Ward 3 Council signs
A bevy of campaign signs now decorate Ward 3's street posts, like this one in Glover Park. Credit: Sarah Marloff

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Mail-in voting has started, and D.C.’s all-important Democratic primary is just weeks away on June 21. (Early voting begins June 10 at more than 30 locations across the District.) In a perfect world, you’d have read each and every one of City Paper’s riveting stories on the top races on the ballot throughout this election season, but in case you haven’t, we’ve tried to sum up everything you need to know about each one, as well as the wildest and weirdest tales from the campaign trail. Check back each day this week for a story on another race.

The last time there was an open Council race in Ward 3, nine candidates faced off in an unpredictable free-for-all. Sixteen years later, history is repeating itself.

This time around it’s Councilmember Mary Cheh leaving after a long tenure in office (instead of Kathy Patterson), and once more there are nine contenders of varying levels of viability angling to replace her. The two races even have one candidate in common: longtime Council staffer Eric Goulet, back to try and improve upon his eighth-place showing in the 2006 primary.

A lot has changed about the ward since then. The exclusivity of its overwhelmingly wealthy and White neighborhoods has attracted real attention from Mayor Muriel Bowser and the rest of the political establishment, and there have been sustained community conversations about how to spur the construction of new affordable housing there for the first time in many years. Some parts of the ward have already started to see new development (a real rarity in these sections of Northwest) while others are planned for construction in the near future, and there is no denying that this reality has changed the tenor of the Council race.

But a lot has stayed the same there, too. There’s still plenty of resistance to change, whether it comes in the form of new bike lanes or new residents—anxiety over the arrival of housing voucher holders in some buildings along Connecticut Avenue NW has been especially high, as evidenced by controversial comments from both Cheh and Goulet on the subject. The ward’s schools remain some of the best in the city, yet concerns about classroom conditions (and the potential construction of a new high school on MacArthur Boulevard) have dominated local politics as well.

Cheh gave every indication that she wanted to spend another four years tackling these problems (and even started raising money for a re-election bid) before abruptly reversing course and announcing her plans to retire in February. The compressed nature of the campaign has perhaps added to the uncertainty, and kept some long-shot candidates in the running who might have otherwise dropped out over the course of a longer contest, so it is truly difficult to tell who has a leg up when it comes to replacing her.

Most D.C. politicos watching the race generally agree there are two broad tiers of candidates: The legit contenders and everyone else. Some may quibble with the inclusion of one candidate in one tier or another, but most agree that there are between three and four who could realistically win in the crowded field.

Matt Frumin, Cheh’s campaign treasurer and a longtime backer of At-Large Councilmember Robert White, entered the race as a presumptive favorite, and he’s shown the fundraising prowess to remain a leading contender. He has a long history of advocacy around schools in the ward (particularly on the renovation of Jackson-Reed High School) and that has certainly earned him some credibility on an important issue for Ward 3 voters. Plus, Frumin has added work on the first project to win a key affordable housing loan in the ward, giving him a feather in his cap on another subject that’s become central in the race. There are even rumors of an early poll that showed Frumin with a clear lead over the other candidates (albeit, with a lot of undecided voters still).

He’s not staking out the most boldly progressive positions possible, but he has nonetheless attracted support from a decent swath of the city’s left-leaning groups. Some have come to view him as the most progressive candidate with a path to victory (as the Jews United for Justice Campaign Fund put it in their endorsement of Frumin).

If he can coalesce that support, it could be powerful ammunition in a crowded field where a candidate may only need 15 percent of the vote to emerge victorious. But he’s far from an overwhelming favorite. Why couldn’t he earn Cheh’s endorsement, for instance, given his history with working with her? That honor went to Palisades activist Tricia Duncan, who has her own history of schools advocacy. She’s raised enough money to look like a strong candidate, and Cheh’s support will surely get her noticed.

Goulet has to be in the conversation, too, by dint of his Washington Post endorsement. He has effectively claimed the more conservative side of the spectrum, hewing closely to Bowser’s positions and earning the backing of the pro-charter Democrats for Education Reform and even the D.C. Police Union. And while those credentials will undoubtedly appeal to a certain segment of Ward 3 voters, this rightward tilt has earned him plenty of criticism from his fellow candidates (though he sees this as evidence that his eight rivals want to blunt his momentum in the race).

“There’s a real risk that Eric wins despite being out of step with voters on a number of issues,” says Ben Bergmann, an advisory neighborhood commissioner who has struggled to join the top group of candidates but has nonetheless started running negative ads against Goulet. “He’s running as a yes man for the business community.”

Goulet’s success could crowd out Phil Thomas, chair of the Ward 3 Democrats and a Bowser administration vet who figured to grab the moderate lane of the primary. He could still be a factor, however, based on his own strong fundraising and field organization—he claims his campaign has knocked on just about every door in the ward. Goulet’s pitch relies more on his budgetary experience while Thomas is leaning on his roots in nitty-gritty community work, but Loose Lips imagines they’re fighting over similar voters.

Can anyone else enter the conversation as a top contender?

Monte Monash, another Bowser pal, entered the race with some buzz but could get eclipsed by similar candidates in Goulet and Thomas (her past as a registered Republican isn’t exactly helping matters). Bergmann and fellow ANC Beau Finley have both earned plaudits from progressives and urbanist groups, but may not have the money to marshal serious support.

Former ANC Deirdre Brown and high school student Henry Cohen round out the crowded field, and while the latter has earned lots of good will with his maturity and good humor, it would be a surprise to see either one make much of a splash.

Back in 2006, the Post and Patterson combined to lend their legitimacy to Cheh and put her over the hump. This time around, the paper of record and the outgoing councilmember are split. Which endorsement will matter more?

The city has notably taken a more leftward turn overall in the past 16 years, making progressives a more valuable voting bloc. Could the candidate to capture them eke out a win?

In less than two weeks, we’ll find out.

Other stories you might have missed

Phil Mendelson’s Eleventh Hour Redistricting Intervention Has Some in Ward 3 Fuming

Cheh Moves to Strip Funding from Woodley Park Main Street Following Allegations of Agency Mismanagement

Candidate fast facts

Ben Bergmann

Title: ANC 3D chair

Age: 32

Neighborhood: Cathedral Heights

Key endorsements: Greater Greater Washington, D.C. YIMBYs

Most interesting questionnaire answer: Bergmann practically wrote an essay in answering GGWash’s question about how to produce more housing in the ward, outlining the potential for a new process to fast-track certain developments for zoning approval.

Deirdre Brown

Title: Former advisory neighborhood commissioner

Age: 50

Neighborhood: Friendship Heights

Key endorsements: N/A

Most interesting questionnaire answer: Brown told GLAA that she supports the “full decriminalization of sex work between consenting adults,” one of her more progressive positions.

Henry Cohen

Title: High school student

Age: 18

Neighborhood: Glover Park

Key endorsements: N/A

Most interesting questionnaire answer: Cohen told the Post that he does not believe that people experiencing homelessness should be forced to leave tent encampments once they’ve been offered housing, the only Ward 3 candidate to give that answer and one of just five to say so across the entire city.

Tricia Duncan

Title: Former Palisades Citizens’ Association president

Age: 50

Neighborhood: Palisades

Key endorsements: Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh

Most interesting questionnaire answer: Duncan told GGWash that she’d support amending the little-used law giving the city the authority to purchase buildings to keep them affordable, with an eye on having D.C. officials consider “tenant displacement if they did not purchase the building” as a new criteria.

Beau Finley

Title: ANC 3C chair

Age: 41

Neighborhood: Cleveland Park

Key endorsements: Cleveland Park Smart Growth

Most interesting questionnaire answer: Finley has told several groups that he supports using the Housing Production Trust Fund, which is generally used to incentivize new housing construction, to make units set to be delivered via the city’s inclusionary zoning policy more affordable to poorer renters.

Matt Frumin

Title: Former advisory neighborhood commissioner, Council candidate

Age: 63

Neighborhood: American University Park

Key endorsements: Ward 3 State Board of Education Rep. Ruth Wattenberg, Washington Teachers Union, Jews United for Justice Campaign Fund, Washington D.C. Firefighters Local 36, 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

Most interesting questionnaire answer: Frumin told the Hardy Middle School PTO that this year’s set of school budgets is “obscene” for setting up a “fiscal cliff” of money set to disappear in future years, and pledged to completely rework the school budgeting process.

Eric Goulet

Title: Former Council staffer, budget director

Age: 45

Neighborhood: Palisades

Key endorsements: Washington Post editorial board, Democrats for Education Reform, D.C. Association of Realtors, D.C. Police Union

Most interesting questionnaire answer: Goulet told the Washington Area Bicyclist Association that he wants to increase Metro’s dedicated funding and serve on WMATA’s governing board if he’s elected; the Council has generally shied away from appointing its own members to the board in the wake of the Jack Evans scandal.

Monte Monash

Title: Former chair, DC Public Library Board of Trustees

Age: 51

Neighborhood: American University Park

Key endorsements: N/A

Most interesting questionnaire answer: Monash told the Post she would not support any replacement of on-street parking with bike or bus lanes, making her one of just two candidates across the entire city to say so.

Phil Thomas

Title: Ward 3 Democrats chair; former director, Mayor’s Office of the Clean City

Age: 36

Neighborhood: Palisades

Key endorsements: Run for Something

Most interesting questionnaire answer: Thomas told the Washington Area Bicyclist Association that he’d support the city building 10 miles of new protected bike lanes every year, citing his experience being hit by someone’s car door while riding his bike.