make him the new Arrington,” observed Capitol Hill activist Dick Wolf, following the Nov. 13 candidates’ forum organized by the D.C. Federation of Citizens Associations. “But it’s the old Arrington who keeps showing up.”
Dixon apparently believes he can take the Dec. 2 election for granted because he faces three unknown challengersSheridan-Kalorama Advisory Neighborhood Commission chairman David Catania, political newcomer Phil Heinrich, and Socialist Workers Party candidate Mary Martin.
Martin seems to be running for council of the planet instead of the District. At forums, she advocates modeling the District after Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba, opposes President Bill Clinton’s “belligerent moves” against Iraq, and preaches the overthrow of capitalism. Martin sometimes presents herself as a homegrown version of Pol Pot, calling for a new U.S. government composed of workers and farmers.
“We’re talking about D.C.come on, get real!” an exasperated audience member yelled out to Martin during a well-attended forum at Howard University this past Monday.
When Martin gets real about D.C., she calls for massive public works spending to create government jobs for District residents. But in a display of her political naiveté, she couches the program in socialist rhetoric instead of buzzwords like “transformation” and “reformation,” which Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. used to promote the same policy.
Catania and Heinrich, though making their first runs for citywide office, offer the only serious alternatives to Dixon. Republican Catania has been the more aggressive in exposing Dixon’s prior council record and painting him as “just another trip down memory lane.”
And Dixon provides Catania with plenty of openings for attack during the forums. “I support recycling because I’m a recycled person,” Dixon quipped during the Nov. 13 forum.
“In a town that cannot afford to recycle its trash, we certainly cannot afford to be recycling our politicians,” responded Catania, drawing the loudest applause of the evening from the 35 or so in the audience.
Dixon usually laughs off Catania’s attacks and his calls to return the $25,000 in transition funds Dixon requested and received from the D.C. government when he left the council involuntarily 15 years ago. He also brushes aside Catania’s charge that he awarded a consulting contract to a friend during his tenure as head of the city’s taxicab commission.
Catania has managed to get under Dixon’s skin only once, during the Nov. 11 Dupont Circle forum sponsored by the city’s gay and lesbian organizations. After Catania again accused Dixon of steering contracts to his cronies at the taxicab commission, the two squared off face to face like two roosters ready to peck each other to death. But cooler beaks prevailed before any blood was drawn. “It was more like who could outtalk the other and who had the higher-pitched voice,” observes Democratic strategist Rob Hodgson.
Catania is campaigning hard to galvanize Republican and independent voters with his call for an elected attorney general for the District. Creation of that office, he said, would ensure a needed debate every four years on public safety and the enforcement of city laws. An elected AG, he adds, would also provide a needed check on the government corruption that has crippled the District under home rule.
He touts his own leadership in “standing up to the control board” when its consultants last summer proposed moving Sheridan-Kalorama from the 2nd Police District in Ward 3 into the 3rd District in Ward 1. Catania relates that he handed out fliers containing the home phone number of control board vice chairman Stephen Harlan, and angry community residents tied up Harlan’s phone for hours.
Catania claims that his community has experienced a 46-percent drop in crime since last year but fails to mention that his tactics did not stop the move into the 3rd District. Now, some Sheridan-Kalorama residents say they are getting better police attention than they ever received from 2nd District officers.
“David and I were wrong,” admits Sheridan-Kalorama activist Marie Drissel.
Catania, an attorney, possesses one crucial quality that Heinrich lacks: a gut instinct about the D.C. government’s incompetence, corruption, and hostility toward the community. Heinrich moved to D.C. only 16 months ago and may not have had to deal with the D.C. government as often as Catania to know how exasperating and irritating that experience can be. He decided to jump into this race after reading news accounts predicting a record low turnout in December.
“If 50 percent of the electorate were going to the polls, I wouldn’t stand a chance,” Heinrich has admitted. “But I can touch 5 percent of the electorate between now and the election.” And he stands a one in 20 chance of hitting the 5 percent who may actually cast ballots in 11 days.
Although a newcomer, Heinrich certainly seems to be winning the poster war, even though he unknowingly stole his campaign slogan, “Fix D.C.,” from government watchdog Drissel’s unsuccessful 1993 run for council chair. And he has come up with the only gimmick of this sleepy campaign, the 9-foot-tall wrench proclaiming “Vote Phil, Fix D.C.” Perhaps he should have spent less time on tools and more time on sloganshis doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
Heinrich, who makes a living organizing and financing youth-run ventures, has also put together a competent campaign organization, a phone bank, and a mail operation. But he often sounds a bit too wonkish on the campaign trail, touting ideas like requiring D.C. agencies to hold an annual fair on the Mall to foster better communication between residents and government officials.
Heinrich has also latched onto the most tiresome plank in the history of electoral politics: the full-time representative. Heinrich challenges Catania and Dixon at every forum to take the pledge to give up outside employment and business ventures if elected to the council. Catania and Dixon, in a rare display of unity, shun the idea, which somehow still manages to spark voter interest in D.C. If Heinrich had been here longer, he’d know that a full-time D.C. Council would mean more bad laws on the books.
Aware that D.C. is a strong Democratic town, Heinrich is trying to position himself as “a new Democrat” and points to Dixon as a prime example of the old Democrats who have led this city to financial ruin.
Dixon is counting on those old Democrats, particularly party officials and members of the Democratic State Committee, to pull him through on election day. After he won nomination by the state committee in August to serve as interim at-large councilmember until the Dec. 2 election, Dixon has tried to maintain its interest by offering to turn half his annual $80,000 salary back to the party.
Heinrich and Catania claim they have prominent Democratic supporters who can’t surface because of the party’s stance requiring allegiance to Dixon as the “Democratic nominee” of the state committee. The committee adopted its loyalty platform at the insistence of U.S. shadow representative/statehood lobbyist Sabrina Sojourner, who expected to edge out Dixon on the second ballot. Sojourner wanted to make sure that the party’s hacks support her in the Dec. 2 election.
But Sojourner lost the committee vote when Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas and his wife Romaine reneged on promises to back her after the first ballot and threw their support to Dixon. Sojourner subsequently withdrew from the December contest.
The state committee’s shenanigans amount to a conspiracy to keep fresh faces out of elected posts. The D.C. Democratic Party, a major contributor to the failure of home rule and democracy in the District, must be killed off to achieve needed political reform.
The fastest way to restore democracy in D.C. is to switch to nonpartisan electionsan idea that had the backing of former Rep. Charles Diggs, the architect of home rule, some 25 years ago. But D.C.’s entrenched Democratic aristocracy won’t back such a change, so the movement will have to come from the electorate in the form of a ballot referendum.
Otherwise, D.C. voters will keep seeing the reappearance of former pols like Dixon, whom they thought they had gotten rid of long ago. CP
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