Loose Lips

The Goo-Goo Posse

The resignation of former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown, after he pleaded guilty to bank fraud, will probably lead to exactly what his victory in the chairman’s race did: a special election to fill an at-large seat.

Brown’s departure meant a promotion for current Chairman Phil Mendelson, who is almost certain to win a November special election to keep that job. That’ll lead to another special election to fill Mendelson’s old seat sometime next spring, which is what happened when Brown won the chairman’s race two years ago.

That race produced a crowded field with several candidates jockeying for the role of the reforming outsider, while a consummate insider—former Ward 5 Councilmember and Pepco lobbyist Vincent Orange—won. A year later, Orange beat more self-proclaimed outsiders in the Democratic primary to hold onto the seat.

Orange will likely win in November’s general election, and LL would bet so will Councilmember Michael Brown, defeating yet more “outsiders”—including independent David Grosso and Republican Mary Brooks Beatty—despite the several guilty pleas from councilmembers and campaign aides to the mayor and the resulting low public opinion of the city’s elected officials. For some reason, District voters just can’t quit their incumbents.

But it’s very likely that next year’s special election could be incumbent-free, presenting a golden opportunity for the previously vanquished reformer types to finally make it inside the Wilson Building. The question is: Will any of them want to?

***

Two years ago the D.C. Republican Party had a plan: run candidates in several ward races in the general election with the hopes of creating enough momentum to propel Pat Mara to victory in the special election Kwame Brown wound up winning.

It almost worked. Mara lost to the well-funded and well-known Orange by only 1,732 votes. Mara did most things right: He beat an incumbent for the Ward 1 school board race just before the special election, nabbed the Washington Post’s endorsement, and ran on a good-government platform at a time when Sulaimon Brown was becoming a household name.

But he was no match for Orange, who won large swaths of the vote in majority-black parts of town while Mara, Sekou Biddle, Bryan Weaver, and Josh Lopez split votes in the mostly white wards west of Rock Creek Park.

It was a bitter disappointment for the local GOP, which correctly saw the nonpartisan special election as the party’s best chance of returning a Republican to the council. It had been more than a decade since a special election led to a GOP victory: David Catania beat Arrington Dixon in 1997. (Catania left the GOP in 2004 to become an independent.)

So Mara must be chomping at the bit to seize this unforeseen second chance so soon after last year’s loss, right? Especially since the scandals at the Wilson Building have only gotten much, much worse. Yeah, not so much.

Mara says his official position at this point is, “I don’t know,” and sounds decidedly less-than-eager about the prospects of running a full-on citywide campaign again.

“I know how much it takes,” says Mara, who beat incumbent Carol Schwartz to win a Republican primary for an at-large seat in 2008 but lost the general election to Michael Brown, who had switched his party affiliation from Democratic to independent to be eligible. “Between me and there is about 72 community forums, several interviews...some people yelling at me, standing at Metros at 5 a.m. There’s a lot.”

Nick Jeffress, executive director of the DCGOP, says the wounds from the last defeat haven’t healed: “I know the last special election really took a toll on him and the confidence of the party.”

Still, Jeffress says Mara has been talking to people about a possible run. And Mara says he’s more likely to run if his party’s other candidates, Brooks and longshot GOP Ward 7 candidate Ron Moten, lose in November (which they likely will). Mara might just be playing coy—it is only September, after all, and the seat the special election would fill isn’t technically even vacant—but his lack of obvious enthusiasm for what seems like a pretty big gift seems contagious.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to get a reform-minded candidate in, and no one has come to talk to me about running for that seat,” says Ward 6 Councilmartyr Saint Tommy Wells, a grand poobah of the city’s reform-minded voters.

Weaver, who ran unsuccessfully against Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham in a 2010 Democratic primary before coming in a distant fourth in the 2011 special, has bulked up his reform bona fides by spearheading an effort to ban corporate donations to local pols. That effort is tied up in court, where Weaver says all his current attention is focused. “I need to get through this court case before I think about the future,” he says.

Biddle actually served on the council after the Democratic Party appointed him to a vacant seat, but narrowly lost to Orange in a primary this spring for the rest of the term. He says he’s not “ruled anything out or made any decisions” about his political future.

Lopez says he’s not interested, while Grosso and Brooks say they are entirely focused on their current race.

So far, Peter Shapiro is the only previous candidate who called himself an outsider in a losing bid who has openly expressed an interest in running again, though he says he’s not yet made up his mind. “Not a lot has changed, it’s a pretty broken system,” says Shapiro. (Some Orange foes, meanwhile, still blame Shapiro’s long-shot campaign for drawing votes away from Biddle in this spring’s primary, helping Orange win the seat.)

If there are any other would-be reformer/outsider candidates out there who haven’t run before and are contemplating doing so, they’ve not made it onto the radar of the politically connected wags with whom LL speaks frequently.

