Jaffe: New city council game: Who wants to be mayor?

Jaffe: New city council game: Who wants to be mayor?

July 10, 2012, Harry Jaffe, Columnist, The Washington Examiner

News flash: Ward 3 Council Member Mary Cheh announced Tuesday she has acquiesced to demands from constituents that she run for mayor.

"Yes," she said, flashing her bright blue eyes and flicking the brown curl from her forehead, "I have decided to establish an exploratory committee."

Just kidding. Cheh has not announced for mayor — yet. If she does she would be joining a crowded field of her colleagues.

Tuesday was a busy one at city hall. The council jammed its final day of the session with legislation and ceremonial awards. And another one of Mayor Vince Gray’s campaign associates took the fall. Jeanne Clarke Harris, a marketing executive, pleaded guilty to three counts, including one for laundering contributions to Gray’s mayoral campaign.

How could a guy known for micro-managing his life not know his buddies were running a "shadow campaign" that had raised and spent more than six hundred thousand bucks off the books? "Everyone assumes he won’t finish the term," one lobbyist told me.

At that moment I looked up to see 10 members sitting on the council dais. Four were in various stages of running for mayor: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Jack Evans and Michael Brown. The campaign for mayor has begun two years early because Gray is weakened from the scandals. And he might be forced to resign, which would set up a special election within a few months.

"Then it’s anybody’s game," a council aide told me.

At this early stage, let’s assess the four prospective candidates. I am factoring in the strong chance that Phil Mendelson wins the vacant council chair, which begs the question: Can D.C. elect a white council chairman and mayor? Perhaps not.

Tommy Wells: The Capital Hill council member has to be considered the long shot. His base among urbanists is narrow, though his strong environmental and ethics records would appeal citywide. He might be too nice to be mayor.

Jack Evans: Representing a swath of D.C. from Georgetown through downtown to Shaw, Evans might need a bank shot to get in. The veteran council member’s best chance is in a special election where he tops a field that splinters the vote. No doubt he’s capable of running the government. Don’t count him out.

Michael Brown: Though Brown can’t keep count of his personal finances, he has appeal on name and looks alone. He would draw votes from the black middle class, despite his tax and ethical problems. He has been savvy in cultivating a city-wide base. No, he has not hinted on a run, but we all know he would jump at the chance.

Muriel Bowser: The Ward 4 council member gets the Fenty bounce. Former Mayor Adrian Fenty would endorse her and bring voters who think he got rooked. She’s built her base on strong constituent services. She passed strong ethics legislation. She’s an appealing candidate who could cross racial lines. But does she have Fenty’s fire?

Meanwhile, it’s not too late for Cheh. She introduced a bill to bury electric lines. She could run on that.

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