Don Peebles: ‘My Inclination Is to Run’
D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray is reportedly announcing a mayoral run tomorrow, and if you think that R. Donahue Peebles—his main company in the will-he-run-or-won't-he-run derby—will be standing beside him offering an endorsement, think again.
Continuing a pattern that's played out several times in recent months, just when it seems Peebles might fade into a behind-the-scenes role, the deep-pocketed developer makes it perfectly clear that he thinks he's the best man to take on incumbent Adrian M. Fenty, end of story.
"My inclination is to run," he said this evening. "I will be a very competitive candidate, and I will win."
Such self-confidence notwithstanding, Peebles says he has not made a final decision. That will come this week, as he joins his family for a Spring Break excursion to the Caribbean. When he returns next week, he says, he'll have a decision ready—based on, he says, what's best for his family and his business, in that order.
And if that means Peebles plays spoiler, so be it. Or so he says.
"I am a big believer in giving voters as many choices as possible," Peebles said. "Back-room deals, smoke-filled rooms, they don't turn out the way people want them."
The "smoke-filled room" line refers to discussions—both alluded to by Gray and caught on camera—that Peebles and Gray would come to a gentleman's understanding that only one of them would run for the mayor's spot on the premise that Fenty could only be defeated in a head-to-head battle.
Peebles happens to reject that premise out of hand: "I'm confident [a three-way race] doesn't mean an Adrian Fenty victory," he tells LL. "I think when you try to engineer the race, voters see through that." He even cited some history: The 1990 race between stalwart politicos Dave Clarke, Walter Fauntroy, and John Ray, where Sharon Pratt came from nowhere to win a term as mayor.
Peebles, in fact, is quite conversant with historical precedent, citing mayoral races in 1978, 1990, 1994, 1998, and 2006 as proof that little-regarded candidates can enter late and/or under-resourced and/or underestimated and still finish triumphant.
In a 20-minute conversation this evening, Peebles spoke fluidly but hewed to a well-refined set of talking points: that the city is economically divided; that economic development is needed in underserved neighborhoods; and that that he's the best candidate to make that happen.
He also made the case that he's the candidate best equipped to take on the well-financed, energetic incumbent. "Adrian Fenty is a great campaigner," said Peebles. "I would not underestimate him. It's about who is willing to work as hard or harder than Adrian, who has the capacity to finance a campaign like Adrian Fenty."
That line encapsulates the conventional wisdom doubting a Gray run: that's he too old, at 67, to run again Fenty, 39; and that he doesn't have the fundraising muscle to match up with Fenty's $4 million war chest.
But that veiled slam is as far that Peebles is willing to go in criticizing Gray—which, in LL's mind, leaves the door open for a late-race reconciliation. "I have nothing but great respect for him," Peebles said, adding that "I'd prefer to see him remain as chair of the city council and be a good partner." (Since Gray appears not to be doing so, Peebles already has a preference for his replacement: "Kwame Brown would make a great chairman," he said.)
Gray, in recent months, has been similarly unfailingly complimentary of Peebles, albeit with an eye toward fostering a one-on-one race.
Peebles confirmed that Gray had recently asked him to run and to endorse his campaign; he refused but didn't in turn ask Gray not to run, he says: "It's a free country, as I've said all along. Right now, the only candidate I'm prepared to support is me. The only candidate I'm prepared to finance is me."
Photo by Darrow Montgomery