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Every time LL is tempted to predict an election winner, he thinks of Examiner columnist Harry Jaffe’s declaration last year in March that then-Council Chairman Vince Gray was on a “suicide mission” in his bid to unseat former Mayor Adrian Fenty. If the mission was suicide, it was a failure; Gray beat Fenty, you may recall, by 10 points.
Nevertheless, LL has a hard time seeing how Vincent Orange doesn’t win next week’s special election for the at-large seat vacated by the new council chairman, Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown. The rest of the strongest candidates—Sekou Biddle, Pat Mara, Bryan Weaver, and Josh Lopez—all seem to have been competing to see who is the most independent of a scandal-tinged city government, or who misses former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee the most, or who will be the best pick for the residents west of Rock Creek Park. Orange, meanwhile, has been free to court large swaths of the city virtually uncontested, including voters in Wards 5, 7, and 8 who didn’t care for Rhee and helped Gray beat Fenty by such a large margin. Add in the fact that Orange enjoys a huge cash advantage for a get-out-the-vote effort and has the highest name recognition as a former Ward 5 councilmember (and a citywide candidate last fall), and you can see why Orange is the betting man’s pick.
That’s as close as LL will come to a prediction, and it should be noted that LL is often wrong. It’s expected that few people will actually vote, meaning anything can happen. Mara, a Republican, would have a good day if only (only?!?) a third of the District’s registered GOP voters came to the polls. Lopez, a campaign aide to Fenty who led last fall’s unsuccessful write-in effort, could cobble together enough Fenty die-hards along with new Hispanic voters to win. Biddle’s got campaign guru Tom Lindenfeld, whose record in District elections isn’t too shabby, on staff. And maybe, just maybe, Washington City Paper’s endorsement of Bryan Weaver will be enough to propel him over the top. (Stop laughing!)
Regardless of who wins, it’ll be a short victory party.
The new councilmember, believe it or not, will have to turn around and start campaigning again shortly for a primary race that’s less than a year away. (The general election will still be in November, so if Mara wins, he probably won’t have to worry about an early primary. His worry would be more existential: Mara would be a Republican on the ballot when District voters head to the polls to re-elect President Barack Obama in 2012.)
And for those candidates who don’t win but want another chance to touch the golden ring, they won’t have much time for rest, either.
“I’m here to stay… I’m in it for the long run,” says Lopez, when asked what his plans are should he not win Tuesday’s election. (Though he was quick to add that he thinks he’s got enough voters to win, and isn’t making plans past next week.)
The D.C. Council recently set next year’s primary for April 3, responding to a federal law designed to make it easier for overseas absentee voters to cast ballots. And while you, sweet reader, probably haven’t thought much about an election that’s 11 months away, rest assured that plenty of people in and out of the Wilson Building have already used up plenty of brainpower mapping out the road ahead.
“I’m not waiting around,” says Ward 2’s longtime councilmember, Jack Evans. Evans filed re-election paperwork with the Office of Campaign Finance last week, the first candidate to do so.
Besides Evans and the at-large winner, Ward 4’s Muriel Bowser, Ward 7’s Yvette Alexander, Ward 8’s Marion Barry, and At-Large Councilmember Michael Brown will all be up again. And while LL isn’t keen on predicting winners, he’s not shy about predicting which races will be noteworthy and which won’t.
In that regard, expect some fireworks in Wards 4 and 7, where there are loud voices of discontent over the current leadership. And expect Evans, Barry, and Brown (who will probably be sprinting to the Board of Elections and Ethics to change his party affiliation back to Democrat should Mara win) to face marginal competition.
Six months ago, Bowser looked to be in a heap of trouble after her political patron, Fenty, lost his home ward by 19 points. But what a difference a few scandals over Navigators and nepotism make. Bowser’s status as a Fentyite looks a whole lot better these days as the steady stream of bad news has taken a toll on Gray and Brown’s popularity. That’s not to say Bowser won’t be in for a fight in Ward 4, which has been in some political flux as new residents arrived in recent years; her critics says she’s just as out of touch with her constituents’ needs as Fenty was.
“She hasn’t responded to the constituents’ requests,” says Baruti Jahi, who ran against Bowser in 2008 and says he’s “more than likely” to challenge her again. (Jahi, who has a Ph.D. in public policy from Howard University, is writing a novel set in 2018 that centers around District politics and has the working title Split Masks.)
Besides concerns over Bowser’s constituent services, Jahi says he sees plenty of opportunity to tap into the discontent brewing in Ward 4 over Bowser’s support for a Walmart on Georgia Avenue. “We’re still checking the landscape, and it looks pretty good,” he says.
Bowser is sticking to the standard incumbent’s script. “We’re preparing to run a hard, aggressive race,” she says.
Over in Ward 7, Alexander faces the same kind of lament that she’s out of touch with her constituents, who include some of the poorest in the city. A group of residents recently asked the Office of Campaign Finance to investigate if Alexander was misusing her constituent services fund, after a series of Washington Times articles found that much of that fund was being used for rent and large phone bills.
Then there’s the perception that Alexander doesn’t have much substance to her, says politically active Ward 7 resident Lisa Shaw. “She looks good, but when she opens her mouth, we almost cringe at what comes out,” Shaw says.
Alexander, who was Gray’s handpicked successor in the ward, says she’s going to highlight her advocacy of requiring District government jobs to be held by District residents on the campaign trail, and she’s ready for any and all challengers.
“I love competition, and I love Ward 7, so bring it on,” Alexander says.
But so far, LL can’t find anyone who’s planning on challenging Alexander. Well, save for one guy.
“If nobody’s going to run, I’m gonna run,” says Peaceoholics co-founder and avowed Alexander enemy Ron Moten.
Whoever decides to get in, they better make up their minds quickly. Bowser raised and spent more than $435,000 in her 2008 campaign. Alexander raised and spent more than $225,000. Which means beating either one of them could take a lot of cash.
The standard playbook for knocking off incumbents in recent years was perfected by Fenty and Kwame Brown when they first won seats on the council: Get in front of voters more than a year before an election. But that isn’t an option now that the primary has moved to early April, because visibility campaigns can’t easily be waged in winter (unless, of course, a candidate thinks voters want someone banging on their door when it’s dark outside at 5:30 p.m.)
“You really kick off with the summer, as opposed to end with the summer,” Evans says.
So go ahead and vote this Tuesday. Just don’t be surprised if you find a candidate for next year’s election at your door when you get home.
HOW ABOUT SOME FREAKIN’ RECORDS?
It’s time to add Mayor Vince Gray to the list of D.C. pols who have a hard time producing records showing which business interests have given him money and how that money was spent.
After Gray won the general election, he made a show of refusing to use taxpayer money for his transition expenses; the city, after all, had a budget deficit to worry about. Instead, businesses and individuals with money to burn could give to a new transition fund. Gray told good-government types not to worry: He planned to report who gave what, and the money (which would amount to $900,000) would be spent not only for the transition, but for the über-expensive inauguration gala, as well.
Nearly four full months into office, Gray’s fallen far short on that promise. In January, Team Gray released a partial list of donors to the public. More recently, his transition director, Reuben Charles, provided The Washington Post with a one-page summary of expenses. The document’s math didn’t add up and was short on details, the Post reported. (Charles, whose history of debt problems in the Midwest likely cost him a job in the Gray administration, has ignored LL’s repeated requests for that one-page summary, and Gray’s spokeswoman says she’s powerless to help.)
At a news conference Wednesday, long-time local watchdog Dorothy Brizill, who has also been after Gray’s transition records, let the mayor have it. A flustered Gray eventually copped to not having any clue when his transition and inauguration records would be audited by an outside accounting firm and released to the public.
“I don’t have anymore to say about that today. We intend to provide the information, Ms. Brizill, I don’t know what else to say other than that,” Gray said.
Fortunately though, Gray was a bit clearer on the fact that Charles had stopped fundraising for his transition and inauguration funds: “As far as I know, Mr. Charles…He’s done. I mean, he’ll continue in a voluntary capacity, perhaps. But. No. We’re—unless it’s something. I don’t know, it’s a possibility, OK?”
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