Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh Credit: Darrow Montgomery/FILE

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As the Ward 3 Council field began to take shape a few weeks back, it could be tempting to reduce things down to a contest between D.C.’s political establishment and its activist left. But the latest fundraising numbers suggest things won’t be quite so simple in the crowded race.

There is no denying that Phil Thomas and Matt Frumin still look like two of the stronger candidates in the nine-person contest, setting up a proxy battle of sorts between Mayor Muriel Bowser and At-Large Councilmember Robert White. Frumin, formerly White’s mayoral campaign chair and a longtime supporter of the at-large councilmember, has amassed the largest campaign war chest by a substantial margin and continues to post robust fundraising totals, per the latest finance reports covering March 11 to April 10. Thomas, chair of the Ward 3 Democrats and a Bowser administration vet, isn’t too far behind.

But a third candidate has started showing more financial muscle recently as well: Tricia Duncan, president of the Palisades Community Association. She topped the entire field in fundraising from District residents over the month-long period, pulling in $6,750 from 159 different contributors. Frumin managed $3,266 from 75 donors, while Thomas raked in $2,145 from 54 people.

Since all three are using the city’s public financing program, those contributions will be multiplied by five via District dollars, making this perhaps the most important indicator of financial strength in local races. Frumin raised the most money in total for the fundraising period (about $112,100 to Thomas’ $71,600 and Duncan’s $67,800) but that came largely via matching funds. Duncan’s payday from this haul will show up in the coming weeks.

While she still lags behind the others in cash on hand—Duncan has nearly $63,000 socked away compared to Thomas’ roughly $74,000 and Frumin’s $119,000—it’s clear that she has the fundraising prowess to perhaps make this a true three-way race. Her previous report was strong as well, as she raised just over $8,000 to Frumin’s $17,900 and Thomas’ $10,300.

No other candidate has yet to come anywhere close to that trio in fundraising. Absent any polling—a rare occurrence in a ward race—it sure looks like a safe bet that those three are the top contenders as of this moment. Of course, an endorsement from outgoing Councilmember Mary Cheh could shake things up at any time. Maybe Attorney General Karl Racine could get involved too, as Duncan said she met with him a few weeks ago.

Cheh herself was able to stand out from a crowded field in her first race thanks to support from her predecessor, Kathy Patterson, as well as an endorsement from the Washington Post, back when the paper’s editorial page held substantial sway in D.C. elections. In Ward 3, it still might.

So who else could have the money to make a splash in the race? There are slim pickings among the other candidates, at least so far.

Former advisory neighborhood commissioner Deirdre Brown is a bit of a wildcard, as the lone candidate using traditional fundraising in the race (high schooler Henry Cohen has pledged not to spend more than $500 on his campaign, exempting him from reporting requirements). She gave herself $30,000 and has raised nearly $10,000 on top of that, as of March 10 (she reports her finances on a different timeline from the Fair Elections candidates). As an executive at a title company, Brown may well have deep enough pockets to keep funding her campaign, too, but she only had about $10,000 in the bank as of last month.

Monte Monash, until recently the chair of the DC Public Library Board of Trustees and a D.C. politics veteran, is the only other candidate to crack five figures in cash on hand. She raised a total of $3,668 for the fundraising period, but that includes the $1,678 she loaned herself and just $1,030 in donations from D.C. residents. Her first fundraising period upon launching her campaign was much stronger, where she pulled in $8,260 (and loaned herself another $1,500).

There isn’t too much else to report from the rest of the field. Longtime Vince Gray aide Eric Goulet has about $9,300 in the bank and raised $1,160 from D.C. residents. ANC Beau Finley reported $7,200 on hand and $715 in D.C. contributions (though, unlike the others, his report only covered fundraising from March 31 to April 10), while fellow ANC Ben Bergmann has just over $1,000 in the bank and reported $945 from local donors.

As for the mayoral candidates at the top of the ticket, the race remains pretty much unchanged financially from where it stood last month. White continues to raise money at a decent clip, pulling in more than $34,400 from 447 D.C. residents and logging more than $971,000 in the bank. But Bowser still bested him with $39,000 raised from 339 people, and $3.1 million socked away. Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White had just over $2,500 in the bank as of March 10, but he has yet to file a report covering his most recent fundraising.