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It’s summer in the District when the temperature shoots up, the D.C. Council’s recess looms, and Muriel Bowser and Attorney General Karl Racine can’t even scrap convincingly. It’s a time when LL’s mind turns to next year’s primaries.
Consider Ward 7, where incumbent Yvette Alexander is facing challengers and some not-so-crazy rumors about who else will take her on.
Alexander will face her third re-election bid since being elected in a 2007 special election, but insists she isn’t worried.
“There’s no race,” Alexander says.
Some of Alexander’s constituents wish there were.
“I think some of the older residents are looking for a candidate to go up against Yvette,” says Gary Butler, a Ward 7 advisory neighborhood commissioner unhappy with Alexander.
Alexander already has two challengers, and the ward’s dissatisfied wags are looking around for more—including, potentially, disgraced former Council Chairman Kwame Brown. Thanks to all those candidates and a new alliance with Bowser’s Green Team (and the mayoral fundraising apparatus that comes with it), though, Alexander may well have reason to relax.
Any candidate hoping to challenge Alexander has to straddle both the ward’s willingness to oust incumbents and the gap between her comparatively well-off Hillcrest neighborhood and poorer areas like Nannie Helen Burroughs Ave. So far, Alexander has been able to ride that divide, thanks in part to Hillcrest’s status as one of the District’s highest-turnout precincts.
“It’s like two wards,” says pollster Ron Lester. “It’s like part Ward 4 and part Ward 8.”
Alexander’s most significant challenger so far is Ed Potillo, a D.C. Democratic State Committee bigwig. So far, Potillo’s campaign has run quietly, with a few hits accusing Alexander of missing economic opportunities (the still moribund Skyland site ranks high with Alexander detractors).
Potillo campaign manager Cinque Culver tells LL that the exploratory committee managed to raise $15,000 in three weeks. (It’s not clear how much total money Potillo has, since the campaign hasn’t yet had to report its latest figures to the Office of Campaign Finance.)
Potillo’s biggest problem may not be Alexander. Instead, come June 2016, he could find himself splitting the anti-incumbent vote with the hordes of longshot candidates who turn out whenever a seat on the Council is available.
“It’s going to be an interesting dynamic, but Ed is just staying interested on serving the people of Ward 7,” Culver says.
Check out these rumors, though: Vince Gray administration D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe has long been considered a potential Alexander challenger. Alexander didn’t exactly hide her concerns about Ellerbe last year, when she tweeted that Ellerbe’s visits to Ward 7 were “things that make you go hmmmm!”
Ellerbe didn’t respond to LL’s request for comment, and Alexander claimed last year that he had promised to support her in her re-election bid. And there’s one other reason Ellerbe might want to stay out of the race: his embattled term running DCFEMS. As chief, Ellerbe lasted an improbably long time in the face of labor strife, lengthy response times, and combusting ambulances.
Former Gray campaign manager Chuck Thies doesn’t see how Ellerbe could run against Alexander without getting eviscerated over his DCFEMS record during debates. Thies recalls the 2012 Ward 7 race, when Alexander asked challenger Kevin Chavous Jr. in a debate about his arrest for soliciting a prostitute. Thies says that Alexander’s cheerfulness (she dressed as Nicki Minaj at the Wilson Building for Halloween, complete with a pink wig) belies someone willing to slip her rivals a “dagger.”
“She’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Thies says. “That affable appearance—do not underestimate her.”
But Alexander’s other rumored rival could make Ellerbe look like a candidate to run the ethics board. LL can’t believe he’s writing this, but somebody wants Kwame Brown to run. Brown, also a Hillcrest resident, resigned as Council chairman in 2012 over campaign finance and loan violations. Then there’s the black-on-black Lincoln Navigator, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars in unaccounted-for campaign funds.
‘He’s a guy who got a slap on the wrist when he probably could’ve been pounded with a hammer,” Thies says.
Despite all that, though, WUSA9 reports that Brown will appear at a meet and greet this weekend. There’s other, more tangible support for Brown in the form of yellow “Draft Kwame Brown” flyers handed out recently in the ward, although no official draft committee has been registered for Brown at OCF.
“The quiet chatter is he wants to be involved again,” Butler says.
Brown didn’t respond to LL’s request for comment. In November, Brown told LL that if he was going to tell anyone about his future plans, it wouldn’t be LL.
Brown and everyone else hoping to get into the seat is probably SOL, though, because Alexander has managed to cozy up to the Green Team, the most significant force in Council races these days. Alexander took her Council seat thanks in part to an endorsement from Gray, whom she replaced on the Council, and she endorsed his mayoral re-election campaign just hours after he declared his candidacy.
Ordinarily, that would put her on the wrong side of Bowser, who flexed her fundraising and organizational powers in April by putting former campaign aides in two Council seats. Since last year, though, Alexander has avoided antagonizing the mayor. That means Bowser and the business types willing to put max contributions behind whoever she wants aren’t motivated to back a challenger in the ward.
“She was a Gray supporter,” Thies says. “But within minutes of the election results being known she arrived in Bowsertown.”
Despite rumors of challengers, Alexander denies that there’s anyone more exciting than her in the race.
“The interesting name is Yvette Alexander,” she says.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery