This we know for sure: Exactly a year from next Tuesday, D.C. voters will head to the polls and vote overwhelmingly in favor of re-electing President Barack Obama.
What’s still unknown is whether Mitt Romney, or Herman Cain, or whoever the GOP gets around to nominating, will have any company on a losing local ticket that day.
There’s a chance that the only Republican candidate for any meaningful office on next year’s ballot will be one of D.C.’s most colorful political celebrities, a lifelong Democrat who only joined his new party a day before kicking off his campaign in a cemetery last month.
Peaceoholics co-founder Ron Moten, who has earned his daily bread lately as an anti-youth violence advocate, go-go promoter, and seller of T-shirts that read “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted Sulaimon Brown,” surprised virtually everybody with his announcement that he was, henceforth, a self-described “Civil Rights Republican.”
Moten kicked off his campaign for the Ward 7 council seat at Woodlawn Cemetery off Benning Road. The cemetery is the final resting place of Sen. Blanche Bruce, a Republican from Mississippi who was the first elected black senator to serve a full term. It’s also in a sorry state of disrepair, and this history of neglect Moten said was the perfect symbol of how the Democratic Party had mistreated African-American residents.
“Listen, y’all, we’ve been bamboozled,” said Moten, who sported a very bright turquoise shirt and gave a lengthy soliloquy about the failures of the city’s current office holders.
Moten’s prospects for winning in a ward where Republicans make up less than 3 percent of registered voters are pretty slim, but his surprise party swap is a lucky break for the D.C. GOP. Last election cycle, the party boasted that it was running candidates in all four contested ward races.
This time around, without Moten, they probably wouldn’t have anyone.
That’s due in part to the incumbents who are running: Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans’ fiscal conservatism resonates well with the Republican voters in his ward. And the day a Republican beats Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry is the day you can hop on a nearby pig and fly to the polls. But it’s mostly due to the fact that D.C.’s Republican establishment blew its wad in April.
During a special election for an at-large council seat, the District’s Republicans appeared to have everything go their way—except the final vote count. The candidate was Patrick Mara, a nonthreatening cherub-face who was fresh off an impressive Ward 1 school board victory. The very model of the young, white, professional class that’s flocked to the city lately (he even owns a stake in Meridian Pint, the Columbia Heights beer bar), Mara had plenty of money, the backing of the Washington Post editorial board, and a series of scandals coming out of the Wilson Building that were whetting voters’ appetites for an outsider candidate.
But Mara faced a crowded field that split votes in the whiter, affluent wards west of Rock Creek Park and allowed Vincent Orange to squeak out a victory with a strong showing among predominately black voters in Northeast and across the river.
Months after Mara’s defeat, D.C. GOP Executive Director Paul Craney still sounds like a football fan coming to grips with a big loss.
“It really could have gone our way if just a few things were tweaked,” Craney says, rattling off all the different scenarios that would have led to a Mara victory. Those scenarios include, according to Craney: If liberal hipster darling—and Washington City Paper endorsee—Bryan Weaver had run a different campaign; if Ward 8-based Jacque Patterson had managed to get enough legitimate signatures to get his name on the ballot; if incumbent Sekou Biddle had won his home turf, Ward 4. “We just didn’t have enough time,” says Craney.
But while he casts one sorrowful eye to the past, Craney is also trying to look to the future. And that future includes taking hard whacks at At-Large Councilmember Michael Brown.
Brown, connoisseurs of D.C. political history will recall, unsuccessfully ran for mayor and Ward 4 councilmember before dropping his party affiliation and getting elected as an independent. (D.C. law effectively reserves two at-large council seats for non-Democrats.)
The GOP plan of attack seems to be to cast Brown as a member of the council’s unethical clique. In case you haven’t heard, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is currently investigating Council Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown and Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. They’re not up for election next year, though. Michael Brown’s raised the ire of some activists for the less-than-optimally-transparent way he got the council to approve online gambling, but he isn’t under any investigation.
Still, that’s not going to stop Craney. “He’s the poster child of unethical behavior on the council—next to Harry Thomas,” he says, adding that he thinks “intelligent Democrats” will have a hard time voting for Brown.
(For his part, Brown says in a statement: “I’ll be happy to respond to the DCGOP the next time I’m on Fox News.”)
But while he may have his strategy all mapped out, Craney still needs to find a candidate willing to run a city-wide race in a heavily Democratic town in a year when Obama—the nation’s first black president, after all—will be on the top of the ballot. Obama got 92.9 percent here in 2008, the highest share for any presidential candidate in the city’s history, and won about 45,000 more votes than any previous candidate in the process. Up against those odds, Mara’s indicated that he doesn’t have the heart to lose another citywide race, which leaves the door wide open for any would-be masochists. Craney says he’s had a few nibbles, but no one’s committed thus far.
Tim Day, a Ward 5 accountant who ran against Thomas last year, says he’s interested in another shot and will make up his mind by the end of the week. He says he wouldn’t run to be a martyr for his party, but because he thinks he has a chance.
“You don’t hear about CPAs doing corrupt stuff,” says Day, who got less than 6 percent of the vote last year and has apparently never read about Arthur Anderson. “We’re taught the difference between right and wrong.”
Another possible contender is former Ward 6 ANC commissioner Mary Brooks Beatty, who says she hasn’t made any decisions yet, but does have “a sincere desire to help improve the quality of life in D.C.”
That’s nice to have (as is a CPA), but anyone who does wind up running on the Republican line will also need a fealty to lost causes.
Photos by Darrow Montgomery
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