Loose Lips

In Ward 5, Big Shoes to Fill?

Ward 5 Special Election: Who Will Win?

These elections, they never end! On Tuesday, Ward 5 voters will pick a replacement for convicted felon Harry Thomas Jr., who was recently sentenced to more than three years in prison for stealing public funds.

Ward 5, long the backbone of the District’s black middle class, hasn’t seen such a wide-open race for its council seat in decades. Thomas’ father, Harry Thomas Sr., held the seat for three terms beginning in 1987. Vincent Orange then held it for two terms before Jr. reclaimed the Thomas legacy. This time around, there are no boldfaced names (or their progeny) in the running. But whoever wins will have his or her hands full, as the ward is still raw from Thomas’ betrayal. It’s also trying to figure out meaty issues like whether its future will lean more suburban or urban, or how a steady stream of newcomers will mesh with entrenched residents.

If this is all news to you, you’re probably not alone. With the Thomas affair, a citywide primary election last month, and both the mayor and the D.C. Council chairman under federal investigations, the special election hasn’t gotten much attention outside the ward’s boundaries. LL had a hard time finding any councilmembers who were keeping a close watch on who their next colleague might be. (Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander wants to make sure a Republican doesn’t join her on the dais. “I would just feel a negative vibe from that,” she says.)

To help, LL presents a handy guide:

• Who will win?

Unknown! Turnout will probably be low, and the margin of victory slim. No polls have been made public showing who’s ahead, but indications are that the race will be close. Consider that the ward’s traditional big campaign donors, which include gas magnate Joe Mamo, the paving company Fort Myer Construction, and lobbyist and former Councilmember John Ray, have all hedged their bets by giving to multiple candidates.

LL can tell you that based on name recognition, money raised, and that thing called “buzz,” the front runners are Kenyan McDuffie, Delano Hunter, and Frank Wilds.

• C’mon, pick one!

The talk among the chattering class is that attorney McDuffie, who most recently worked as a policy advisor for Deputy Mayor Paul Quander, has the momentum. McDuffie got only 15 percent when he ran in a multi-candidate race against Thomas in 2010, but has managed to put together a pretty wide coalition this year. He’s got the support of most labor groups, including the Washington Teachers’ Union. (While labor doesn’t have much power in D.C. politics compared to other cities, Ward 5 is home to many current and retired government workers.)

McDuffie’s also the favorite of the city’s progressive set. Ward 6 Councilmartyr Saint Tommy Wells has donated to his campaign, and the urbanist blog Greater Greater Washington has endorsed him. McDuffie says he’s trying to be a leader in the “most inclusive way possible.” In inevitable D.C. fashion, this has earned him attacks on neighborhood email lists, where one detractor accused McDuffie of going after the “White Person’s vote.”

• What about the others?

Hunter came into the race in good shape. The Spingarn High School graduate managed nearly 800 more votes than McDuffie in 2010 and is, as they say in the biz, a natural politician, despite being only 28 years old. Hunter also has the support of longtime ANC Commissioner Bob King, who has a special knack for feeding large numbers of Ward 5 seniors and then getting them to the polls.

But Hunter’s stock took a big hit on the news, first reported by the Brookland Heartbeat, that he’s been sued several times for unpaid debts. That might not normally be a dealbreaker in most elections (see: Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown’s 2010 D.C. Council chairman victory), but with the Thomas affair fresh on everybody’s mind, it’s not good. Hunter’s also been dinged for his ties to the National Organization for Marriage, the anti-gay-marriage group that endorsed him in 2010, apparently to punish Thomas for his vote for D.C.’s marriage equality law. Hunter says he incurred the debts while he was focused on the 2010 race, and the negative press has only emboldened his supporters.

“They see me as an individual under siege,” Hunter says. “When I’m being attacked, they take it personally.”

Wilds, a successful businessman who came in second to Thomas in 2006, has the most money to spend this week. His $45,000 cash-on-hand, due in part to a $18,500 loan from himself, is far more than twice what McDuffie and Hunter have left. Wilds has emphasized his ties to the past and the fact that he’s been living in Ward 5 longer than some of his opponents have been alive.

“We need a grown-up in that seat,” he said recently at a small campaign rally that included former Ward 1 Councilmember Frank Smith, Ward 5 School Board member Mark Jones, and a former public school teacher who gave a speech that dealt almost exclusively with the nefariousness of former D.C. Public Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Republican Tim Day, who helped spark the investigation that led to Thomas’ downfall and the council vacancy, won the Washington Post’s endorsement, which one might normally assume makes him a contender. But the Post’s influence in city politics has declined faster than its circulation numbers, and Day is a GOP candidate in a ward where Democrats outnumber Republicans 23 to 1. The other candidates are Democrats Rae Zapata, Ruth Marshall, Drew Hubbard, Shelly Gardner, Kathy Henderson, Ron Magnus, and independent John Cheeks.

• Has this campaign been clean?

Not really. Day says he’s been accosted, had his car keyed, and even had his campaign sign stolen from in front of his own home. He thinks he got the rough treatment because he first got the ball rolling on the Thomas investigation. But as far as sign-stealing goes, Day’s not the only one.

“If we put 400 signs on Friday, 300 of them are down by Sunday,” says Hubbard, who says he doesn’t know who is responsible for the sign theft, but that it’s “just curious” that the Hunter campaign’s signs never seem to be taken down.

McDuffie says his signs have disappeared throughout the campaign as well. He and his team put some signs out along West Virginia Avenue, only to find three-fourths of them gone a couple days later. Who is the culprit? McDuffie says he doesn’t know for sure, but also pointed Hunter’s way.

“There’s a candidate who is having a serious problem winning this election based on his own record,” McDuffie says, making a not-very veiled reference to the fact that Hunter’s financial problems have hurt him. “So he resorted to dirty politics to try and get the upper hand.”

But Hunter says they’ve got the wrong guy, and his campaign’s probably had more signs snatched than any of the others.

“We’re not playing that game,” Hunter says. “That’s just not our style. That’s just wasted energy.”

Yard signs, of course, don’t vote, so it’s doubtful all the sign-snatching will matter. But in Ward 5, this hoary old campaign trick has a history: Before he was a federal felon, HTJ was also an alleged sign thief.

The year was 1994, and Thomas’ late father was running against an upstart named Vincent Orange, who saw many of his signs disappear. Orange somehow caught on videotape an early morning exchange between Thomas and the police. A senior police officer told the Post that cops found campaign signs belonging to Orange and another candidate in the back of Thomas’ red Toyota station wagon.

Thomas denied any wrongdoing. “If the police found those posters, they should have taken them as evidence,” he told the Post. “It is their word against mine.”

Ah, such pluck. Those are going to be some tough shoes to fill.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com. Or call (202) 650-6951.

  • Throw The Book

    I guess history repeats itself....Harry Sr. lost to Vincent Orange in 1998 then shortly after passed away....Harry got dinged for stealing money. I think its safe to say the Thomas reign in Ward 5 and DC is over.

    Whoever wins, I hope takes pride in making sure the dark days of Ward 5 are over. Ward 5 is a beautiful community and I think the residents are passionate about community issues and making sure the citizens can have a great lifestyle.

    Good Luck!!

  • NE John

    My Ward 5 is full of idiots. Tick tock tick tock

  • Throw The Book

    Your the prime example!

  • Need a change

    Kenyon McDuffie has the intergity that ward 5 needs...

  • smart ward 5 res

    Five minutes with Drew Hubbard and you realize he not only has good intentions and the integrity necessary, but more importantly, the knowledge and vast experience to walk in and do the job day one, no usual new job learning curve needed. Execution needed and from him it can be delivered right away. We need representation now

  • Carver/Langston Res

    I agree that anyone was listens to Hubbard will instantly place him atop the list. Experience in such a dysfunctional council is what we need. Lawyers and businessmen are rookies in public office. Drew has been there and done that.

  • DC5

    McDuffie comes most recently from the Mayor's policy shop and has broader federal and state experience. He's a real government lawyer and not a wheeler-dealer lobbyist-type; no learning curve for him.

  • Turkey Ticket

    I was at Turkey Ticket today and I saw Delano Hunter busing people to vote. Those people were not registered and they did not know what was going on. They finally got registed and voted for Mr Hunter. After they finished each one was taken to the McDonald for food.

