Loose Lips

Cash Is the Best?

Matthew Frumin knows a thing or two about long-shot political campaigns.

In the mid-’90s, his father tried to get him to run for Congress as a Democrat in a safely Republican district near Detroit.

Frumin begged off. An attorney with a young family living in D.C., Frumin didn’t want to move back to the city of his childhood just to lose an election. To get his dad off the phone, Frumin says he said something to the effect of: If you think it’s such a good idea, maybe you should run yourself.

So Frumin’s dad Morris, then a 75-year-old psychiatrist with no history in politics, did just that. And Frumin wound up moving back to Detroit anyway to manage his father’s campaign. Frumin’s father lost that 1996 contest, 61 percent to 36 percent, to Republican incumbent Joe Knollenberg.

“I don’t think he had any illusions,” Frumin says of his father. “He wanted to say his piece.”

Four years later, Frumin decided to take his father’s earlier advice, and he left a post as a Clinton administration appointee at the State Department to take on Knollenberg himself in the 2000 election. The end result was the same, though Frumin did better than his dad, losing 56-41.

Thirteen years later, Frumin’s running for office again, a little closer to home, as a candidate in the April 23 special election for an at-large D.C. Council seat. It’s a crowded field of eight candidates (though two might be booted through challenges to the petitions they used to qualify), including several who are much better known around town than Frumin. But Frumin doesn’t want to hear what you think his odds are.

“A longshot? Are you serious?” a very serious Frumin asks LL during an interview this week.

The 53-year-old father of three says he’s not suffering from any illusions: He’s a bona fide contender. An ANC commissioner in Ward 3 since 2008, Frumin says his years spent as an education advocate—first as a parent weighing in on the redesign of Wilson High School and later on education issues citywide—have given him a broad base of support that can help him win what will likely be a low-turnout affair. He’s lived in the District for 30 years. He says his message of inclusion—his campaign theme is “Let’s Grow Together”—resonates throughout the city, including in poorer eastern neighborhoods where white candidates like Frumin haven’t done well in recent contests. And he says he’ll outwork any opponent: “When I’m in, I’m all the way in.”

Virtually anyone running for office tends to have that kind of abundant optimism, regardless of whether they have a chance of winning. But Frumin may have earned the right to be taken seriously with the first round of campaign finance reports that came in last month. Better-known candidates, including newly appointed Councilmember Anita Bonds, former Councilmember Michael Brown, and Republican school board member Pat Mara, reported tepid fundraising totals. But Frumin raised a respectable $72,000. That total was more than double than that of his closest competitor, former Loose Lips columnist Elissa Silverman. Frumin’s haul is a faster start than anyone had in the last special election, in 2011, and already puts him close to the $100,000 total raised in that contest by Mara, a close second place finisher to Councilmember Vincent Orange. (Though it’s still early: That year, Orange raised more than $322,000, with a large assist from embattled businessman Jeff Thompson.)

Fundraising may come a little easier for Frumin than some of his rivals: He’s an international trade attorney with stints in two large law firms (Arnold & Porter and Steptoe & Johnson) whose friends, neighbors, and colleagues from upper Northwest can afford to write $1,000 checks to at-large Council campaigns. Frumin also has practice in the sometimes delicate art of asking for political money, having been a top fundraiser of a pro-Bill Clinton young professionals group known as the Saxophone Club in the mid-’90s. (This was by no means high-stakes fundraising; Frumin says it consisted mostly of getting $250 checks from his colleagues at his law firm. But it did get him a gig introducing Al Gore at a rally once.)

Money isn’t everything in elections, of course, and his opponents still have plenty of time left to catch up. Among Frumin’s many challenges will be convincing skeptics that he has the ability to appeal to voters outside the rich, white parts of the city west of Rock Creek Park. A persistent speculation LL’s heard from political wags is that Frumin’s campaign this time around is really an attempt to set himself up for a challenge to Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh in the April 2014 Democratic primary.

