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Leon Andrews wants votes. On Tuesday, he got a lecture, instead.
After scolding one of the Ward 4 D.C. Council hopeful’s volunteers for knocking on his door instead of ringing the doorbell, an irate, barefoot Chevy Chase man is prodding Andrews hard.
All of Andrews’ talking points that go over well east of Rock Creek Park—more vocational training and crime programs—are fizzling in this leafy, secluded neighborhood. For someone who initially thought Andrews’ reference to “the election” meant Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Chevy Chase voter has hit on Andrews’ problem with his quest to oust incumbent Brandon Todd in June’s Democratic primary: There’s just not a whole lot of policy difference between them.
“What beyond crime?” the man says, gesturing around his empty street. “Because I’m not that concerned about crime.”
Even one of Andrews’ few breaks with Todd—the location of a family homeless shelter backed by the councilmember’s patron, Mayor Muriel Bowser—comes out muddled.
“Wait, you believe you need to do shelters, but it’s not a great thing?” the man taunts. Andrews, a 40-year-old father of three, sputters.
“I’m going to release you,” the man says, but not before agreeing to vote for him.
Walking to the next house, the candidate claims he loved that exchange. When LL points out that the man gave him a hard time, Andrews points out that he won another vote.
“That’s not a hard time,” he says.
Andrews looks like he has the best chance at unseating Todd, but that doesn’t mean his chances are actually good.
He has the bad luck to face Bowser’s Green Team in what is probably its strongest race. In the at-large race, new Bowser pal Vincent Orange faces two challengers who have at least some shot at beating him. In Ward 7, resurgent ex-Mayor Vince Gray looks set to handily beat foe Yvette Alexander (if his own polls are to be believed). In Ward 8, Trayon White is challenging incumbent and Bowser ally LaRuby May in a repeat of a race that was settled by fewer than 100 votes last year.
On the other hand, Andrews came in third to Todd in last year’s special election to replace Bowser—he got 15 percent to Todd’s 43 percent of the vote. No public polls have been released on the Ward 4 race, but it’s hard to imagine Andrews or the two other challengers—fellow 2015 returner Ron Austin and perennial D.C. Council hopeful Calvin Gurley—easily dethroning Bowser’s pick in the base of her power.
Andrews has the endorsements of seven candidates from last year’s special election, including one from Renee Bowser, who came in second to Todd last year with 22 percent of the vote. More importantly, he has gobs of money: $156,223 raised as of the March finance report. It’s not more than Todd, who had raised more than $233,052 as of March. But it’s far more than Gurley and Austin, who had a little more than $2,200 between the two of them.
As with so much else about Andrews’ candidacy, though, there’s a caveat to his fundraising prowess: It’s nearly all from himself. As of March, Andrews had lent his campaign $140,000, meaning that nearly all of his campaign’s contributions have come from his own pockets. Add in the $90,000 loan he made to his 2015 campaign, and Andrews has put $230,000 over the past two years toward getting himself a Council seat.
It’s not clear to LL how Andrews, who works as a director at the National League of Cities, can afford all this. The organization’s most recent tax returns, for example, don’t list him as one of its highest paid employees. Andrews claims that he didn’t mortgage his Brightwood house for the campaign money, saying only that it “comes from multiple places.”
“I wanted to make sure we gave our campaign what we needed at the front end,” Andrews says.
Money can’t save Andrews from the age-old problem of the challenger whose incumbent isn’t besmirched by scandal: He can’t effectively explain why people should ditch Todd.
Andrews can complain about the usual problems of Ward 4, like the moribund Kennedy Street NW commercial strip. There’s not an obvious answer for getting a Chipotle and a Target, though—if there were, it probably would have been done already.
One woman in Chevy Chase complains to Andrews that Todd wouldn’t get her son a crossing guard for his school bus stop. This is the sort of individual complaint that might swell into a changed Council seat—but Andrews can only tell the woman that the decision lies with the executive branch.
Andrews passes Tuesday night in a 13th Street NW church, convincing a few dozen people that he should be backed by a Caribbean-American PAC. He’s ditched the red T-shirt, swapping it out for a suit accented with a red tie and pocket square. Next to him at the table are Austin and Gurley.
Todd, meanwhile, spends the evening enjoying his incumbency, alternating between a constituent services walk and a Chevy Chase fundraiser. (Todd’s campaign didn’t respond to LL’s requests for comment on the race.)
Andrews keeps walking in front of the speakers with his mic, sending waves of feedback over the audience. When he goes over his time limit, moderator and former District Department of Health Director Ivan Walks cuts in.
“Mr. Gurley,” Walks tells Andrews.
“I’m not Gurley,” he says, before sitting down again.
Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call (202) 650-6925.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery