There’s a D.C. Council Race On. Why Aren’t Any Women Running?
On paper, a gig as an at-large councilmember seems like an ideal job for a working mom. It’s part-time, has flexible hours, and pays extraordinarily well. You also don’t have to worry about ward-specific constituent problems and can pretty much park wherever you want.
Why then, aren’t more moms, or women of any sort, interested in the job? Prospective candidates of all sexes learn pretty fast that the reality of being a councilmember is far more demanding than the part-time label suggests. But that still leaves an open question as to why there only three female councilmembers on a 13-member legislative body and no serious women contenders anywhere to be found.
"There’s no women on the horizon, and that’s bothersome," says former At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz.
A candidate forum earlier this month for the at-large special election was a major sausage fest: eight dudes, all trying to differentiate themselves. While watching, LL couldn’t help but think that a well-qualified woman would have a good shot of standing out from the boys and becoming a frontrunner. The April special election, after all, will likely have such a small turnout that a few thousand votes from a motivated voting bloc might be all it takes to win.
LL isn’t the only one with those thoughts. MaryEva Candon, a longtime Democratic party insider, says a “big reason” she initially decided to run was the lack of female candidates. "There’s a great appetite" for female candidates, says Candon, who ultimately decided not to run.
Of the 21 people who picked up petitions to run in the at-large race, only five were women. Of those five, only one—Dorothy Douglas—submitted the required signatures. Of that one candidate, there is an exactly 100 percent chance that she won't win.
But while there’s general agreement that it sucks that there are so few female candidates, there’s no clear idea as to why women don’t run.
Maybe, says Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser, it's because women don’t find the rough-and-tumble aspect of District politics appealing.
"Women are turned off by nasty politics. And we've had a good dose of that lately," says Bowser, who volunteers her time with a group called Running Start, a non-profit that encourages young women to enter politics. ("It certainly turned this woman off," quips Schwartz.)
Such low numbers haven’t always been the case. For part of the '90s, the majority of the council was women. "I was proud to be part of that number, quote me as saying that, I was proud to be part of that number," Schwartz says.
Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander says there’s still an attitude among voters that women aren’t cut out for the job.
"When I was running, a lot of women even stated to me that they didn’t feel as confident voting for a woman than a man."
Alexander added that she and Bowser both won special elections to replace a male predecessor whose endorsement was key to winning. Alexander also noted that she struggled to raise campaign funds until then-D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray, whom Alexander would replace as Ward 7’s councilmember, gave her the nod.
Asked whether she thinks there's a double standard once elected, Alexander hedges: "There’s still, maybe. No, I’ll take that back. We’re pretty much treated as equals. But I will say...that we have to be a little firmer, a little louder than our male counterparts."
As if on cue while LL was writing this column, Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry demonstrated that old-school chauvinism is alive and well. Barry spent part of his Monday grilling Gray’s appointee to lead the head of the Department of Employment Services, Rochelle Webb, as to why she didn’t have any men in her senior leadership positions.
Webb tried to explain to Barry that she tries to hire the best candidates regardless of sex, race, or other irrelevant details. But Barry would hear none of it, interrupting with the line: "Dr. Webb, that is unacceptable to me." Barry then went on to threaten to tattle on Webb to Mayor Gray and deemed Webb's hiring strategy "unacceptable to America."
Barry, as he frequently does before saying outrageous things, tried to establish his credibility by pointing out that as mayor his cabinet was majority female. He went on to say that he’s been "a strong advocate of women in non-traditional positions."
LL does not have the necessary sources to evaluate that contention.
Kwame Brown’s Accounting Do-Overs
It’s no secret that one day D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown would like his title to include the word "mayor." So it’s a bit puzzling that Brown continues to lend credence to a charge that has already hurt him: the notion that Kwame and sound finances do not mix.
Witness Brown’s campaign finance filings for last year's race for chairman. The documents can’t seem to agree on a final number for how much Brown raised and how much Brown spent. On Jan. 25, it appears that Brown amended six previous campaign filings dating back to June 10, 2010 (some of the amendments weren’t dated). Three days later, Brown amended the filings again, changing the total amounts of receipts and expenses for several filings. Then, on Feb. 7, Brown amended several filings once more, again, with several figures changing.
Here’s but one example of how that changes things: Brown’s original Oct. 10. filing shows him raising $46,225 in one filing period. Two amendments later, Brown’s now showing he raised $61,115 during the same filing period. Fast forward a week, and the latest amendment has Brown’s receipts jumping to $76,285 for the same filing period.
Brown begged off LL’s questions about his ever-changing campaign finances. His spokeswoman, Traci Hughes, says the amended filings could be the result of simple data entry errors and multiple amendments are not uncommon. That’s true—Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh has filed five amendments to her last campaign’s filings. But it’s worth noting that this seems to be a pattern with Brown’s campaigns. The Office of Campaign Finance launched a probe into Brown’s 2008 campaign finances after his 2010 opponent, Vincent Orange, complained about $70,000 that seemed to disappear from Brown’s campaign and then mysteriously reappeared via an amended filing.
It’s also worth noting that Brown’s filings show he paid $775 last month to Fred Cooke Jr., the go-to superlawyer for elected officials.
LL’s not suggesting anything naughty is going on. But when the big knock on you is that you can’t keep your financial house in order, then maybe you need to put more effort into getting your, you know, financial house in order.
More Kwame News
You might be surprised to learn, as LL was, that the H Street Community Development Corporation, the non-profit private development company devoted to revitalizing H Street NE, also runs a program to help teach kids Chinese. It’s a selective program that gives up to 15 District students a year of language lessons and a trip to China.
Kwame Brown’s wife, Marcia Brown, recently started working at the H Street CDC, running the "China Challenge Program." While on the campaign stump, Kwame Brown rarely missed a chance to let people know that his wife is a former charter school teacher, so the new gig seems like a natural fit.
Published accounts show that H Street CDC has received city funding in the past. But it currently doesn’t, according to its executive director. So, potential conflict of interest, consider yourself avoided.
Now as to whether a development corporation ought to be teaching kids Chinese...
Photo by Darrow Montgomery