But Frumin bristles at that suggestion, and says everything he’s done as an education advocate in D.C. has been about pushing for greater equality across the city. He says he wants to join the Council to be a “bridge” between the city’s rich and poor, black and white. He supported Vince Gray over Adrian Fenty in the 2010 mayoral primary, he says, because he supported Gray’s message of “one city.” On policy issues, Frumin would likely be on the more liberal side of the Council on budget matters (he says he wants to spend part of the current surplus on affordable housing and job training rather than put it in the bank like the mayor wants) and has done well with the smart-growth set in a series of online polls put together by Greater Greater Washington’s David Alpert.

As for black voters living in the eastern half of the District, who have largely rejected white candidates in past at-large elections, Frumin’s campaign chairwoman, Leticia Barnes-Long, says plenty of her neighbors in Ward 7’s Hillcrest would vote for a white candidate if the right one came along. And she says Frumin, whom she’s worked with for several years as members of the same PTA, is that guy: He “transcends this whole racial thing.”

“We all talk diversity, he actually practices it,” Long says.

But political consultant Tom Lindenfeld doubts Frumin will have any sizeable support among black voters, which would leave him competing with Mara and Silverman for the same group of white voters. And those voters, Lindenfeld says, will be looking for guidance from the Washington Post editorial board.

“His chances are entirely dependent on the vote of two people. If he gets the vote of Jo-Ann Armao and Fred Hiatt, he could be somebody,” Lindenfeld says, referring to the Post’s local editorial writer and editorial page editor. “If he doesn’t get them, he’ll be on the pile of also-rans who are soon forgotten.”

Frumin says he’d be thrilled to get the Post endorsement, but doesn’t count it essential to win. The paper endorsed Mara in the 2011 special election, Sekou Biddle in last year’s Democratic primary for Orange’s seat, and Fenty in the 2010 mayoral primary.

“There is no question of the sincerity of my message,” he says. “The question is how much traction can my message get.”

If he keeps outraising his opponents at the current clip, he might be able to buy some sizeable traction.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Truth hurts

    He's a Gray supporter who makes no mention of DC's biggest political crisis -- an ingrained pay to play culture. No way.

  • DC Guy

    If you think Silverman, Mara and Frumin will split votes, why don't you think Bonds, Brown and Settles, if he is still in, will too?

    Seems to me this race is wide open, given the players involved.

  • Carlos Davila

    Mara is a good guy, but DC cannot vote for someone who shares the same ideas that Republicans presently do. They are at war with minorities, immigrants and the poor.

    As for Silverman, sure, she is a nice lady, but not DC Council material. She has never governed or lead anything.

    My candidate will be Matthew Frumin. He gets us, all of us. Yeah, his white, but he is Jewish too and has devoted himself to defending human and civil rights around the world. He is honest, smart and accomplished.

    Bonds and Brown are old news, yesterday's flavor of the week.

  • Jes’ sayin’

    I've met this guy and he talks a good game. Nothing new about that.

    But when I talked to people who have worked with him, I kept hearing that he works hard, he respects people, he listens, he's fair, and he gets things done. And nobody I've talked to who knows him has said a bad word about him.

    I'm not sure who I'm going to vote for, but for now, he's my first choice.

  • Jes’ sayin’ 2

    I've met this guy and he talks a good game, but he doesn't walk as good as he talks... despite what you may have heard.

    I think one of the last things that DC needs following the pay to play culture problem in DC government would be someone leading the cash race. And I'd certainly want to know where those contributions are coming from before I was comfortable saying I support this person or that.

    DC's government has suffered from too much of the same. And I seriously question whether this isn't more of it.

  • noodlez

    BROWN, MARA AND BONDS HAVE NAME RECOGNITION SO THEY DONT NEED THAT LONG MONEY FOR A SHORT GAME.

    SILVERMAN 'BOUT TO FUCK IT UP FOR ALL THE LEGITIMATE FOLK WEST OF 16TH. THIS JOKER FRUMIN MIGHT BE A DARK HORSE WITH HIS DEEP POCKETS HOWEVA I TRULY BELIEVE THAT THE CANDIDATE WHO COMES ACROSS AS LESS COMMERCIAL AND MORE TRADITIONAL (NOT OLD SCHOOL) SHOULD WIN THE SEAT.

