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In D.C. politics, two events are fast approaching: April 3, the day of the primary elections, and whatever future date the plummeting poll numbers of D.C.’s troubled political class finally hits zero. You can’t stop the calendar, but election day might represent an opportunity to turn around the dismal view most people have of their elected officials. Unfortunately, the odds are that the incumbents will slither back into office, the rails greased by insider donations—and the path made easier by a generally lackluster crop of challengers and an expected low voter turnout.
All the same, Washington City Paper has co-hosted a string of candidates’ debates over the past couple weeks with WPFW’s D.C. Politics show, as we try to figure out who to vote for ourselves. (The last of those debates, for the Ward 7 seat, will take place March 26 at Ray’s the Steaks at East River; our endorsement in that race will follow on washingtoncitypaper.com.)
Incumbent Vincent Orange got his seat in a special election last year that felt more like a revenge plot against his enemies who denied him an initial appointment to the job. Now he seems to have trouble with such indelicate questions as, “Why should we vote for you?” or, “What is your position on this issue?” We prefer the guy Orange unseated, Sekou Biddle. Yes, we wish he hadn’t played the insider’s game that put him on the council last year. But Biddle brings a long track record on education reform, a progressive outlook on the city’s problems, and a sense of how to balance the needs and interests of all its residents. While opponent E. Gail Anderson Holness rightly laments corporate influence in city politics in her inimitable, intelligent manner, we think Biddle has a more comprehensive vision for the job. And Peter Shapiro only recently moved to D.C. from Prince George’s County, where he served as council chairman; we admire his enthusiasm for his new home, but aren’t sure he’s quite ready for the Wilson Building.
- Ward 4
We’d really wanted to make this an all-challengers endorsement. Then we met Muriel Bowser’s opponents, who spent much of our recent candidates’ forum misstating the responsibilities and powers of any ward councilmember. For all the places we wish the incumbent’s record were better (say, by actually banning corporate donations as part of her ethics bill, or by resisting Pepco’s opposition to Public Utilities Commission nominee Elizabeth Noel) she’s still the rare independent voice on a D.C. Council that’s been dominated by mediocrities like Chairman Kwame Brown and crooks like ex-councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. If you can’t abide the prospect of supporting any incumbent, we suggest checking out Renée Bowser (no relation), a labor lawyer and ANC commissioner whose debate performance suggest she’d do a stellar job grilling recalcitrant city officials at hearings. Otherwise, vote Muriel. Who knows: If the talk of her mayoral ambitions is true, you may get another chance in just two years.
- Ward 8
Like any successful pol, Marion Barry benefits from lousy opponents: Over 30 years he’s faced tomato cans like Sharon Pratt and Sandy Allen. The current challengers may fare no better. That’s a shame. Barry’s most recent term has been marked by personal scandals (earmark booboos, girlfriend-in-Denver booboos) and political betrayal (a longtime supporter of gay rights, he waxed demagogic against gay marriage). He didn’t show at our debate, where he might have discussed issues like how a city should balance population growth against residents’ fear of being priced out. Sadly, would-be replacements didn’t cover themselves in glory: Sandra Seegars and Darrell Gaston came very close to endorsing universal gun ownership, for instance; rival Jacque Patterson demurred, saying it depended on what type of weapon. Luckily, that’s not the only thing to set Patterson apart. A former Anthony Williams appointee, he’s one candidate who would actually seem like a pro in representing a part of town that could use some help.
- Ward 2
Jack Evans is even luckier than Barry in his opponents—he’s unopposed! That’s a shame, too. Evans has been outspoken in his disdain for the D.C. government’s status quo. But he’s been legislatively absent when it comes to changing a sleazy political culture. We also disagree with some of the places he’s exerting actual effort, like in the dubious plan to build a Redskins practice facility on a tract east of Capitol Hill where an actual neighborhood might otherwise rise. We propose a write-in: Residents should elect the Jack Evans who called this the worst D.C. Council in 20 years. The more conspicuous Evans who cozies up to Dan Snyder and opposes limits on councilmembers’ outside employment should be sent packing.
Photos of Biddle and Bowser by Darrow Montgomery; photo of Patterson via pattersonforward8.com