Caroline and her boyfriend got caught between Ed Lazere and Robert White canvassers before heading inside the Columbia Heights Community Center to vote. Many D.C. residents seem to have voted early or by mail, so campaign staffers swarmed anyone who showed up at the Ward 1 voting location on Election Day. Only 82 people had voted at the rec center over the course of two hours, according to a poll worker. The first day of early voting had, so far, surpassed Election Day.
The Lazere canvasser made his pitch in front of a sign displaying Lazere’s name with copious endorsements on it, while the White canvasser reminded the couple that his candidate is already a sitting councilmember. Before the couple could go inside to cast their votes, Mónica Palacio signaled for an elbow bump. “Hi, well, I am the candidate,” she says.
Palacio has struggled to garner significant attention during the at-large Council race. She hasn’t received major endorsements, nor has she been covered much in the press. So Palacio, who stepped down as the director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights to run for office, feels pressure to connect with voters on site.
Her pitch: She’s is a civil rights attorney who worked in the D.C. government under two mayoral administrations—Vince Gray and Muriel Bowser. And, if elected, she would be the first Latinx candidate to serve on the D.C. Council.
The couple looked surprised when they heard Palacio share the latter part of her pitch, but it’s true. Despite making up 11 percent of the D.C. population, a Latinx resident has never served on the 13-member Council. Palacio is among five Latinx candidates—Claudia Barragán, Mario Cristaldo, Franklin Garcia, and Alexander M. Padro—looking to make history.
Caroline was impressed with Palacio, and even identified with her seeing as she too is a woman of color. But not enough to vote for her. She didn’t vote for anyone in the at-large race because she says she didn’t do enough research on the candidates. Had presidential hopeful Joe Biden endorsed one or two of the 24 candidates vying for two seats on the D.C. Council, Caroline says she would have had more confidence making selections.
Palacio is not among the top candidates, but she remains optimistic. At the very least, she and others are laying the groundwork for future Latinx candidates. Garcia echoes this sentiment and only has positive things to say about his Latinx running mates.
“I think Monica would be an incredible person to add to the Council,” Garcia says. “We’ve got a lot of incredible [candidates]. Mario Cristaldo—probably one of the lower profile ones—he’s been a housing expert forever.”
Garcia is the president of the DC Latino Leadership Council, whose mission is to educate and advocate for the Latinx community. He is also the former president and founder of the DC Latino Caucus. He identifies as a Dominican-born Afro-Latino. While lifting up his community is of great importance to him, it’s not his singular focus.
Speaking to a resident outside the Capital One Arena, one of the city’s “super vote” centers, Garcia made no reference to the possibility of being the first anything if he were to be elected. Instead, he talked about his work on statehood as D.C.’s shadow member of the U.S. House of Representatives. “[Voters] care more about how you are impacting me,” Garcia says. “Statehood effects everybody.”
The resident, who declined to share her name, liked what Garcia had to say. Same for Lazere, who was also visiting the Capital One Arena and talking with voters. She is still undecided and is going to make a game-time decision when she enters the voting booth. Education is her top priority, which is why she and Lazere discussed schools.
Both Palacio and Garcia expressed frustration that so many organizations, particularly ones mostly made up of Black and Brown residents, were quick to endorse Lazere, who is White. Lazere is the favorite in the progressive bloc, due to his policy positions and advocacy. But Garcia doesn’t buy it. He points out that several candidates align with Lazere on many issues, making reference to Post’s voter guide.
But Garcia also recognizes that, unlike Lazere, he is not pushing the Council to dip into its reserve funds so residents and businesses can better weather the pandemic. He shares some of Council Chairman Phil Mendelson‘s views on Lazere. Having lived in D.C. since 1980, Garcia remembers when Congress appointed an outside panel to oversee a city in financial trouble (also known as the control board).
The candidates drove around D.C. eager to sway the voters who remain undecided. Sometimes, they caught a break. District resident Lea Adams-Ashby approached Palacio as the candidate stood outside Marie Reed Elementary School in Ward 1 to tell her she got her second vote. Adams-Ashby, who was wearing a Marcus Goodwin t-shirt, says she had a “gut feeling” about Palacio.
“It wasn’t the issues,” Adams-Ashby says. “It was the force of personality … Some people are voting for someone because he is White. I can vote for someone who is Latina just because I wanted to.”