    @DAVILA-SO EXACTLY WHAT DOES HIM BEING A JEW HAVE TO DO WITH HIM GETTING ELECTED? FOLK VIEW HIM AS WHITE AND A WARD 3 ELITIST MORE THAN ANYTHING AND HIS RELIGION/ETHNICITY WILL HAVE VERY LITTLE TO DO WITH HIM WINNING OR LOSING!

    ONE CITY.

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  • Yum

    DC Guy, you said "...why don't you think Bonds, Brown and Settles, if he is still in, will too?"

    One reason is because Brown will get no votes from black, white, green, yellow, or indifferent...

    Brown does need to raise some serious cash though so he can lose it towards his mortgage payment, car payment, groceries and walkin' around money.

  • http://www.twitter.com/JoelLawsonDC Joel

    By all accounts a wonderful guy.

    But not a word in here about ethics or reform, and not a word about those topics on Frumin's website. They don't even make the grade for his 747-word "Plan" section on his site.

    Pat Mara has been drumbeating ethics and reform for years. He's never been silent, and he's no late-comer either. This lifelong active Dem is voting for Pat Mara.

  • name

    Really? DC needs another la-la land rich ultra liberal who can't learn the lessons of the past 40 years overfunding social service "providers" while never making a dent in upward mobility, educational outcomes or a safer city?

    Really, where is the benefit? What political angle does this guy bring that's not amply covered by the existing council? Why don't we just give an extra vote to one of the existing council members, because it won't change anything in DC.

    Frumin: Black folks don't want him, and White folks don't need him TM.

  • SEis4ME

    Frumin's an attractive candidate.

    Hopefully I'm no longer censored (held days in moderation) and this will post before the election!!

  • Village voices

    No one talks about it but I would certainly like to hear from one of the candidates who knows how much money we spend on social services??I bet you not one of them knows other than Catania who believes keeping people begging for free services is the government's only roll. And he bestowed a lot of money...If one of the candidate does their due delligence and talks about how he is going to reduce that amount by uplifting people to the next stage gets my money..

  • NE John

    Let it be on the record that I have nothing to say about this guy.

    The most important Ward 5 voter
    NE John

  • Gilla

    Guy just sounds like another champagne socialist looking to make policy for us mere mortal while holed up in his castle west of the park. Ward 3 is so divorced from the realities of DC that I am reticent to vote for anyone from Ward 3 for At-Large.

  • truth hurts

    Like Joel, I too looked at Frumin's website before posting my comment. It makes no mention of council ethics or campaign finance reform.

    There is only one at-large candidate who is not soliciting or accepting corporate campaign cash. And that candidate, if elected, would not owe the pay to players anything other than good government. That candidate is a woman.

  • SEis4ME

    That candidate is a woman.

    Who happens to be a former lobbyist appealing largely to the stark divide w/in the city.

    What difference does posting something about ethics serve. Saint Wells posts it on his website as well and will likely be a hallmark of campaign. Yet, he voted against the ethics bill...the only one at that.

  • Name

    And that candidate is taking money from neighborhood NIMBYs. Is that someone who will take smart growth and progressive urban policies seriously?

  • Jes sayin’ 3

    When you talk to people who worked with Jes 1? Of all the ANCs he's worked with in the past, how many are supporting him? Looks like most are supporting Mara or Silverman.

  • truth hurts

    I think that's someone who will take everything seriously. Most importantly, someone who will take ethics seriously. Someone who won't be holding court with pay to play city contractor lobbyists. Someone who won't be hanging out with Bereano, Cooke, Wilmot, and others who've been gorging at the public trough for far too long. Someone who won't abuse an elected office and embarrass the city.

  • Jes sayin’ 4

    Name, who are these NIMBYs you speak of?

  • Ward4Resident

    Yea he raised a lot of money but where did those checks come from. Is that local money or money from other states. Is that money from DC voters or money from DC residents that still vote in their hometowns across the country. He will get his name in the paper. Every election someone gets 15 days of fame then become a after thought. How many of the White candidates I actually worked in the Black communities of Ward 7 and Ward 8 prior to running for office. If they win will they be back or wait until the next election. It may not be chocolate city anymore but the Black voters are not going to allow the Council to continue to tip majority White. Match.

  • Name

    @ward4resident the filings are available from the OCF website. He has raised the most money from within the DC borders. Yes, all of the candidates have money from out of state.