Maybe it’s too early, but contrast this apparent enthusiasm gap with what happened in Ward 5, where Harry Thomas Jr. resigned at the beginning of the year after admitting to stealing more than $350,000 in city funds. Candidates were quietly lining up to be Thomas’ replacement months before it was clear that he was a goner. A total of 12 people eventually ran in a special election in May. The ultimate winner: Kenyan McDuffie, who trounced the field while running on a reform-oriented platform.

Wells says he’s approached people he’d like to see run next spring and told them “now is the time” to start running. “There’s no value to waiting on this,” he says.

Even before any special election next spring, there’s a first step within the ultimate group of insiders: the D.C. Democratic State Committee. The group will get to appoint a temporary replacement for Mendelson to fill the seat until a special election can be held (and after, if the temporary councilmember runs and wins that election). Anita Bonds, the head of the local party and former aide to Mayor-for-Life-turned Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, says she wants to try out council life.

“Hopefully, it’ll be a good match for me,” she says. “If it isn’t, I’ll be the first to own up.”

Doug Sloan, a campaign consultant to Orange who ran unsuccessfully against Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton in a 2010 primary, says he’s lobbying committee members for the appointment, too. His pitch: He could make the state committee more relevant in city affairs.

“There’s no reason in this one party city why the Democratic State Committee isn’t calling all the shots,” Sloan says. “They should be, but they’re not.”

LL’s doubtful that kind of message will resonate well outside of party insiders come special election time. Then again, if it wins Sloan the appointment, he’d go into the election as an incumbent. Which, unless District voters kick their habit between then and now, might just be all he’d need.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • ToTheContrary

    IMO,there is a collective dysfunction among the electorate, as well as, with media types like the WCP and WP in the District. Many voters do not trust the WP or CP because of perceived underlying motives for their christening one candidate over another. It is a unique democratic rift in the city that runs straight along a racial divide. Pioneers or "outsiders" as LL puts it,have, historically, taken on a paternalistic disrespectful tone when it comes to the ideas and interests of African American citizens. A "sit down and shut up, I know what's best" attitude. An attitude that is time and time again met with a brick wall of resistance. While, on the other hand, African Americans, ever on the defensive, select candidates who may not be ethically as upright as they would like, but they know, or perceive to know, will not ignore them once elected or treat them like children.

    This is the collective dysfunction of the District of Columbia. In a perpetual cycle.

  • Mike Madden

    @TotheContary:

    Here, "outsider" means "outside D.C. politics," as Sekou Biddle (one example LL cites) has lived in the District his whole life.

  • Sally

    DC simply has no bench from which to draw good candidates. Instead, all we get are either the usual retreads or the hopelessly naive.

  • ToTheContrary

    Mayor Tony Williams was the ideal "outsider". A non native Washingtonian.

  • SEis4ME

    TTC, pretty good points.

    I've been here long enough to see the same dynamic. The "reformers" of the previous mayoral electoral cycle were demonstrative of the sort of "talking down" many of them resort to. In fact, one of the major talking points here @WCP and other outlets..as well as among the electorate is, "they don't know what's good for them."

    Obviously, the "outsiders" will vehemently reject that characterization but I only have to point to one constant...Marion Barry. I can't tell you the number of times those of us in Ward 8 (irrespective of whether we ever voted for the man) have been caricatured as the most pitiful, ignorant lot of DC residents.

    But I will disagree w/your characterization that we are "ever defensive." We're only defensive while under attack. I've yet to see any group who doesn't respond in kind under those circumstances.

  • ToTheContrary

    @SEis4ME fair enough. Adrian Fenty, too, was one of the "reformer" folks who may well have been as great or greater a mayor as Tony Williams had he not taken on the dismissive attitude of the "outsiders" where it pertains to African American voters who put him in office. His ideas were decent enough but his attitude, which in politics DOES still matter, was disgusting.

    News (used loosely)organizations,like the WCP and WP, actually facilitate the divisions that have become entrenched in the city. They have themselves to thank for keeping Marion Barry relevant. They make him out to be Robin Hood. When the WP or CP endorse a candidate African Americans tend to vote for the other guy/gal. That should tell them something. It is the kiss of death. They aren't trusted except by the "outsiders" read: Poineers.

  • Bebop

    The phrase is "champing at the bit," not "chomping at the bit," yo.

  • Bebop

    Then there's this -- "“There’s no reason in this one party city why the Democratic State Committee isn’t calling all the shots,” Sloan says. “They should be, but they’re not.”"

    Lord, please save us from an unelected Democratic State Committee shadow government...

  • Peter Rosenstein

    Talk of who will run for the open seat if Mendelson wins the Council Chair seat- which he will- is interesting. There are many good people out there who could run for that seat in a special election.

    But I am always amazed at what people in DC call reform or outsiders vs. regular or insiders in District politics.

    The Washington Post always likes to tout a Repbulican as if they were good outsiders. I think they do it to show how diverse they are even if most people think that is funny. The Washington City Paper likes to have a picture of Pat Mara kind of implying he is a reformer even if he has been around DC politics now for many years.

    I would find it interesting if in today's climate the City would elect someone who has ensorsed the Romney/Ryan ticket and touted his being at the Republican Convention which approved a platform that is an anathma to the LGBT community,women, and most minorities. Mara also recently said in order to get Congress to give us budget and legislative autonomy we should give something up in trade. He did neglect to mention what he thought that should be.

    I hope that someone with a record of sterling community service; support of the principles enunciated in the Democrat Party platform; and a willingness to stand up and speak out on the issues of the day will decide to throw their hat in the ring.

    We don't need someone to throw out the baby with the bathwater so to speak. The City is doing really well in many areas. We need someone who can work to change what needs changing while supporting all the good things that are happening. We need someone who will support education reform and charter schools, and oppose school vouchers which take money from public education. We need someone who will end the practice of constituent service funds and pay-to-play campaign financing and who will be willing to criticize the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. We need someone who will support a progressive tax system but won't be afraid to raise taxes if that is the only way to preserve the safety net for those who need it. We need someone who will support unions and workers while at the same time making sure that they fight for fair and reasonable contract provisions. We need someone who can bridge the divide between the Wards and the economic diversity of this City while respecting the diversity of its people.

    I am sure in a City of 620,000 people and growing there are many people who fit the bill whether we want to call them reformers or not and whether they are outsiders or insiders doesn't really matter if they are good.

  • iknewthehellbetter

    @Peter Rosenstein - OMG! You're the one! You should run. Come on...you've got the formula, the recipe, and the plan. Why don't you????

  • SEis4ME

    TTC, excellent analysis of which I agree 100%

  • Pingback: The Goo-Goo Posse | DUI NH

  • noodlez

    ONE CITY!

  • cutthecrap

    Finally, some intelligent conversation on an article written here. Kudos to all (even though I may disgree with some of what has been said). Peter Rosenstein, good analysis...what you need to do is come east of the river on a regular basis and gather support. That is what others have failed to do. As someone who lives EOTR, there is nothing worst that a candidate who only shows up when he's running while telling you how hard he/she will work for your interest. That's almost as bad as the WP and WCP having their "they don't know what's good for them" and paternalistic disrespectful tone. @TotheContrary...maybe we can get you to identify yourself and run(are you Bonnie Erbe?). Very good, honest analylsis. This is what we need. Peter, thanks for noticing that the city is doing well in many areas. @Bebop...you need to do some research on the Democratic Party State Committee/Central Committee in other states. If you were versed and educated in this area, you would find that the DC Democratic State Committee functions in the same capacity as CA, NY, IL, and other states. There is really no difference. Because we are considered as a "one party" city/state, registered Democrats in DC don't support the party like they should (finacially or otherwise). If you want a good central committee you gotta put some teeth behind it. You can't sit on the sidelines or on your hands and then when things don't go your way cry like a bitch. Make certain you are involved and part of the decision making process. BTW..most members of the DCDSC are elected by the people of the District. People like Bebop are part of the problem by putting out misinformation when they can't get "their" way. Also, this city should put out a challenge to Republicans to do better. Who would want to vote for a bunch of do-nothing, losers who act like do-nothing losers. They need to grow a backbone and rise to the occasion. They have been silent on every major issue that pertains to this city.

  • Go Delta

    For all of you know nothing Dumocrits.... Who needs politics when you have all of the cash? Not any Repukacan'ts that I know. At least we had a fake out Dumocrit like Pete Ross? Pete Who? Who tried to do the right thing, like a true RPK for short and just outright buy the election.. Yea Peter? Pete who? I heard about the Payoff EOTR. Other places too. I'm glad EOTR voters don't just vote for the $$$ of it... Rosenstain, I really don't like the end of your name so yes I want to change it. I once had a rotten Landlowlife who didn't want to repair my apartment and didn't want to let me out of the lease. Now, you don't have to do rent strikes. That's one thing that Judge do you Wrong helped do right. Anyway, you touch on a lot but mainly if you could just please help us keep out Senorita Sinile AKA Trader Joanna AKA Anita Bonds from going anywhere near the Council Chambers I would appreciate your help immensely. Truthfully speaking though, We know that we have whites on the Council who couldn't care less about Blacks especially the whiner Catania, and Blacks who may match them with their Me for Me attitude that makes the electorate disgruntled with all or most of them. If Tommy I'm so PHONY Wells shows up to one more meeting with majority Black attendees giving that BS I care speech, I'm going to call the Pope and ask that child molester to pray for me... Disclaimer- Though some people are serious, CP is a joke and so is the WP. They want ratings and I do it for comic relief... Best Paper in the City..I Endorse the WP. There now, they are sure to lose..

  • nowaitadaminit

    WTF you been smokin' Delta? Bi-Polar Punch????

...