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R. Donahue Peebles is starting to sound more and more like a man who’s running for mayor.
On the same morning that Washington Times reporter David C. Lipscomb revealed that several Peebles-related Internet domains have been quietly snapped up, the megadeveloper appeared on WTOP’s Politics Program this morning to address the mayoral scuttlebutt.
Under questioning from host Mark Plotkin, Peebles said he was “giving some serious consideration” to announcing a mayoral run, and that he’d have a decision in seven to 10 days.
If there’s any doubt in Peebles’ mind, he certainly did not express it. He also committed on the air to spending as much as $5 million out of pocket to finance his bid.
Peebles tried out some campaign rhetoric and answered some of the tough questions he’ll be hearing often over the next 10 months.
Asked why he left the District for Florida in 1998, Peebles said that he “needed some consistency” for his young son, who was starting his schooling at the time. He then deployed this line to defuse any claims of carpetbaggery: “I never left D.C. I continued to do business here, creating jobs and economic opportunity for D.C. residents….Washington, D.C., is my home; I believe in Washington, D.C.; I love Washington, D.C.”
Expect to hear that line a lot, and this one, too, which hearkens back to his roots as a local developer and close 1980s ally and appointee of Marion Barry: “I want to serve. I owe the city a great debt. It gave me a tremendous opportunity to build an exciting company and I’d like to pay it back.”
Peebles’ top issue: Jobs. WTOP reporter Mark Segraves tried a bit of a gotcha exercise, getting Peebles to admit that he did not know the District minimum wage. But when he asked whether he knew the unemployment rate, Peebles was prepared with the facts and embarked on a long spiel on getting D.C. residents ready for employment and getting local employers to hire them.
The WTOPsters pressed hard to get Peebles to slam Fenty, and the billionaire indeed obliged. He pointed out that he was at yesterday’s jobs summit hosted by President Barack Obama. “I was there discussing the District’s interests,” he says, in a not-so-subtle jab at Hizzoner
“I chose to attend the jobs forum. I made it an emphasis of the types of activity I want to be involved in,” Peebles said, contrasting that with Fenty’s attendance at last month’s White House state dinner, where he was “actually photograhed with” the party-crashing Salahis. (Under Plotkin’s questioning, Peebles admitted he wasn’t actually invited to the dinner.)
Peebles went on to claim that he is in fact an erstwhile Fenty supporter who has been “very disappointed in the way he’s run this city and the lack of attention to our neighborhoods,” then embarking on an extended “two cities” riff.
The hosts tried to pin Peebles down on Fenty’s signature issue—-education. The candidate-in-waiting proceeded to attempt an outflanking maneuver: “I don’t think school reform is been moving efficiently, and I don’t think there’s been enough education reform.” He added that he’s “heartbroken” about Fenty’s treatment of the University of the District of Columbia.
Asked whether he’d keep Michelle Rhee as schools chancellor, Peebles said, “We can’t have education reform if you’re fighting the teachers, the unions, the council, and the parents….She should be given the opportunity to run this school system on her own with the direction of being told that the has to work with these stakeholders.”
Later, he said, that “she would not be consistent with the style I’d have running for mayor so I would not ask her to stay under those circumstances.”
A caller solicited his view on gay marriage, and Peebles attempted to thread a needle, saying he believes that “marriage is between a man and woman.” But, as a matter of “basic freedom, to have a choice to do what you want,” he supports the council’s vote in favor of it.
Behind the scenes, Peebles has been in the process of assembling a campaign team.
LL hears rumors that veteran political consultant Marshall Brown is among the likely team members. Such a development augurs a split in the coalition of business and union types that supported Linda Cropp against Fenty in 2006. Brown, father of At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown, also said to be mulling his mayoral prospects, was Cropp’s field operation chief.
Brown denies he’s on board, because Peebles “hasn’t decided.”
“I certainly think that if he did declare that he would be a formidable candidate,” says Brown, who has known Peebles since his years as a political hand to Barry. “If he decided to do it, I would take it under consideration.”
Kendall Pryles, a spokesperson for Peebles, declined to name any campaign hires.
“There are a lot of people excited at the prospect of Don running,” she said without naming names, except to say that her boss has met with “community activists, elected officials, CEOs—-it’s really across the board.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery