Loose Lips

Sekou, We Hardly Knew You

Sekou Biddle: D.C.'s Newest Ex-Councilmember Reflects on a Four-Month Term

In the last four months, Sekou Biddle has learned just how fast your luck can change in District politics.

In January, Biddle surprised even himself by winning a temporary appointment to an at-large D.C. Council seat thanks to the late backing of the District’s two most powerful elected officials. Last month, he surprised just about nobody by coming in a lackluster third in a special election for the seat, possibly because of that support by the District’s two most powerful elected officials.

Perceived as the insider’s candidate thanks to endorsements from Mayor Vince Gray and Council Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown, Biddle sure looks to LL like he paid for Gray’s hiring missteps and Brown’s Navigator-fancy.

But Biddle doesn’t see it that way. In a lengthy interview, he goes out of his way not to pin his defeat on Gray’s and Brown’s missteps. “To be frank, those things didn’t help my cause,” is about as strong a statement Biddle would offer.

Instead, Biddle says his lack of name recognition, in an election nobody paid attention to, probably hurt him more than anything else. He thinks voters weren’t so much angry at Gray and Brown as they were ticked off at the government in general.

“People seemed to in general feel negatively toward the government and elected officials,” Biddle says.

Sekou Biddle: D.C.'s Newest Ex-Councilmember Reflects on a Four-Month Term

Biddle was similarly polite toward Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, who backed Biddle’s candidacy early in the race, but jumped ship to support the eventual winner, former Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent Orange, just days before the election. Biddle disputes Alexander’s claim that he told her he wasn’t much concerned about winning votes in Ward 7—her stated reason for switching to Orange—but he doesn’t have anything bad to say about Alexander.

And when LL asks if Biddle has received any type of apology or even acknowledgement from either Gray or Brown that their missteps had hurt Biddle’s political career, the newest ex-councilmember seems surprised by the question. (For the record, though, neither Gray nor Brown offered Biddle any type of “my bad.”)

It’s certainly good form for Biddle not to badmouth his former colleagues, but LL has to wonder what election Biddle was watching. In January, Biddle looked like he had the election locked up: He was a Democratic incumbent with a résumé as an education reformer that would please any supporter of former Mayor Adrian Fenty and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, while at the same time enjoying the support of then-very popular Mayor Gray and Chairman Brown.

Elections, particularly special elections, are never a given, but if that momentum had continued through last month’s election, LL has to think Biddle would have kept his job. Instead, a series of scandals involving Brown and Gray left Biddle wide open to attacks from multiple candidates—most notably Republican Pat Mara, who torpedoed what was left of Biddle’s chances by nabbing the coveted endorsement of The Washington Post, which declared he was the more independent candidate.

But while Biddle wasn’t keen on pointing fingers at his political patrons for his defeat, he did allude to mistakes made by a familiar scapegoat: the media, including blogs and social networks, which Biddle says gave the public an incomplete picture of who he really is.

On that point, Biddle may have a legitimate beef. Sure, he won the D.C. Democratic State Committee’s appointment in part because Brown, Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., and Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry worked members for him on the night of their vote. And sure, Brown probably supported Biddle in large part because Brown dislikes Orange, who had been the presumed favorite to win the appointment. But Biddle says those aren’t the only reasons why he won in January.

“There’s some element of truth to it, but there’s some element of truth to Paul Bunyan, too, but I don’t think he created the Great Lakes,” says Biddle. (LL briefly checked Wikipedia, and it appears there actually is not any element of truth whatsoever to the Paul Bunyan story.)

Biddle says he worked hard to win the DCDSC’s appointment by lobbying committee members one-on-one and stressing his background as an education reformer. He also submitted twice the required petition signatures to show that he had a viable base of supporters. Several of the votes cast for him at the committee’s meeting, Biddle says, had nothing to do with Brown’s support or any dislike of Orange. But Biddle says that side of the story was never told, and he got stuck with label of the insiders’ hand-picked beneficiary.

“It was odd to me that effectively… a narrative was created very quickly about me being some sort of insider that frankly did not pay any attention to anything that I had done or anywhere I had come from,” says Biddle, whose previous work included teaching and working for Teach for America, as well as serving as a school board member.

(Of course, LL can’t help pointing out here that Biddle—as an incumbent member of the council and a candidate who raised more than $175,000 for his campaign—could have probably done more to influence the narrative about him. Not every voter was a social networking-influenced myopic little twit, after all; media coverage of the race was light enough that it didn’t have to drown out his own message entirely.)

As for his future, Biddle plans on returning to work at a non-profit that promotes early education. But he hasn’t ruled out a return to politics, no matter how this last shot ended.

