Salah Czapary
Salah Czapary is running to unseat Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau. Credit: Rudney Novaes

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Salah Czapary, the former D.C. police officer running to knock off Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, has had one heck of a month so far.

He entered the race back in February, looking like a long shot to unseat the two-term lawmaker, considering he was an unknown in D.C. politics challenging an incumbent who had already amassed a hefty campaign war chest. But two things happened in May that started earning Czapary a lot of attention.

For one, he posted a campaign finance report on May 10 that showed him raising a decent amount of cash—Czapary reported a haul of more than $85,000 (largely via matching funds from the city’s public financing program). By contrast, Nadeau’s other challenger, ANC Sabel Harris, has seen her fundraising slow down a bit in recent weeks, though she still has a bit more money in the bank than Czapary. (Both still lag far behind Nadeau’s cash reserves.)

The real bombshell came on May 6, when the Washington Post’s editorial board called him the “clear choice” in the Ward 1 race. A Post endorsement isn’t worth what it used to be (just ask Dionne Bussey-Reeder, Marcus Goodwin, or Brandon Todd) but it can still vault a candidate from obscurity into serious contention.

The downside for Czapary, of course, is that the knives come out when you start seeming like a legitimate threat. Nadeau’s progressive allies have started poking around his campaign over the last few days and turned up some concerning findings.

Foremost among the recent revelations about Czapary’s campaign is his choice of a campaign chair, a largely ceremonial position that is nonetheless an important early signifier of the candidate’s roots in the ward (and someone they hope will raise money during the campaign). Czapary’s choice for that role was William Pack, listed as a Chevy Chase resident.

Some internet sleuths (DC for Democracy Chair Alex Dodds chief among them) quickly identified Pack as the son of Michael Pack, a Trump appointee, close ally of Steve Bannon, and former CEO of the Claremont Institute. If you’re not familiar with it, there’s quite a bit of evidence suggesting it’s truly one of the more deranged right-wing organizations out there, and William Pack is listed as a past “Publius Fellow” with the group. Other luminaries to hold that title in the past include U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, Fox News firebrand Laura Ingraham, and conservative commentator Ben Shapiro.

Claremont has, among other fine articles, published Michael Anton’s “The Flight 93 Election,” a 2016 essay arguing conservatives needed to “charge the cockpit” and vote for Donald Trump to prevent the catastrophic potential of Hillary Clinton becoming president. Its stable of authors were also frequent cheerleaders for the nullification of the 2020 election results, as led by senior fellow John Eastman, a lawyer who worked closely with Trump on strategies to help him remain in power.

One imagines it would be difficult to work at Claremont without espousing some of those same beliefs (even if the younger Pack was just following in his father’s footsteps). William Pack is listed as a current employee of the Energy Policy Research Foundation, a group that mainly seems to advocate for fracking and other methods for extracting fossil fuels, so his political leanings look pretty clear. For instance, one 2018 paper he’s listed as co-authoring is titled “Untapped Potential: Why Developing the [Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] Still Makes Sense.” Trump cleared the way for oil drilling there, though the Biden administration reversed that move because of its potential effects on Alaskan wildlife (and the climate as a whole).

Read through Czapary’s campaign pledges, most of which place him firmly to the left of even some sitting councilmembers, and it seems like an unusual pairing. So what was Pack doing chairing this campaign?

Czapary says he met Pack in his time working at MPD. Pack was a volunteer with the department’s “reserve officer corps,” which Czapary helped manage for a few years (he quit the department before running for office, but by then he’d moved up to serve as a special assistant to Chief Robert Contee). During their whole friendship, Czapary says he “took it for granted that [Pack] was a Democrat.”

He says he only discovered his Republican connections on Sunday, as things started to circulate online, and asked Pack to step down immediately afterward. Czapary’s since replaced him with Paul Kugelman, an attorney who lives in Ward 1.

“We did that because I recognize that there’s a need to have someone with a proven record in the Democratic Party to lead this campaign,” Czapary says.

Loose Lips doesn’t find that argument particularly convincing, considering Pack’s father made national news for his ties to Trump. LL hopes that Czapary at least thought to Google the man he was about to make his campaign chair, a step that would make Pack’s political persuasion perfectly clear.

