Loose Lips headed to Busboys and Poets’ Brookland location Friday night, and he’s not even into vegan food. Instead, LL was drawn by the possibility that Andy Shallal—mogul of the restaurant chain, failed 2014 mayoral candidate, and occasional muse for lefty artists—would announce his run for a D.C. Council at-large seat.
About a dozen people who understand campaign finance better than LL explained why Shallal’s announcing at his own business would be a bad idea. Shallal held off, even though some party attendees like former domestic bomber Bill Ayers thought a Shallal candidacy would be a great idea (fellow Weather Undergrounder Bernadine Dohrn isn’t so sure).
Shallal’s entry into the race may still be at least a little hypothetical—apparently, he’s telling people he plans to run—but it’s occasioned more of the usual complaints when it comes to campaigns against At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange. The problem with people who want to unseat Orange, the councilmember’s foes gripe, is that there are too many of them.
In 2011, when Orange returned to the Council after losing the 2006 mayor’s race, he only won 29 percent of the special election. That was a heartbreaking figure for the kinds of voters who backed self-styled reform or progressive Orange rivals Sekou Biddle, Patrick Mara, and Bryan Weaver, who ended up splitting roughly 58 percent of the total vote between them. Republican Mara came the closest, getting within four percent of Orange’s total.
Orange had similar good fortune in the 2012 Democratic primary, where Biddle was foiled again by vote-splitting. This time, the spoiler was recently arrived Marylander Peter Shapiro. Biddle was just three percent away from Orange; Shapiro, meanwhile, picked up almost 11 percent of the vote. It was an outcome made more disappointing for their supporters because it was so obviously going to happen—ahead of the election, both sides angled to get the other to drop out to avoid another four-year term for Orange.
Now Orange’s term is coming to a close, and, thanks to a slam from the ethics board, a willingness to parlay with lobbyists, and a dismal mayoral campaign, he looks like exactly the kind of incumbent who’s vulnerable in District elections these days.
This is a guy who got busted helping out a food business caught with rat crap (to be fair, Orange’s version of that story is a little more flattering). Besides, his 2014 mayoral campaign antics—filing a lawsuit to get into a debate, getting eyeballed as the recipient of a Jeff Thompson shadow campaign—didn’t exactly suggest a golden political future.
The 2012 election saw At-Larger Michael Brown booted out for ethics candidate David Grosso; Brianne Nadeau beat Metro wheeler-dealer Jim Graham in Ward 1 last year, while Muriel Bowser did the same to scandal-plagued Vince Gray in the mayor’s race.
Orange could have been fated to join his ex-Council colleagues; instead, he looks set to win another term. You can thank his many challengers for that.
First in was smart-growth type David Garber, whose position as a white candidate beloved by the Greater Greater Washington set doesn’t promise to dent Orange’s black constituency in Ward 5. Robert White—a staffer for Attorney General Karl Racine—has his own plans to run again after a failed 2014 at-large bid, but hasn’t entered the race yet. With Shallal, that would split the anti-Orange vote three-ways in the primary—and you know there are two or three other people who think this is their shot.
Garber’s campaign claims, not entirely convincingly, that they aren’t worried that Orange will squeak into office on another split vote.
“Folks are late to the game,” Garber campaign consultant says of other Orange challengers. “And at this point, they are so far behind they don’t even matter.”
Whether Garber’s time advantage matters will be revealed next week, when the campaigns file their latest finance reports. In the meantime, LL would bet on Orange to win, if betting on Council races was a thing. Maybe DraftKings can do something here.
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery