Five Lessons From D.C.’s Elections (Plus One Bonus Lesson)

Five Lessons From D.C.’s Elections (Plus One Bonus Lesson)
Posted by Alan Suderman on Apr. 11, 2012 at 6:08 pm, Washington City Paper

The mood at Vincent Orange’s house on election night last week sounds like it was pretty tense.

As election returns trickled in, Orange and challenger Sekou Biddle exchanged small leads. With nearly 80 percent of precincts reporting, Orange was down about 1,000 votes. At that point, Orange later told supporters at his almost-victory party, “the Internet went down in the house, we ran to the office” where he and his two sons furiously started crunching numbers on the uncounted precincts.

Orange says a close look at what votes were still left showed most of them would go his way. “We got this,” he and his sons started saying. And when the final tally came in, “we just went crazy.”

“It was just a great moment for us that we will always share. Just never give up, never give up,” a relieved-looking Orange told the San Antonio Grill that night.

Orange isn’t the official winner yet—there are absentee and provisional ballots left to count, which will be done Friday—but he’s the favorite to prevail in one of the closest squeakers the District has seen in a long time. The moral of Orange’s almost victory isn’t an after school special-esque takeaway on the importance of perseverance, though, no matter what VO says. Instead, here are LL’s 5 lessons from Tuesday’s results:

  • Lesson 1: A lot of voters are pissed.

Forget what you may have read in the paper of record saying the District’s year of scandals “had so little practical impact at the polls.” Sure, all the incumbents besides Orange won easily. But the fact that the hapless Biddle came so close (and yes, he could still technically pull this off), propelled by angry voters looking to throw the bums—or more specifically, Orange—out is nothing short of a small miracle.

Orange has not been accused of any wrongdoing, nor is there any indication that he’s under federal investigation like Mayor Vince Gray and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown. But his close connections to Jeff Thompson, the Medicaid contractor whose home and offices were raided by the feds a month before the election, didn’t help him this spring.

Weeks before the election, Orange was forced by media pressure to release a batch of money order donations linked to Thompson with sequential serial numbers and similar handwriting. Even Orange, who has received more than $100,000 from Thompson and his network of donors, now says the money orders are “suspicious.”

The Thompson connection hurt Orange enough to let Biddle’s underfunded, disorganized effort make things close. Consider the deficits Biddle faced. In last year’s special election, Orange outspent Biddle $280,000 to $200,000. This year, the most recent campaign finance forms show Orange raising nearly $210,000 to Biddle’s $90,000.

Last year, Biddle also enjoyed strong union support, including mailers and poll workers. This year, Biddle was endorsed by the hotel workers’ union, but got significantly less legwork from the group. The reason, says one union official, is Biddle’s mess of a campaign. “Sekou never managed to find someone who was a good fit for the campaign and who knew how to run a solid operation.” says the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the race.

Biddle’s supporters were dismayed when he hired Vicky Wilcher to be his campaign manager. A former head of the D.C. Republican Party who also worked for Orange, Wilcher was arrested last year after mistakenly trying to bring a gun into the District’s offices at One Judiciary Square. Biddle and Wilcher parted ways early, but some of his supporters say her hiring in the first place was evidence of a certain level of dysfunction that persisted throughout the campaign.

One progressive city activist, who works in District government and asked not to be named, says Biddle had “multiple” meetings with supporters who were concerned that his campaign lacked direction and focus.

Some Biddle supporters also fault him for relying too heavily on the endorsement of the Washington Post, which Biddle certainly did try to milk for all it was worth (and more). You may have also noticed that Biddle was also endorsed by LL’s editors at Washington City Paper, not that that helped him any

Biddle says he’s already proved plenty of naysayers wrong by running a competitive campaign on a shoestring budget. He adds that his campaign was “extremely disciplined” with the limited resources it had.

Another problem? A charm deficit. Biddle has many positive qualities, but political star power isn’t one of them. He just doesn’t inspire supporters the way some pols can.

As evidence, look no further than the slightly disgruntled group of progressives who backed Peter Shapiro in the race. Shapiro, whose most recent political gig was as a councilmember in Prince George’s County, for crying out loud, won the endorsement of the influential blog Greater Greater Washington and a vocal group of activists. In the end, Shapiro only won 10 percent of the vote. But Biddle’s inability to attract and mobilize a constituency that was as eager as anyone to vote Orange out shows what a weak candidate he was.

“To say he’s only 543 votes out is pretty impressive,” says the city-employed activist.

Indeed it is, and woe to any politician who doesn’t understand Biddle’s strong showing.

  • Lesson 2: It’s better to be lucky than good.