And then there’s Czapary’s campaign treasurer: Erik Regensburg, another MPD reserve corps officer. Older versions of the District’s voter file appear to show him registered as Republican as recently as November 2021. Czapary says he’s a registered independent and he has not asked him to leave the campaign: A copy of the voter file from March confirms this, so Regensburg may well have switched his registration. But taken together with Pack’s presence as chair, it sure does seem like an interesting association.

Czapary says that any insinuation that this proves he’s anything less than a committed Democrat is more about his recent success than anything based in fact (he suspects Nadeau has seen a poll showing the race tightening, though he hasn’t seen one himself). He notes that, as an Arab American gay man, he’s always associated more with Democratic causes, supporting Clinton and Joe Biden in the last two presidential elections and progressive favorite Ed Lazere in the 2020 at-large Council race.

Yet the voter file reveals problems for Czapary, too: It shows he was registered as an independent as of January, switching his party affiliation just before jumping into the race. Nadeau is reluctant to discuss the drama surrounding Czapary’s campaign team, but she will happily take a whack at this facet of his background.

“I became a Democrat when I was first eligible to vote, sometime around 1998,” Nadeau says. “And that wasn’t a political choice for my career, it was because I truly believe in Democratic values … It’s important for people to know what they’re getting.”

Council candidates switch between independent and Democratic registrations all the time for at-large races, considering D.C.’s rules setting aside two seats for the non-majority party, but it’s a lot less common to see that in a ward race. The city’s primaries are closed, so most people engaged in local politics will register as a Democrat simply for the chance to vote in those extremely consequential nominating contests regardless of where they fall on the ideological spectrum. And, theoretically, you would hope that someone aspiring to be one of the city’s 13 councilmembers would at least have a history of participating in these local elections.

Czapary explains this development as an outgrowth of his upbringing in the Baháʼí faith, a religion that prohibits its adherents from engaging in partisan politics. Czapary says he hasn’t practiced in some time, but that past informed his decision to register as an independent at first. Plus, his time in the MPD (where officers are generally barred from political activities) convinced him it was better to maintain an appearance of independence, even though he always preferred Democrats.

Admittedly, running for the Democratic nomination is quite the departure from his nonpartisan past, but Czapary says he decided to make the change because he felt Nadeau’s leadership was lacking and “change is not a spectator sport.” But where do he and Nadeau really differ on the issues?

Much like Harris, there doesn’t seem to be much daylight between Czapary and Nadeau on the big questions facing Ward 1 voters. The Post heralded his “smart ideas” on building trust in the police department while criticizing Nadeau on the topic, but they broadly agree on most public safety issues—Czapary wants to expand the use of violence interruption in the ward, get more mental health professionals responding alongside police to 911 calls, and see the Department of Transportation more involved in traffic enforcement instead of MPD. He believes MPD may well need more officers to improve response times, but he’s skeptical of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s claims that 4,000 officers is a “magic number” that will solve the department’s problems.

To top it all off, Czapary now lists on his campaign website a pair of policy positions that wouldn’t look out of place on Nadeau’s platform: His support for the redevelopment of Bruce Monroe Park into housing that will replace some homes being torn down at the nearby Park Morton public housing complex (one of Nadeau’s pet issues for years now) and his backing of “current proposed legislation” to ban D.C. from cooperating with out-of-state efforts to punish people seeking or providing an abortion. The councilmember to write that legislation was, of course, Nadeau herself.

“Perhaps the reason that I draw opponents who agree with me on these issues is because they are widely held beliefs by the people of Ward 1,” Nadeau says. “They’ve seen me working on them and see that people care about them. I’ve been leading on them.”

Czapary says he’s “not afraid to agree with the incumbent” on these issues. Fundamentally, he believes his roughly six years at MPD set him apart as the better candidate to simultaneously “partner” with police and pursue reforms—Nadeau, for her part, counters that she already has deep relationships with MPD brass in the ward and has much more experience pursuing changes to the department.

So where does this all leave Czapary? If his case is he’ll support nearly all of the same measures as Nadeau would on the Council, except he comes with less experience and some eyebrow-raising conservative associates, it’s difficult to imagine Ward 1 Democrats finding his pitch particularly persuasive.

“I wake up every day and I take the position that I’m in an uphill battle,” Czapary says. “But if you look at our fundraising, you see a real mandate that people are looking for change.”