“It was worth doing,” Biddle says of his four-month council stint, adding that he still very much believes he has the “skills and expertise” to do the job.

Sekou Biddle: D.C.'s Newest Ex-Councilmember Reflects on a Four-Month Term

Indeed, several Wilson Building insiders say Biddle showed all the makings of becoming a good councilmember in the future. And one political operative says Biddle was a quick learner on the campaign trail and would be a much better candidate were he to run again. (Plus, he can then make on-the-job training a part of his platform!)

But Biddle doesn’t appear to be hankering to get back to politicking any time too soon. He tells LL he’s psyched about getting to see his family again, after six months of campaigning, and notes that his 10-year-old son grew about an inch and a half since November—something Biddle says he only recently noticed.

And there just might be some international travel in his future. In the middle of the interview, Bryan Weaver—an Adams Morgan community activist who came in fourth in last month’s election, behind Biddle—drops by to shoot the breeze and offer Biddle a spot on a trip with at-risk students to Guatemala this summer. Biddle says he just might go.

HAVOC, WHAT HAVOC?

Biddle might have gotten a raw deal, but LL can’t say he’s entirely sad to see him replaced by Vincent Orange. Orange is lively, if nothing else, and is going to make covering D.C. politics much more exciting.

Witness his speech this week, after being sworn in as a councilmember. Claiming the hand of God was responsible for his “resurrection,” Orange alternated between promising to work with his new colleagues and taking not-so-subtle swipes at how crooked they are. (But that wasn’t LL’s favorite part; no, LL’s favorite part was when Orange said, “In closing,” then spoke for another nine minutes.)

“At this moment, at this time, and at this season, we have a tremendous amount of work to accomplish and a tremendous amount of damage to repair,” Orange began. “It’s not going to be easy, but it must be achieved.”

Orange, speaking from the dais of the council chambers to a crowd that included Mayor Gray, Chairman Brown, and the rest of the council, went on to outline how the District government had lost the “goodwill” and “respect” it once had from Congress, Wall Street, and the city’s residents.

“Our residents want a meaningful ethics committee to govern the activities of both the executive and legislative branches of government,” said Orange, no doubt referencing a special committee on ethics Brown promised, but has so far failed to deliver. Orange then went on to outline what his legislative priorities were, before saying that his agenda was “the people’s agenda.”

“We must refocus and begin to faithfully address the people’s agenda,” boomed Orange, who also made it a point to thank the Washington Teachers Union, which supported both Orange and Gray, but has had a slightly frosty relationship with the mayor of late.

But don’t let the barbs fool you, Orange said. He’s more than willing to work together with the people he dinged in his speech.

“I come to the D.C. Council, I come to the table not to disrupt, and not to create havoc,” said Orange. “I come as an independent voice with my sleeves rolled up seeking a consensus to an agenda worthy of consideration.”

We’ll see.

Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com.

Photos by Darrow Montgomery

  • Grace Jones

    This isn't an attractive man. What did his white wife see in this guy? He's not a Boris Kojoe. LOL

  • Southeast Ken

    The DC Council has taken Biddle off there website and place Vincent Orange on it. That was quick and fast.

  • briefly

    Grace, Biddle had his face largely cut off in a knife attack about 10 years ago and underwent a long period of reconstructive surgery. Show some respect and compassion. Oh wait, you're obviously a hopeless racist idiot.

  • Jes’ sayin’

    Sekou Biddle was - to me - the most decent and capable candidate in the race. His education credentials are impeccable and he worked hard, both in Council and campaigning.

    Sadly, he lost the election when he hired Marshall Brown and then Brown opened his big mouth. That, on top of the endorsements of the Gray-Brown-Barry crowd, was simply too much for this voter - still enraged about the SUV and hiring scandals.

    This election was about "sending them a message," as one (racist) politician used to say. And sadly, voting for Sekou Biddle was no way to send that message. I would, however, consider supporting this decent man in the future.

  • SEis4ME

    Alan, do you really believe that Sekou's ties to Brown/Gray cost him the job? I'm sure you don't but it looks nice on paper.

    And why should a mayor or a council chair apologize to someone they supported for actions they (mayor/chair) were involved in. Should Obama apologize to Joe Sestak or Martha Coakley for their loses as well? It doesn't make sense.

    Had it not been for the original coverage of the endorsement hear and the Post, I would have never even heard of this guy. Never at all. So I think you shouldn't dismiss his notion that he lost because of name recognition and the media creating a narrative that wasn't actually accurate. Giving his lack of exposure, how do you think people heard about this guy and his "ties" to Brown/Gray and willingly ignored his credentials by focusing on who supported him. Absurd.

  • itsjustamess

    Sekou Biddle - the educator who was mis-educated about DC voters' lack of education. He no doubt was the teacher who became the student. Too bad his instructors were highly unqualified yet certifiably mere scraps from the bottom of the barrel. He flunked the class and was not allowed to graduate but I bet he darn sure learned the lesson well.

  • off da chain

    “Our residents want a meaningful ethics committee to govern the activities of both the executive and legislative branches of government,” said Orange

    THEN GET BUSY!

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/may/11/grays-campaign-consultant-earned-more-reported/

  • EP Sato

    Biddle was a great Councilmember, but proved to be a poor campaigner. Betting that Wards 1-4+ parts of 6 would win a citywide election was Fenty's folly. It's now Biddle's as well.

    Anyone else find some irony that Orange and Gray won with the same block of voters even though they're in opposing camps?

  • tony

    Biddle is an idiot. Here's a black man that essentially abandon his black support network in favor of pursuing a white constituency in a city that is still black dominated. The fact of the matter is that no black politician in the history of this city has ever won an at-large election without winning the black wards 7,8,5,4,-period. However, Mr. Biddle thumb his nose at the black leadership and the black voters and campaigned heavily in the white wards with the hope that white voters would turn out in heavy numbers for him and offset the black votes that he had abandon. This political strategy is not only silly but it is racist. Moreover, this clown fired his major black political operative and surrounded himself with nearly an all white staff...CAN SOMEONE SAY FENTY? And, like fenty, Biddle has been reduced to the political trash bin of history where garbage like him belongs!

  • Hypocrite Much?

    Jus'sayin...I SECOND THAT EMOTION!

    Councilmember Biddle was "the best" candidate based on credentials, passion, and drive for the educational success of District children. He was bowled over by the steamroller called political endorsements.

    These endorsement, which in a different climate would have given him a sound victory; because of the scandal that surrounded and continues to surround his endorsers proved to be Councilmember Biddle's undoing.

    He should run again, in the 2012 election to challenge either Michael Brown or Vincent Orange.

  • Southeast Ken

    @Tony; I guess Biddle thought being married to a Caucasian woman, he had arrived and would be accepted by whites in America.

  • Skipper

    Biddle ran an absolutely awful campaign, employed idiots, and was the endorsed, hand-picked puppet of the Gray-Brown-Barry political corruption machine.

    He deserved to lose and fade back into obscurity.

  • Truth Hurts

    Biddle lost the election for the same reason he won the interim appointment: Gray, Brown, Thomas and Barry vigorously backed him.

  • Ward 8 Darling

    Biddle did not work for votes East of the River, where in Ward 8, ALL the candidates endorsed in the special election and 2010 election WON! Respect EOR communities!

  • Malik

    Grace:
    What a low-blow on the brother's looks...not cool.
    Honestly, I don't know Secou Biddle but he seems well qualified and overall a good guy.
    I do think that Vincent Orange will be much more effective at this point.
    For instance, he is a former Councilmember so he knows the dynamics of the current legislative Body, he's a Lawyer and CPA and an expert at in finance. Moreimportantly, he and Kwame don't see eye to eye and considering Kwame's current record someone needs to get in that ass! Vincent will do just that

    Furthermore, Mr. Orange was not endorsed by the Mayor and therefore not attached to the drama that is brewing caused by Brown and Gray. Vincent is independent, experienced, smart, and will not back down... These are the qualities in a Councilman we need!

  • itsjustamess

    Biddle was NOT the best candidate by any stretch of a deranged imagination. The sole purpose of EVERY campaign to get out the vote (GOTV). If you don't go where the votes are and think you are safe in the saddle, then you, like Biddle, are going to be thrown off your high horse and tossed onto the heap of candidates who foolishly thought there was no power in Black numbers. White folk will NOT deliver you alone in this town. GET OVER IT ALREADY! Don't believe the hype. The chocolate in this city may be diluted but it won't be vanilla. Brown will be the new flavor. Illegal and legal immigration will be the cause of that. I can't wait until their boat lands in Ward 3. Que pasa, mi blanco amigos! lol

  • Really?

    Hollar at me Tony!

  • http://www.singlemomcareerhelp.com on the job training

    So on the job training is a part of his plattform huh?

  • StrangeFruit

    The Whites voters Biddle sought to appease strung him up like strange fruit and they did what they always do--- don't vote Black.

  • http://www.amamimus.com/solutions.html AMamiMus

    I went to Alice Deal JHS (now MS) with Sekou over 20 years ago. The man is still about integrity...but integrity does not a great campaign make in and of itself. Trust and believe...He learned something from his time as a councilmember and he is learning to be a better campaigner.

    One day, he will be a positive catalyst in DC politics...

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