Of course, not all of Biddle’s supporters agree that he ran a crummy campaign. Documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner, a Biddle backer, says blame for an Orange victory would lie with Shapiro for not dropping out: “Sekou’s campaign was not the problem.”

To say some Biddle supporters are ticked off at Shapiro would be an understatement. Kempner alternated between calling him the Ralph Nader and the Newt Gingrich of D.C. politics (though LL notes that Gingrich isn’t exactly playing the spoiler in the GOP primaries—the District’s iteration of which, by the way, Mitt Romney won handily last week).

Shapiro, whose quixotic bid attracted support from former Orange campaign workers like Andi Pringle and Harold Gist, has ardently denied spoiling anything. But almost all of his votes came from the same wards where Biddle did well.

So it was a lucky break for Orange that Shapiro decided to run, and even luckier still considering the same thing happened last year. In the special election that made him an incumbent, Orange benefited from the fact that four candidates—Biddle, Republican Pat Mara, Bryan Weaver, and Josh Lopez—were all competing against each other for similar bases, while Orange had the mostly African-American voters in Wards 5, 7, and 8 almost all to himself.

Also lucky: Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, who won with 42 percent of the vote. Her two main opponents split 44 percent.

  • Lesson 3: Race matters, even if you pretend it doesn’t.

Compare maps of last Tuesday’s election results and the District’s demographics, and you might think you’re looking at the same map. Predominantly white precincts voted overwhelmingly for Biddle; predominantly black areas voted overwhelmingly for Orange. The results mirror the 2010 mayor’s race.

Yet neither candidate appeared willing to acknowledge the obvious. On election night, Orange told his supporters: “Let’s not break this thing down…This is about us coming together as a people. This is about all the wards.”

And last week Biddle said on the Kojo Nnamdi Show that there may be a racial divide in the city, but he didn’t know for sure, because “I’m not actually interviewing each individual voter to find out who they vote for.”

A full explanation of the District’s racial divide in the voting booth is the stuff of Ph.D. theses, but it’s fair to say African-American voters tend to be more skeptical about claims of wrongdoing by black candidates.

“All of them—the man sets you up,” an Orange voter told the Post on election day. “They check you as soon as you get there.”

  • Lesson 4: Money doesn’t vote.

In 2010, Adrian Fenty showed you can raise $5 million and still lose badly. This year, shadow Senate candidate and ex-con Pete Ross repeated the lesson, spending $200,000 of his own money to get 25 percent of the vote. Total cost to Ross? If he wound up spending all of that money, then nearly $15 per vote. At that rate, he should have just offered to buy lobster rolls for anyone who backed him; it wouldn’t have cost him much more.

  • Lesson 5: Ward 4 is king/queen maker.

As Ward 4 goes, so goes the rest of the city. In the at-large race, the ward—Biddle’s home—ended in a virtual tie between Orange and Biddle, much like the result citywide. In the 2010 mayoral race, the ward went big for Gray (though Fenty lived there) and helped assure his victory. Why is Ward 4 so powerful? Voters there turn out more reliably than elsewhere. In last Tuesday’s at-large race, Ward 4 had 10,758 votes, accounting for more than 20 percent of the total ballots cast, though it only has about 14 percent of the city’s registered Democratic voters.

All of this is good news for Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser, who won reelection with 65 percent of the vote last week. Bowser’s name is on the short list of potential candidates for higher office, either in 2014 or if the feds create a vacancy sometime sooner. If she does run, she’ll have a big base to start with.

The mathematics of Vincent Orange vs. Sekou Biddle

Posted at 03:37 PM ET, 04/04/2012

The mathematics of Vincent Orange vs. Sekou Biddle

By Mike DeBonis

Absentee ballots are likely to cut into Orange’s lead, but not completely. (Sarah L. Voisin – The Washington Post) UPDATED 6:50 P.M.

The Democratic primary race for at-large D.C. Council remains too close to call with 543 votes — or 1.1 percent of the Election Day and early-voting ballots — separating incumbent Vincent B. Orange from challenger Sekou Biddle.

But according to the latest figures available, the margin appears large enough that the ballots remaining to be counted are unlikely to allow Biddle to overcome Orange’s lead.

The Board of Elections and Ethics has not released the number of outstanding curbside and provisional ballots — which include, for instance, voters who took advantage of same-day registration and voters who moved and had to register a change of address. Some preliminary figures should be released later today.

But up-to-date absentee ballot figures provided by the board show the total number of Democratic absentee ballots issued at 3,348. That includes 32 “emergency” absentee Democratic ballots issued Tuesday, mostly to residents of the St. Mary’s Court senior housing complex in Foggy Bottom.

However, 147 Democratic absentee ballots have already been rejected for various reasons, including that they were spoiled or returned undeliverable.

The board had received absentee ballots from 1,554 Democrats through Tuesday, leaving 1,647 at large.

How could this affect the race? In the aggregate, more absentee ballots have been sent to and returned from Biddle-friendly precincts.

By taking the vote percentages Biddle and Orange received in each precinct, then applying those to the number of Democratic absentee ballots sent to and received from each precinct, one can estimate what the absentee vote margin might be.

By my calculations — accounting for the rejected ballots and applying the same 3.02 percent blank-ballot rate seen in the Election Day results — Biddle can expect to close the margin with absentee votes, but not completely.

With the 1,554 votes already accepted by the board, Biddle can expect to improve his margin by about 84 votes. Should all 3,201 potential absentee votes be accepted, he can expect to pick up as many as 420 votes, given the geography of the ballots.

But there are caveats galore here. First, there’s no guarantee that the Election Day vote percentages will apply to the absentee vote. Second, there’s no way that all of the outstanding ballots will be returned by April 13; typically only half to three quarters of absentee ballots issued are postmarked by Election Day and received in time to be counted.

What Biddle can legitimately hope for is that the uncounted votes close the margin enough to trigger an automatic recount — provided for in city regulations if “certified election results show a margin of victory for a candidate that is less than one percent (1%) of the total votes cast for that office” — and that the recount turns up some sort of anomaly that breaks in his favor.

UPDATE, 6:50 P.M.: The board has thus far identified 3,867 provisional and curbside ballots. These are much rougher figures, offered on a ward-by-ward, not precinct-by-precinct analysis.

That said, these ballots are spread more evenly across the city than the absentees, meaning they more closely match the Election Day turnout. Applying the same analysis above but on a ward-by-ward basis, Orange can expect to add about 12 votes to his margin if all 3,867 are counted.

But they won’t be: Besides same-day registration and change-of-address ballots, a good number of the provisionals are likely to be change-of-party ballots — prohibited in the city’s closed primary system.

By Mike DeBonis | 03:37 PM ET, 04/04/2012

Unofficial Election Results

Based on unofficial results from the DC Board of Elections and Ethics, there appear to be few surprises in the District’s Democratic primary. The exception is the very tight race between incumbent At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange and challenger Sekou Biddle…

Unofficial Election Results
District of Columbia Primary Election – April 3, 2012

Unofficial election results will be available beginning after 9:00 PM on April 3 – Any data appearing before 8:00 PM on April 3 are strictly for testing purposes. Unofficial results do not include absentee and provisional ballots that will be counted on April 13, 2012.

Candidate Party Votes Percent
Barack Obama DEM 23,831 96.24%
Uncommitted DEM 465 1.877%
UNDER VOTES DEM 305 1.231%
WRITE-IN DEM 159 0.642%
See Ward Details
Eleanor Holmes Norton DEM 22,297 90.04%
UNDER VOTES DEM 1,789 7.224%
WRITE-IN DEM 673 2.717%
See Ward Details
Sekou Biddle DEM 9,863 39.83%
Vincent Orange DEM 9,487 38.31%
Peter Shapiro DEM 2,753 11.11%
E. Gail Anderson Holness DEM 1,776 7.172%
UNDER VOTES DEM 724 2.923%
WRITE-IN DEM 147 0.593%
See Ward Details
Jack Evans DEM 1,426 79.70%
UNDER VOTES DEM 235 13.13%
WRITE-IN DEM 126 7.043%
See Ward Details
Muriel E. Bowser DEM 2,171 68.22%
Renee L. Bowser DEM 368 11.56%
Max Skolnik DEM 329 10.33%
Baruti Jahi DEM 119 3.739%
Judi Jones DEM 80 2.514%
Calvin "Gurley" DEM 66 2.074%
WRITE-IN DEM 5 0.157%
See Ward Details
Yvette M. Alexander DEM 1,841 42.00%
Tom Brown DEM 954 21.76%
Kevin B. Chavous DEM 916 20.89%
William Rev. Bill Bennett II DEM 496 11.31%
Dorothy Douglas DEM 100 2.281%
Monica L. Johnson DEM 24 0.547%
WRITE-IN DEM 20 0.456%
See Ward Details
Marion Barry DEM 1,978 73.86%
Jacque D. Patterson DEM 229 8.551%
S.S. Sandra Seegars DEM 204 7.617%
Natalie Williams DEM 151 5.638%
Darrell Danny Gaston DEM 97 3.622%
WRITE-IN DEM 7 0.261%
See Ward Details
Michael D. Brown DEM 14,136 57.08%
Pete Ross DEM 6,453 26.06%
UNDER VOTES DEM 3,692 14.90%
WRITE-IN DEM 478 1.930%
See Ward Details
Nate Bennett-Fleming DEM 18,468 74.58%
UNDER VOTES DEM 5,685 22.95%
WRITE-IN DEM 608 2.455%
See Ward Details

D.C. Council candidates scramble for primary votes

D.C. Council candidates scramble for primary votes

By Mike DeBonis and Tim Craig, Washington Post, Published: April 1

The driver on Benning Road NE cried out to D.C. Council candidate Tom Brown, standing in front of his modest campaign headquarters Sunday: “What you up to?”

“Countdown! Countdown! Countdown!” Brown shouted back.

With hours dwindling before Tuesday’s District primaries, candidates scrambled across the city hunting for votes on foot, in the mail and on wheels. Brown’s Democratic race for the Ward 7 council seat stands to be one of the election’s most competitive, along with the at-large Democratic council race that includes incumbent Vincent B. Orange.

Brown is one of four candidates trying to unseat five-year member Yvette M. Alexander, and he has seen a surge of support in recent weeks, picking up major endorsements from newspapers, labor and business groups.

He tried to solidify his support Sunday by knocking on doors after attending three Palm Sunday church services and doing a radio interview. Alexander attended Sunday Mass at her home parish, Holy Redeemer in Ward 6, and spent time with friends and family a day after organizing a motorcade of more than a dozen vehicles through her home ward’s streets.

Palm Sunday, she said, was a “friends and family day,” light on campaigning. “Tomorrow is another day,” she said. “We haven’t wrapped it up. We’re still going hard.”

Also running are Kevin B. Chavous, a Hillcrest lawyer and son of a former council member; William Bennett II, a Deanwood minister; and Dorothy Douglas, a Deanwood activist and school board member. A small group of 1,400 registered Republicans in the ward will also vote in a rare contested GOP primary, between activist Ron Moten and businessman Don Folden Sr.

In an election in which most observers expect that fewer than 50,000 will vote, 6,051 voters had already cast ballots at early voting locations that closed after Saturday’s balloting.

A tough race has emerged in Ward 8, where former mayor Marion Barry is facing hard-charging Democratic challengers in his campaign for a third consecutive council term. Races in other wards are less competitive, with incumbents Jack Evans of Ward 2 and Muriel Bowser of Ward 4 expected to win their Democratic primaries handily.

Voters will also choose party nominees for president, although no surprises are expected: President Obama is running unopposed in the Democratic primary, and on the GOP side, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is heavily favored to secure the 16 delegates up for grabs. Romney’s chief rival, Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, did not attempt to qualify for the ballot in the District.

The final hours of the Democratic at-large contest have turned into a grudge match between the incumbent and Sekou Biddle, who briefly filled the seat last year before losing to Orange in an April special election.

Former Prince George’s County Council member Peter Shapiro and Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner E. Gail Anderson Holness are also vying for the seat, and the expected low turnout has kept the citywide race fluid.

On Saturday, Shapiro and his wife, Julia Wright, took on the grueling task of weeding out potential voters at Eastern Market, a hub for the District’s transient population.

Orange is expected to rack up large margins in his home base of Ward 5 and east of the Anacostia River. With Biddle and Shapiro both competing heavily for votes in more affluent neighborhoods, there is considerable risk that they could split the anti-Orange vote.

In an indication that turnout could be highest in the city’s western end, statistics released by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics show that more than a quarter of the early votes were cast at a polling place in Ward 3, amid the city’s most affluent neighborhoods in upper Northwest, followed by a downtown voting location.

Orange vows he’s also pushing for votes in Northwest, as evidenced by a campaign stop he made Saturday in Georgetown. Wearing a button that read, “Vote for the Double O, Obama & Orange,” the council member won over Chris Lapetina near 31st and O streets NW.

“The fact you are here shows you are willing to listen to people’s concerns,” said Lapetina, who is worried about city tax rates.

In North Portal Estates, however, Biddle appeared to be making inroads in a neighborhood that both he and Orange see as vital to their chances. Marva Benjamin said she worries about “the people around Orange.”

“It has to do with me thinking about his priorities,” Benjamin said. “When I’ve seen him, I haven’t been impressed.”

As with most D.C. elections, a big unknown remains — which campaign will have the most effective operation to try to drive up turnout in its favor. Shapiro said he has decided against a second mailer in order to put as many as 300 staffers and volunteers on the streets Tuesday. Orange, who has been endorsed by most local labor organizations, said he will be focusing his resources on key precincts with the help of “union support.”

Biddle, who is not devoting paid staff to a vigorous get-out-the-vote push, said he’s confident in his strategy for what is expected to be a low-turnout election. “The reality is, in a race like this, the people who are coming out to vote are the people coming out to vote,” he said.

Another battle for Marion Barry

Another battle for Marion Barry

By Tim Craig, Washington Post, Published: March 21

When D.C. Council member Marion Barry strolled into his 76th birthday party this month, he was greeted much as he has been at thousands of events across the District for much of his three-decade political career.

Barry, who is seeking a third consecutive term as the Ward 8 council member, beamed as a few dozen well-wishers reached for him, crushed up against him for a picture and shouted encouraging words.

“I’m popular,” Barry told a reporter as he walked through the crowd at his party at Georgena’s in Southeast Washington, formerly known as the Players Lounge.

But when Barry sits down, after the “Barry, Barry” chants subside, the former mayor is an increasingly lonely politician.

Sure, Barry is often joined by former council member Sandra Allen, his campaign manager, as well as his son, Christopher, and godson Dennis Harvey. But Barry is relying on an increasingly shallow pool of core supporters to help him fend off four other candidates in the Democratic primary.

Only one of Barry’s council colleagues, Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D), showed up at his party. Anthony J. Motley, one of Barry’s closest friends and a former campaign manager, now says he is undecided about whether he will vote for him in the April 3 primary.

And Natalie Williams, a former Barry spokeswoman who helped guide him through his most recent, rocky, four-year term, is running against him. Williams said she decided to run because she was convinced that Barry is no longer up to the job.

“I care about his age, his health and his overall well-being,” Williams said. “I said to him: ‘I want you to enjoy the rest of your life. You’ve done enough, and to continue to work when your heart is not in it, it’s a disservice to the community.’ . . . I’ve seen him slow down.”

But there will be no coasting into retirement for the former four-term mayor, who proudly notes that he has won 11 of his past 12 political campaigns, losing only a 1990 at-large council race while he awaited sentencing for a drug conviction.

As Christopher Barry said in a recent interview, politics is in his father’s blood and is “his life,” and it’s “not something he can put on and off like a coat.”

“I’m 76 years of age. I’ve had prostate cancer. I’ve had a kidney transplant. I’ve been a diabetic for 23 years, but the key is my mind,” Marion Barry said in a recent interview. “My mind is as sharp as ever. I’m wiser than ever.”

Indeed, for a good chunk of voters in Ward 8, life without Barry would be like trying to live without the 11th Street bridge.

“The people outside the perimeter don’t have no idea,” said Sandra Lindsay, a Barry supporter. “He’s a man, not infallible, but the ultimate politician.”

Barry is still favored over his opponents in the primary — Williams; former Ward 8 Democratic Party head Jacque D. Patterson; and advisory neighborhood commissioners Sandra Seegars and Darrell Gaston — although few expect him to match the 77 percent showing he had four years ago.

‘Obviously winning’

Despite well-chronicled health problems that leave him weak, Barry remains a formidable campaigner and debater, able to woo crowds with his affable personality and his discourses about what he did for African Americans as mayor in the 1980s.

“Councilman Barry is obviously winning,” said Markus Batchelor, vice president of the Ward 8 Democratic Committee. “There are a lot of qualities each candidate can bring to the job, but it’s pretty tough to tell who will come in second.”

Two of the candidates, Patterson and Seegars, are well-known Ward 8 politicians who have run unsuccessful campaigns against Barry in the past.

Patterson, 47, a former program manager at the Federal City Council, an influential group of business and civic leaders, unsuccessfully challenged Barry in 2004. This year, Patterson is receiving support from progressives who hope to reform and professionalize the council. Seegars, who has lost four previous Ward 8 council races, is well known in Southeast for her activism and criticisms of Barry.

“People are waking up,” Seegars said in describing her chances this year.

Gaston, 25, works for the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services and is part of a generation of activists looking to take the lead in Ward 8, which has had just five council members since home rule was granted in the 1970s.

Williams, 40, a public relations consultant, previously served as Barry’s communications director. She is a single mother and is trying to mobilize women in her campaign. She said she “can talk the talk and walk the walk” in a ward where three out of four households are headed by unmarried mothers and where nearly half of the children live in poverty.

Counting on ‘Barry fatigue’

Barry’s opponents note that only 5,400 of the Ward’s 33,000 registered Democrats voted four years ago. And with 4,000 new residents since redistricting last year, Barry’s opponents remain optimistic. The key to success, they say, is capitalizing on increasing “Barry fatigue,” especially among the growing numbers of college-educate residents in Ward 8.

In 2009, Barry was publicly shamed when the Washington City Paper published details of his sexual relationship with a former girlfriend at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Eight months later, Barry was censured by council colleagues after an independent investigator determined that he had steered city money to several friends and supporters and that he personally had benefited from a city contract that he awarded to a former girlfriend.

Last year, The Washington Post reported that Barry had been driving around for more than six months in a car that had “inactive” tags and was not registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Barry has long benefited politically from suspicions among Ward 8 residents his legal troubles were driven by the media or politically motivated prosecutors. Yet in recent years, Barry’s political skills have been tested by self-inflicted gaffes.

Last year, after a Washington Post reporter noticed Barry driving his car down Pennsylvania with its bumper dragging, Barry responded, “When you live in the ghetto, this happens.” The remark outraged some residents, and Barry redoubled his efforts to reach out, including joining Twitter to connect with younger constituents.

Barry can stray into conversations that most politicians would smartly avoid.

“When the Jews were being herded into ghettos of Poland, nobody minded that term,” Barry said in an interview Thursday, explaining his remark about Ward 8 being a ghetto. “They said, ‘this is a Jewish ghetto. This is a Polish ghetto for Jews.’ . . . If you look at the meaning of the ghetto, it’s both sociological and geographical.”

On the campaign trail, however, Barry sticks to a more disciplined script, arguing that new housing and other development are appearing in Ward 8 under his leadership.

He takes credit for 10,000 new or renovated housing units since 2005, the pending reconstruction of Ballou High School and plans to renovate four recreation centers.

“The other candidates are going to talk about what they’d like to do, will do, plan to do, but Marion Barry is going to talk about what he has done,” Barry said at a recent debate.

Barry’s opponents note that many of the projects he speaks of originated with and were championed by other city leaders, including former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). But Barry, whose influence on the council has grown under Brown, said he has been instrumental in “making the deals” that keep city money flowing into Ward 8.

Barry’s opponents counter that Ward 8 still has more than 300 boarded-up properties, too many liquor stores and not enough retail because national chains do not want to invest in the area while Barry represents the community.

“The basis of my campaign is empowering residents to not live in the past but to move forward,” Gaston said. “If D.C. can build a baseball stadium, there is no reason we can’t have commercial corridors that are a beacon.”

Support and dissent

After a recent candidates’ debate, Khadijah Watson said she was undecided on whom to vote for but thinks “Barry is the only person experienced enough to hold to the seat.”

“We want people who understand the ward,” said Watson, an advisory neighborhood commissioner.

But a growing number of D.C. leaders are tired of waiting for Barry to step aside.

Motley, who has been friends with Barry for 30 years, said he has “insisted, going back years, that [Barry] come up with a plan for passing the mantle.”

“He keeps assuring me he’s healthy and good and all, but sometimes I see him slowing down a little bit,” said Motley, who remains undecided about whom he will vote for but speaks fondly of Williams.

Barry says it’s “nonsense” for someone to suggest that he should have stepped aside to make way for new talent.

“They sound like they want a dictatorship,” Barry said. “If the people want me, they should be able to have me.”

Tom Brown moves to unite Ward 7 opposition

Posted at 03:45 PM ET, 03/21/2012

Tom Brown moves to unite Ward 7 opposition

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post

Lang, Brown and Hughes want to send a message to Alexander foes.

The mathematics of the Ward 7 D.C. Council race are pretty simple: In the Democratic primary, there’s a significant group of voters looking for an alternative to incumbent Yvette M. Alexander, but she has four challengers who could split the opposition and help guarantee Alexander a second full term.

Tom Brown, fresh off a number of major endorsements, is making a big effort now to sell himself as the candidate for Alexander opponents to converge behind, hosting a rally today to tout his growing support.

The rally featured two strange-ish bedfellows in D.C. Chamber of Commerce CEO Barbara Lang and AFL-CIO Metro Washington Council President Joslyn Williams.

Big Business and Big Labor have swum in the same pool before on occasion, but to have them allied against a sitting incumbent is rather something. Representatives of the D.C. for Democracy progressive group and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club also appeared to tout their Brown endorsements.

I was unable to make it to Deanwood’s Living Faith Baptist Church for the rally, but Lang said in a telephone interview that while “unusual” for her to share a stage with the city’s biggest labor group, her members are supporting Brown’s pro-small-business message.

Brown, 45, runs a workforce development nonprofit, Training Grounds, that has seen significant corporate support.

Alexander, she said, “has not been anti-business, I wanted that to be very clear … It was that [Brown’s] messaging and what he stood for seemed to resonate more with our political action committee members.”

She said it was “fair” to characterize today’s rally as an attempt to gather the Alexander opposition behind Brown. “Whenever you have a crowded field like that, it divides those who are opposed and allows the incumbent to win,” she said.

Alexander and Brown are joined on the ballot by minister William Bennett II, lawyer/scion Kevin B. Chavous and State Board of Education member Dorothy Douglas.

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Washington Post Choices for D.C. Council

D.C. Council primary elections: Ward 7

D.C. Council primary elections: Ward 7
By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, March 15

Some political candidates develop their homespun appeal by turning a folksy phrase or hosting a big cookout. D.C. Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) brings her knitting.

She walked into a community room full of seniors at the sprawling Mayfair Mansions housing complex, carrying a plastic bag full of yarn, needles and a half-completed top.

“I thought they were knitting today!” she exclaimed. But a big potluck buffet was spread out for the noontime crowd, in celebration of some recent birthdays.

The two dozen or so in attendance were delighted to see Alexander and a half-dozen staff members, who handed out free T-shirts and other campaign goodies.

“This is the foundation of our community, our seniors,” Alexander said as she worked the room of loyal voters.

They might also represent the foundation of Alexander’s reelection hopes as she seeks a second full term representing Ward 7, in the city’s easternmost area.

Her easy rapport with the ward’s senior population and good relations with Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D), both Ward 7 residents themselves, has not been enough to fend off several strong challenges.

Several Democratic candidates — William Bennett II, a minister who has led congregations in the ward for nearly two decades; Tom Brown, a former teacher who runs a job-training nonprofit group; and Kevin B. Chavous, the son of a former Ward 7 council member — have attracted significant support.

The Democratic winner of the April 3 primary will face the victor of a rare Republican contest between Ronald Moten and Don Folden Sr.

Each challenger has sought to portray Alexander, 50, as ineffectual, lagging her council colleagues in passing major legislation and securing development and city resources for the ward.

“We’ve gone too long in the ward hanging on the coattails of hoping and wishing Kwame and Vince would look out for us,” said Sylvia Brown, a Deanwood advisory neighborhood commissioner who is supporting Brown. “She’s got to have her own voice, and right now she doesn’t have it.”

But each has had difficulty generating consensus support among those who have grown disaffected by Alexander, a former city insurance regulator who won a 2007 special election to the council.

“The neighbors are not necessarily satisfied” with their options, said Ike Fulwood, a Hillcrest resident and former D.C. police chief who is not officially supporting any candidate.

Some early support went to Chavous — the son of Kevin P. Chavous, who represented the ward from 1993 to 2007. Buoyed by the name recognition, the younger Chavous, 27, has run an energetic, shoe-leather campaign focused on education and constituent services and driven by an ambitious door-knocking and sign-planting effort.

But his electoral hopes were set back by his November arrest on charges of soliciting a prostitute near Union Station. He has denied the charges but has declined to otherwise discuss the circumstances of the arrest, citing an agreement with authorities that would result in the charges being dropped a few weeks after the election. His fundraising has slowed considerably.

Brown, 45, is promoting himself as the best candidate to create jobs and economic development, touting his experience teaching entre­pre­neur­ship in high schools and running the corporate-funded, nonprofit Training Grounds. This week, Brown won the endorsement of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, which praised his “focus and vision on workforce development.”

Bennett, 56, is backed by several District clergy members, including prominent pastor Willie F. Wilson of Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia, and is running on a jobs-focused platform. He has gathered supporters to protest an automated speeding camera on Branch Avenue SE, which he decries as an “underhanded tax,” much to the consternation of Hillcrest activists who had asked the city for years to do something about speeding on that stretch.

Also on the ballot is Dorothy Douglas, 63, the ward’s State Board of Education member and a frequent candidate for higher office. She is promising to focus on education and jobs and to speak up “for the shy-at-heart while representing all residents,” according to campaign literature.

Several candidates have had to deal with carpetbagging charges. Brown lived and voted in Ward 8 for years before changing his registration in October to a home he has owned in River Terrace. Chavous briefly changed his voter registration to a Ward 6 address last year but within months changed it back to the Hillcrest home owned by his mother. And Bennett moved to his church parsonage last year after living in Silver Spring for a decade; he last voted in the city in 2000.

Alexander is touting concrete accomplishments, as in several reconstructed or renovated libraries, a new Deanwood Recreation Center and a new H.D. Woodson High School. An overhaul of Pennsylvania Avenue SE was completed this week, and an overhaul of Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue NE is underway.

But her opponents grumble that Alexander is taking credit for projects started years ago and pushed by other officials, including Gray and Kwame Brown. (Alexander’s chief of staff, J.R. Meyers, blames “ ‘Ward 7-ism’ — nobody gets credit for nothing,” he said.)

Her foes also point to a lack of signature legislation pushed by Alexander, a charge she happens to embrace. “Overall, I answer the needs of my constituents. And right now, legislation, unless it helps to further advance Ward 7, is not one of the priorities,” she said.

Other complaints surround the recent ward redistricting process, in which some residents say Alexander didn’t do enough to expand the ward west of the Anacostia River. And many say she has not fought to extract neighborhood benefits from Wal-Mart, which has plans for a store on East Capitol Street NE.