    @jes sayin4 Look at the filings. People who opposed the AU law school and other Ward 3 development. Note who hosted Ms. Silverman recently in Ward 3, but one of the most obnoxious former ANC Commissioners in the city. And the theme? NIMBYism. Check the next round of filings to confirm.

  • truth hurts

    Took your advice, Name, and pulled Frumin's campaign finance report. In answer to your question, Ward 4, the overwhelming majority of his money is from Frumin and family (@ 20k), and Ward 3 addresses near his Albemarle Street home (@ 20-30k). Most of the rest is from out of state and/or business interests (eg, Jemal & other big developers). Interesting how he put the corporate dough on the last page.

    DC individual donors, particularly those writing 1k checks, are primarily wealthy Ward 3 neighbors, which would make sense if he was running for Cheh's ward 3 seat. But he's running for a city-wide seat.

  • Name 2

    Name, that's the best you can do! Those are the people who signed the big groundbreaking deal that Frumin has been telling people he brokered LOL!

  • Name 3

    Truth, did you notice how he left out the employers for the Holland lawyers who work on Jemal's developments?

  • truth hurts

    Don't forget that Jemal (convicted felon) and one city Gray have been joined at the hip for years. Frankly, I don't think political candidates should accept campaign contributions from felons, particularly when they don't pay their taxes.

    It never bothered Gray, though, and look what that led to.

  • Cassandra

    Look what Google comes up with when you do a search for Jemal lawyer and $500 Frumin contributor Norman Glasgow. http://ocf.dc.gov/pdf_files/cfd/PI%201999-102%28c%29_116.pdf He has a record of paying off ANC commissioners.

  • noodlez

    SO HE IS A WHITE VINCENT ORANGE WITHOUT ALL THE BLUSTER?

    SEWERMAN AND WASHCITYPAPER GAVE FRUMIN THE KISS OF DEATH.

  • Really?

    TH those numbers say wayyyy too much! And I’ll make sure that I tell all my voting buddies about this But let's be fair Jemal has been glued to the hip of Gray, Fenty and Williams. Remember Williams moved DOES and several other agencies to the old Peoples building on NY Ave that Jamel owns. Essentially giving the guy full occupancy (i.e. rent) paid in full my DC citizens. Jack's headquarters was located several times at the corner of 7th and NY Avenue. Guess who owns that spot.

    Jamal gets the quote "In politics there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies...just permanent interest.

  • Really?

    On another note, more free press for a white candidate by the WCP. Where are the 99 articles on Jimmy going to appear?

  • name

    Stop stealing my handle.

    Sincerely,

    Name, the first.

    PS The first post was mine, everyone else was a scam. I must have created quite a brand for myself.

    PPS F'ing Punks.

  • MattDC

    How long are we going to have to look at this dude's ugly mug? Can't escape it. Did someone split his lower lip? I'm going to take a week off, hopefully pic be gone by then.

  • Drez

    Awesome takedown.
    Good job, TH.

  • BONE

    HE'S THE MIDDLE AGE RICH GREY WHITE GUY FROM WARD 3 WHO THINKS BLACK FOLKS WILL VOTE FOR HIM IF HE KEEPS SAYING THAT EVERY NEIGHBORHOOD DESERVES A GREAT SCHOOL. WHICH OF THE OTHER CANDIDATE DON'T WANT GREAT SCHOOLS IN EVERY OTHER NEIGHBORHOOD?

  • DC Guy

    It isn't just a matter of wanted a good neighborhood school for each neighborhood, but a path to get there. Frumin actually has one, I believe. Do the other candidates? Particularly Mara, who is on the School Board?

  • Alf

    I am still waiting to make up my mind on a challenger. One thing is certain: no way will I vote for "Barry Bonds" !

  • johnnie

    this fool won't even know what time a council hearing starts everybody wants to earn 125k without doing sny work. what has he done prior to running is what we need to be asking and stop giving away our tax dollars.

    hell anita bonds look drunk or sleep just sitting there at hearings and now thanks to her fired office clerk we know all that she is doing on our government dollar is campaigning from her council officer which is against the law.

  • DC Guy

    Read the article...he is a lawyer - probably taking a huge pay cut to become a councilmember.

...