Millionaire Foxhall furniture magnate Pete Ross made his fortune persuading people that they needed $10,000 acrylic beds. Now he’s trying to sell Washingtonians on an equally odd product: himself.
In 2012, Ross put $202,000 of his own cash into an unsuccessful run to take one of the District’s shadow Senate seats from Michael D. Brown. For his efforts, Ross received less than 25 percent of the vote in the primary. Now Ross and his bankroll are back for a run against shadow senator Paul Strauss.
The shadow delegation of two senators and a congressional representative isn’t recognized by the federal government. In practice, they’re unpaid lobbyists for statehood. So far, the District has gotten what it paid for.
When the D.C. Council returns in the fall, members will consider a bill from Vincent Orange that would finally give the state’s shadow delegation salaries and a budget. Ross’ candidacy offers another way around the funding problem: Why not just let a really rich guy do it?
Ross’ plans for the shadow senator spot would stress any budget. He’d travel across the country lobbying state politicians—New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is a favorite target. He’d fly to Canada or Mexico to show how their capital cities have political representation. But don’t worry, skeptical taxpayers: Ross says he’s happy to foot his own bill.
Ross blames his poor showing last time on a recurring issue in District politics: ballot confusion between Brown and the similarly named former At-Large Councilmember Michael A. Brown. In 2010, Phil Mendelson had to defend his at-large seat against Shadow Sen. Brown by printing up flyers with Mendelson standing with the other Brown. (Mendelson won.) Ross blames the opposite type of mixup for his own defeat at the hands of “White Mike” Brown—apparently, voters just love Michael A. Brown. Or they did, until he pleaded guilty to bribery charges.
Ross has his own felony conviction to contend with. In 2007, he spent three months in a halfway house for tax evasion, which at least suggests he took the “no taxation without representation” argument seriously. Ross says he stopped paying payroll taxes in order to keep paying his employees, a decision he now regrets. “You might say I have a checkered past,” the would-be shadow senator says.
Ross promises to turn his talent for getting thrown in jail for good. Unlike other activists arrested with Mayor Vince Gray in 2011 in a voting rights protest, Ross insisted on jail time.
He tells LL he’d do the same as shadow senator, in a reign that sounds half Code Pink, half Donald Trump. Ross says he’d start by crashing the 2015 swearing-in ceremony for actual senators, with more civil disobedience to follow. Unlike Strauss, he points out, he doesn’t have a bar membership that could be endangered by convictions. For all of his problems, Ross is believable on this: Anyone who can get people to pay $1,475 for “pentagonal stools” has to have a flair for promotion.
Ross is starting his campaign earlier this time. He’s certainly getting a jump on criticizing Strauss, whom he accuses of using the office to promote his law practice and stocking his office with foreign interns. All this, incidentally, without actually naming the shadow senator. “If you can’t say something good about somebody, don’t say it,” Ross tells LL.
Ross says he hasn’t decided yet whether he’ll swamp the normally sleepy shadow senator’s race with cash again. But a semiretired millionaire has to spend his money on something, and it won’t be cars—Ross is happy with his 12-year-old Jaguar.
“Some people buy the $20,000 gold Rolex watch,” Ross says, pulling up a sleeve to reveal his bare wrist. “Do you see it on me?”
Photo courtesy Pete Ross