Last night’s Ward 8 mayoral forum, held in a swanky new theater on the St. Elizabeths’ campus, produced no new insights, no genuinely electrifying slams or substantial policy debate. Mayor Adrian Fenty‘s main cheerleaders in the audience amounted to a bunch of Peaceoholics kids. Faith tooted her bugle (as much we all love her, can she just go away now?). Vincent Gray made a lot of promises, and crunched a lot of numbers. And on and on and on it went. It was all sideshow, no main event. But since most political observers expect Gray to win Ward 8 pretty easily, that didn’t come entirely as a surprise.
At any rate, here are a few substance-free highlights:
Moten vs. Seegars
Early in the debate, Sandra “SS” Seegars asked if the mayor or “the next mayor” would continue funding Peaceoholics—or in her words, letting the group treat the government like a “cash cow.”
Peaceoholics founder Ron Moten is standing next to me. We are both just a few feet from Seegars. Moten turns to me and asks: “Who said that?”
“You don’t know who that is?” I ask.
“No,” Moten says. Moten should know: He recently sued Seegars for libel in D.C. Superior Court. And she accused him of rigging a straw poll and blabbed to the feds.
I tell Moten it’s Sandra Seegars who’s referring to his little gang-prevention empire as a cash cow.
Fenty’s Joe Wilson Moment
When the subject turns to education and Ward 8, Fenty stands up and declares that under Michelle Rhee, Ballou Senior High School’s test scores have shot up. A man in the audience shouts either “Not true!” or “You’re wrong!”
The man continues to rant about having been fired from Ballou. He eventually quiets down. After a while, he heads for the door. I catch up with him as he steps outside for a cigarette (which aren’t allowed in front of the theater or generally anywhere on the St. Es campus). The man would only give me his initials as “M.C.” We take a seat on a bench. He says that he taught English for decades at Ballou before being fired this past June.
M.C. slurs his words badly. His eyes are glazed. He has trouble getting his thoughts together. Fenty, he says, is “full of shit. “Just like Marion Barry was full of shit.”
“Ballou was a good school,” M.C. says. “I had some good children.” M.C. leans forward like he wants to rest his head on my shoulder. I think: This is a guy Gray probably doesn’t want to recruit.
“Have you been drinking?” I ask.
“I want to,” M.C. says. “I wish I had some money to get [a drink]…I don’t know who to count on, that’s the thing.” He asks me for money. I tell him I don’t have any cash on me (which is true).
M.C. says he has an apartment in Ward 8, but still no job and no prospects for a job. He says he’s not worried.
“You going to give me something for this?” he asks.
I tell him no. “I don’t have any money,” I explain.
M.C. stares at the ground: “Teachers… We love what we do…”
“You don’t have $5? You don’t have $10?” M.C. asks. Again, I tell him I don’t.
“You don’t have $5?” M.C. asks again.
I tell him I have to go. I head back inside. Faith makes an old joke about how Chocolate City is turning into Vanilla Village. The room explodes with laughter. It’s just like when she ran in 2002. Or 1998. Or 1994 or 1990. (This year, she’s running unopposed for the D.C. Statehood Green Party nomination; nothing goes with bugles like Ralph Nader.)
Thank You Fenty For Plugging Peaceoholics
At the end of the forum, each candidate is allowed to give a closing statement. Fenty uses his time by first giving another plug to Peaceoholics. He declares that they are one of the only nonprofits “actually doing work.” Fenty is immediately greeted with a chorus of boos. It is deafening. I’d like to boo him, too, for that comment. His dedication to this one nonprofit is absurd. But before anyone can shout up to Fenty that a) Peaceoholics aren’t exactly the most pure nonprofit; b) this is not a great campaign message; c) there are dozens of other nonprofits that do great work without your support and millions in District funds, one burly guy shouts down Fenty. He apparently has a group that also works with gang kids and ex-offenders. And wants everyone to know about it.
Once the forum has ended, the man takes his rant outside and confronts Peaceoholics. The scene instantly dissolves into a war over who has more street cred. (A, uh, peaceful war.) The Peaceoholics reps taunt the guy, yelling at him that they hadn’t ever seen him in the ward before. The guy yells back that not only does he work with ex-offenders, but he works with guys still behind bars. And he’s been recently released himself. Nobody is really listening.
Finally, Fenty comes out and sticks around to answer reporters’ questions and greet attendees. Gray is nowhere in sight; he seems to have bolted after the forum. Eventually, Fenty calls over all his supporters the Peaceoholics kids. He gets them in a circle. And everyone joins hands for a celebratory chant. Fenty is in the middle surrounded by these hands, leading the cheers. It’s either summer camp or something more sinister. No one can be sure.
It’s my time to leave.
File photo by Darrow Montgomery