Loose Lips

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

  • drez

    Because they're all working at DOES, duh.

  • Southeast Ken

    Most politicains are corrupt and liars.

  • conc3rnedrez

    For the past 16 years ward 3 has had a female councilmember. What does that say about the voting population in the ward?

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  • Wrack

    Too bad Kathy Patterson isn't running. She probably considered it but figured it wasn't worth the risk, considering how much of a head start Sekou Biddle has.

  • DC Respected Common People

    All of the 2011 Councilmembers that are MEN are bias and chauvinistic, even the two guy ones that demonstrate their female interests behind closed doors.

    However, this dis-respect comes from WOMEN of all walks permitting these wild men and female-males to obtain their personal and professional benefits.

    In other words, they are control freaks, who feel they own their public office and make decisions for their interest while exempting the citizens overall needs that elected them.

  • ADW

    Actually, research shows that women aren't much less likely to men to succeed when they do run, but are less likely to self-assess as likely to win and/or qualified. I wouldn't be surprised if that becomes particularly pronounced during special elections.

    I mean, look at Bryan Weaver's wife. I feel like women can succeed in politics if they want to.

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  • Wonder Woman

    A lot of us are not impressed with the women who are already on the council. Both of them were hand-picked by their predecessors.

    As a woman, I am not necessarily concerned about the gender of these candidates. I just want them to do what they say they are going to do. As long as they are corruption-free and crony-less, I don't care if they are male or female.

  • TabithaDC

    Maybe there are no women running but I do know of someone running who has no balls, does that count? To make the bad joke even worse he is running as the "anti teen pregnancy" candidate exposing himself to the full fury of the "pro teen pregnancy" movement sweeping our community.

    We should mount a "write-in" Kathy Patterson or Linda Cropp campaign.

  • sigmagrrl

    I'd love to become involved in DC politics.... I just don't know how... seriously. How do I get involved?

  • http://deleted Etta

    I would vote for Carol Schwarz if she ran again .She was excellent as a council member

  • Southeast Ken

    Helen Thomas for At-Large DC Councilmember.

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  • http://www.useful-community-development.org Monica Thompson

    Women in municipal politics are really important. A variety of viewpoints and life experiences make better policy for an entire city.

    Women are documented to score differently than men on the Myers-Briggs feeling versus sensation dimension. Often they have greater responsibility for child care and keeping up the household, and we know they do more shopping. Their less linear career path actually may give them a window into more types of workplaces.

    I'm not saying that women are more qualified than men at all, but they do bring something different to the table. As more than half of the population, it seems healthy for democracy that those sensibilities are fully represented.

  • female view

    Effective workers who get into politics are going to shake things up. By shaking things up, they will cause controversy and women's emotional side will kick in. Often media shows only one side of the story (the juicy one) and the public never get to learn the truth. This is why most great people don't get into politics or work for government or if they do they leave disgusted. Women particularly because are usually more interested in protecting their families and don't believe the sacrifices are worth it.

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  • Old City

    Not sure why Suderman would assume that "potential conflicts of interest are avoided" with Council Chairman Brown's wife working at HSCDC, which is now basically a developer of properties using grants, federal and city funding.
    Some of this will certainly require Council action, or maybe just a quick call from the Chairman or a staffer to hasten it through a city agency.
    Many of HSCDC's projects since 1984 have been with "development partners" so it's pretty easy to cut someone in on a sweet deal as a minority investor.
    This bears watching.