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The most sought-after and elusive creature in electoral politics these days is the New Face: someone who talks like Ann Richards, acts like Bill Clinton, looks like Barbara Boxer, exudes the charisma of Mario Cuomo, and possesses the integrity of Dave Clarke—and who has never done or said anything that could alienate anyone. My, what a strange creature this must be, if it exists.
As every election year approaches, voters hope that this rare animal will appear in time to save them from having to choose between the same old pols. Nowhere is this yearning keener than in D.C., as the next mayoral election approaches like the advance of a plague. With Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly—the New Face of 1990—locked in the free fall that began soon after her surprise victory three years ago, At-Large Councilmember John Ray once again is fantasizing that people soon will be calling him “mayor.”
If Ray’s face isn’t exactly new, at least it’s reconstructed: No D.C. politician has worked harder to change his image in the last three years than Ray, who, in 1990, was seen as the candidate of special interests and a man who really didn’t stand for anything. Since then, Ray has torched his special-interest base and sought to replace it with a more grass-roots following. As a consequence, his approval ratings have continued to soar in recent polls, while Kelly’s have plummeted.
But those numbers have not panicked the Kelly camp, because her supporters believe that Ray will blow any lead, no matter how overwhelming. In 1990, he had mountains of campaign money, all the major endorsements except one (the Washington Post’s), and the biggest organization. Local pundits declared him the winner and wrote off Kelly completely. Yet he managed to lose his third bid for the mayor’s office in 12 years. So, with Ray as the perceived front-runner, there is always hope for the other candidates in the race. And the thought of choosing between Kelly the Incompetent and Ray the Uninspiring is likely to spark a draft movement for Socks the Cat so that voters will at least have a choice.
With the 1994 mayor’s race shaping up as a Kelly/Ray clash, there definitely is an opening for a truly New Face. And ready to audition for that role is D.C. school board President R. David Hall. Hall told a Dec. 6 meeting of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association that he will not run for another term on the school board next year. After serving 12 years as the school board representative from Ward 2, including six as the board’s president, Hall said it is time to explore other political options. Those, he elaborated this week, involve running for mayor or for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council.
Although the school board long has been a stepping stone to the council (three current councilmembers arrived via the school board), no one has ever attempted that direct route from the board to the mayor’s office. But, as Hall quickly points out, “Sharon Kelly went from no elected office at all to the mayor’s office.” In the wake of Kelly’s disappointing performance, however, that fact may prompt voters to look for someone with more experience next time around.
Until recently, Hall said in an interview this week, he would “never consider anything” besides his current job. “I couldn’t leave my responsibilities on the school board. But now, Ward 2 schools are among the best in the city, and equal to the private schools. I see the school system as on its way, and I think it can get there without me now. I’m going to look at where I can do the greatest good. I think I can do either job [mayor or councilmember] well.”
At 44, Hall is fresh enough to claim the New Face role in these political parts. Although he has won three school board elections in Ward 2, he has never run citywide. And he definitely can’t be blamed for any of the city’s current or past problems, which is always a big plus. If he runs, Hall will try to convince voters that D.C.’s troubled schools finally made an upward turn during his tenure on the board, and especially while he was president. He will try to take credit for the hiring of school Superintendent Franklin Smith, the closing of underused public schools, and the downsizing of the school system’s central bureaucracy. These claims likely will draw return fire from his opponents, since many of the reductions were forced on the board by the mayor and the late Council Chairman John Wilson.
Hall said he would decide after conferring with his wife, Dayle, and his children. He and his wife are planning a trip to Italy in mid-January to celebrate his 45th birthday, and some insiders suspect that he will not make his decision before then. “Actually, I was thinking more about romance than politics,” Hall commented about the vacation. He said the decision will be made “when I am in agreement with my God and my family. You can’t move before the things which are most important to you are in harmony with you. Then, when those forces are with you, you can’t be stopped, no matter what you do.”
But some Hall-watchers believe he will stop himself, as far as the mayor’s race goes. Pointing to his reputation for moving cautiously, they predict he will forego a bid for the city’s top office and reach instead for an at-large council seat, where the competition will not be as stiff. If that happens, the search for the New Face will continue.