    Ward 5, is the type of leader you are sending to the Wilson Building. Please Wake up, and vote.

    Do not let Delano Hunter, win this important election.

  • Throw The Book

    @TurkeyTicket first and foremost its Turkey THICKET not Turkey Ticket, please dont forget that. Thats a complete insult.

    2nd you have same day registration, and whats the difference between feeding people mcdonalds and if a kid doesnt scream and shout in the barber shop chair and gets a piece of candy? Exactly

    same difference, dont be mad if his GOTV efforts are getting his people out and your favorite candidate doesnt have the means to do so smh....

  • Jes sayin’

    @Throw the Book....

    I have no dog in this fight, but the difference is it's illegal - and a crime - to pay someone or provide them something of value for their vote.

    Of course, "walking around money" is as old as politics itself.

  • Joe

    I have been the recipient of several hilarious calls from volunteers of several candidates. The callers don't know a damn thing about the candidates. When I ask them why they call to talk about somebody who they don't know, they hang up. So Sad.

    I talked to Delano Hunter the other day at Turkey Thicket. We talked about 5 minutes. He's as shallow as a dribble of piss on concrete. He mentioned a certain DC contracting employee as somebody with integrity. At that point, I told him that he lost my vote, because he put forth the name of an idiot.

  • NE John

    Joe, forget about it. These guys are all morons. We just have to wait it out. About five more years.

  • EJJ

    DC5 - you are incorrect Kenyan worked as an adviser for the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and wasn't a member of the Mayor's Policy Shop (Office of Policy & Legislative Affairs). He reported to the Deputy Mayor not Janene Jackson who heads the Mayor's Policy Office. Secondly he was a staff assistant for EHN. As a former Hill Staffer during the same time I know of the work load and in addition still have his sold business card. He is a nice guy but please don't embellish his resume. He doesn't have a strong policy background.

    As for Drew Hubbard he actually did legislative work for Congressman Earl Hillard of Alabama.

    NE John - your response that all of these guys are morons just shows that you are confusing what you see in the mirror with that is real. You sit behind a keyboard and hide and thrown darts but as usual do nothing to make things better.

    If you are ready for real leadership and experience vote Drew Hubbared http://www.Hubbardforward5.com as he has the best resume, best experience and is truly prepared to start work on day 1.

  • Realist

    Drew Hubbard is the man for Ward 5. He stands out for me, a 30 year resident of Ward 5, because he's smart and carries himself with integrity. Ask anyone who has ever met the guy, Ward 5 deserves a person like Drew.

  • Joe

    EJJ, I don't know who you are, but it appears that you use your experience as a former hill staffer to give an appearance of credibility to your opinion. In my view, since you are a former hill staffer, you are part of the problem. Do us a favor: go back to the hill and hide behind your policy pronouncements. Let the PEOPLE run Ward 5.

  • Resident of Trinidad

    Ward 5 sorely needs a councilman like Drew Hubbard. The guy is experienced, savvy and intelligent Sad part is, Ward 5 may not be intelligent enough itself to elect him. We're getting a clown like Hunter instead. Tis a sad sad day.

  • NE John

    EJJ, I voted Tim Day twice now. What more can I do? Murder the other candidates?

  • Throw The Book

    Tim Day sucks and Ward 5 will never vote in another republican no matter how bad the Demorcratic candidate is.

    Also Ward 5's main concern are kids and senior citizens. So unless you fall within those groups, or arent in support of those groups, your opinion really doesnt mean much at the end of the day lol.

  • Throw The Book

    @Trinidad Hubbard is a cornball

  • NE John

    Hey dick (throw the book), you know nothing about me. I happened to have raised 4 kids in Ward 5, and I am a grandfather nearing senior citizen status. So go fuk yourself.

  • cutthecrap

    @smart ward 5 res and the others...Drew Hubbard doesn't even know where Ward 5 is. He's never done anything for the ward nor is he an active participant in the Ward 5 community. Just because he's jumped from council office to council office (Kwame, Barry, M.Brown) doesn't make him aware of what the ward wants. On top of the fact that Hubbard has the personality of a knat.