Alexander has been represented in recent campaign finance proceedings by attorney David W. Wilmot, who is also a registered lobbyist for the Arkansas mega-retailer, and her most recent campaign finance report lists 12 donations, all for the maximum $500, from companies listing the same address as the Baltimore headquarters of the A&R Cos., which is developing the Wal-Mart. The donations represented one-third of Alexander’s $17,675 haul for the period.

There is evidence, however, that some Alexander doubters have quieted their grumbling. Former council member H.R. Crawford was among those agitating for her ouster last year. He was quoted saying Ward 7 had become “the joke of the city.” But he donated $500 to Alexander last month and was scheduled to hold a fundraiser for her Wednesday night.

“My feeling is perhaps it’s better we stick with what we know,” he said. “Hopefully, as a result of all that’s taken place that she will perform. . . . We’ve had a good, solid conversation with the council member, and, hopefully, she will live up to our expectations.”

Campaign finance reports show some incumbents struggling

Posted at 11:37 AM ET, 03/13/2012

Campaign finance reports show some incumbents struggling

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post

Three weeks remain till the earlier-than-usual April 3 city primaries, and many local candidates will be making do with less than their usual campaign money hauls.

Finance reports due at midnight show that Ward 4 incumbent Muriel Bowser (D) has the most cash on hand, with $217,143 left to spend — far, far outstripping her challengers. Vincent Orange (D-At Large) has $114,389 on hand, more than $30,000 more than his nearest opponent. Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who is running unopposed, has $88,706 left in the bank.

Other incumbents are less flush. Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) has $18,559 in the bank — only about $10,000 more than challenger Kevin B. Chavous. And Marion Barry (D-Ward 2) upped his fundraising but matched it with increased spending, leaving him with only $7,374 on hand. That’s less than challenger Sandra Seegars and Darrell Gaston appear to have.

Shivering With More Scandal

Tom Sherwood’s Notebook: Shivering With More Scandal

By Tom Sherwood

| Tuesday, Mar 6, 2012 | Updated 11:19 PM EST

Jeff Thompson

It may have been an unusually warm winter, but the latest FBI raid looking for corruption in D.C. is sending shivers through the city’s political establishment.

And it should.

The target of last week’s raid was prominent businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson — both his home and his offices on 15th Street. Thompson has the most lucrative contract there is with city government — more than $300 million a year in Medicaid health care services — and he is a prolific contributor to city political campaigns.

Campaign reviews by the media say Thompson has been instrumental in raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for many city political leaders, including large sums for Vincent Gray’s 2010 campaign for mayor.

Whatever Thompson’s role — his office did not respond to requests for comment on Monday — sources said federal authorities are specifically looking into at least tens of thousands of dollars in donations made to the Gray campaign through suspicious money orders and checks. Those sources say many names on the checks and money orders may simply have been “placeholders,” with the money not actually given by those individuals.

Patrick Madden, of WAMU 88.5 FM, reported on Monday that a similar group of questionable money orders made its way into the Vincent Orange campaign in last year’s special election. Orange said as far as he knows his contributions are all proper.

Photos and Videos

The Washington Post, The City Paper and other media also have reported on suspicious money orders in the Gray campaign. And that may be the heart of this investigation.

You might remember that Sulaimon Brown last year disclosed money orders that he said were payments from the Gray campaign for his attacks on then-Mayor Adrian Fenty during the campaign. It’s clear that the federal probe, as we reported last summer, has moved far beyond the foolishness of funding Sulaimon Brown’s attacks.

On the Notebook’s deadline, the full purpose of the federal raid wasn’t clear, but it’s clear city political leaders sense that the aura of corruption is getting worse.

Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, who supported Gray for mayor, told News4 on Monday that she shares the feeling that “something is very wrong in the District … the influence peddling, the money, people working for the government showering other people with money; it’s disgusting and it has to stop.”

Council Chairman Kwame Brown, asked about Thompson, said, “I have no idea what it is about. Clearly, I’m concerned like everyone else.” Brown also is under investigation — through a separate probe — for his 2008 campaign activities.

• Campaign poster?

Jeffrey Thompson could become the poster child for the group trying to ban donations to city politicians from corporations and firms doing business with the District.

Thompson would have a hard time replicating his massive giving if he had to create a series of political action committees to get around the ban and recruit other humans (not corporations) to give.

The D.C. Committee to Restore Public Trust has a Facebook page. It soon will have authority to begin gathering signatures to put its ban on the November ballot.

Your Notebook has questioned whether a ban would truly curb contributions or just disperse them to other forms of giving (like at the federal level). But Friday’s raid makes it hard to have a practical discussion on the nature and influence of corporate giving; many people just want it to stop.


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