THE BARRY FACTOR
Former Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr., currently biding his time as Ward 8 councilmember, wants to keep his name out there as a potential mayoral candidate for ’94. But Barry is neither a new face nor a welcome one to many voters. And Barry is not really running for mayor, at least not at the moment. He is running for relevance, and to make certain that voters don’t forget him. (Fat chance of that.) Barry wants both Kelly and Ray to court him, and by threatening to become a candidate, he forces both to pay him more attention.
Barry is savvy enough to know that he can’t win. A poll taken by minority business owners last summer showed that Barry stands almost no chance of getting more than 20 percent of the vote in a citywide race, and suggested that Barry’s presence would drag Ray down into a close race with Herroner. The poll almost seemed designed to convince Barry to stay out of the race and let Ray have his desired one-on-one rematch with Kelly. The business group that commissioned the poll plans to underwrite another one early next year. Barry also plans to take his own poll, perhaps as early as January.
The recent council chair race aptly demonstrated that Barry alarms rather than inspires the electorate, and drives voters into the arms of other candidates, especially the ones perceived as willing to block Hizzoner’s return to power. Barry’s highly publicized endorsement of Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis in the council chair race awoke Ward 3 voters and brought them out for Dave Clarke. Jarvis and Barry had been advised to steer clear of Ward 3 in hope that those voters would sleep through the special, low-turnout election. But neither followed that advice.
So instead of attacking Barry, Kelly should encourage him to enter the mayor’s race. One Barry supporter says that the former mayor hopes his flirtation will spark a draft movement. If so, Kelly should surreptitiously organize that draft.
LL firmly believes that Barry will run for mayor next year for one reason—to sink Ray. Barry desperately wants to be mayor again, and if Ray wins in ’94, he probably would win re-election in ’98, forcing Barry to wait until 2002 for his next shot. By then, he would be nearing 70 years of age, and likely would face a crowded field of younger contenders. But if Kelly wins next year, Barry would have another shot in 1998, since she probably would not seek a third term. Some Barry supporters insist that LL has grown much too cynical, and that not even the mayor-for-life would want to inflict another four years of the Kelly administration on this city.
Will the aforementioned R. David Hall stand for re-election when the board meets in January to choose its president for the upcoming year? Hall said back in January that he would not continue as president in 1994, but now that he’s considering a citywide race, he’s backtracking. School board sources say Hall is dropping hints that he’s seeking reelection, presumably because he thinks he could do better running for mayor or councilmember as board president rather than board member. And Hall himself is now saying he would be willing to serve another term “if the majority of the members want to draft me.” Otherwise, Ward 8 board member Linda Moody is expected to become the next board president, but Ward 1 board member Wilma Hardy may try to upset Moody’s plans by making another run for the post.
Meanwhile, Ward 7 school board member Nate Bush has let it be known that he would gladly give up his $29,000-a-year job on the board for the $72,000-a-year position as the board’s executive secretary. The executive secretary’s job has been vacant since June, and Bush’s colleagues on the board will do the hiring. Bush is up for re-election next year. Having made two unsuccessful tries for the D.C. Council while on the school board, he apparently has decided that the school board job is never going to get him to the council.
While the school system’s central bureaucracy has been unable to fulfill Hine Junior High School Principal Princess Whitfield‘s urgent plea for more classroom teachers, it has found a way to hire another bureaucrat. The system recently hired Elneita Hutchins-Taylor to a $73,000-a-year job overseeing labor relations and compliance with federal employment and special education program requirements. Before coming to D.C., Hutchins-Taylor served as the attorney for the Houston school board….
Last week’s much-talked-about fundraiser at the home of R. Donahue Peebles raised nearly $35,000 for Dave Clarke’s campaign fund and constituent services fund. The event brought the populist Clarke together with the Board of Trade types he railed against during the recent council chair race. But Clarke says his politics will never change to accommodate his big-business donors. “I haven’t changed, he’s changed,” Clarke said of his well-connected host.“Peebles goes with a winner, and I’m a winner.” The guests included developer Stephen Goldberg, Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Chair Mary Eva Candon, and former Barry political adviser Ivanhoe Donaldson….
Kerry Pearson has become the fund-raiser to see for councilmembers who need to raise money for their constituent services funds. Pearson organized a Halloween-eve fundraiser that collected $40,000 for Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans‘ fund. That sum is the limit a councilmember can raise in one year for the fund. Last month, he put together a fundraiser for At-Large Councilmember Linda Cropp that brought some $20,000 pouring into her constituent services coffers. Pearson had been working on last week’s fund-raiser for Clarke until he and Peebles had a falling-out.