Thought 2013 Was a Wild Year for D.C. Politics? Just Wait.
Is it over yet? 2013 would have been a record year for local politics in, say, Duluth, Minn., but after the excitement of 2011 and 2012, it just seemed like another year in the District.
2014 should be different, with reputation-burnishing U.S. Attorney Ron Machen hinting at something big and at least three months of a mayoral campaign to kick it off (and more, if David Catania enters the race). Here are the stories LL will be watching in 2014, with some predictions thrown in.
The negotiators over the D.C. United stadium site at Buzzard Point have already blown through their initial deadlines, which aimed for a deal approved by the D.C. Council by the end of 2013. They still haven’t reached a deal with businessman Mark Ein or the owner of a scrapyard in the stadium’s footprint, meaning the negotiations and the debate over whether D.C. wants to blow so much money buying land for a privately owned soccer stadium will stretch long into 2014.
The real spat over the deal could concern the fate of 14th Street’s Reeves Center office building, meant to be traded to developer Akridge in exchange for a majority of the stadium land. Some councilmembers have already raised concerns about why a hot property on one of the city’s busiest nightlife corridors is being traded away when it could fetch a record price if it was put up for sale to other developers (developers who, LL notes, are also frequent campaign contributors).
Marion Barry’s support for knocking down the building that has his name on the side has been bought with the promise of relocating the Reeves Center to Ward 8, but Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham isn’t going so easily. Graham, up for re-election, is taking the opportunity to push for turning whatever replaces the Reeves Center into offices with ground-level retail. An office building would provide daytime traffic to a neighborhood that wants to move away from turning into a Ballston house party every weekend night. A whip count produced by stadium backer Tommy Wells suggested convincingly that, barring some disaster, D.C. will eventually have a new soccer stadium, but it should still be an issue after April.
Which plays right into the hands of publicly-financed-stadium skeptic and maybe-mayoral candidate Catania. The at-large councilmember spent 2013 turning himself from the guy who shoots spitballs from the back of the class into the guy who leads it, thanks in no small part to his chairmanship of the education committee. Catania’s endless tour of the city’s schools makes for nice campaign fodder. So does the upcoming 2014 rewrite of school boundaries, which should have anguished parents looking for someone to blame as their children’s feeder school paths (and possibly with them, their own property values) evaporate.
Mayor Vince Gray’s campaign will continue its bafflingly slow roll-out, with Gray skipping as many debates as he can. Gray only went to December’s hostile Washington Teacher’s Union debate because he had initially been invited as mayor before he announced his re-election bid. It’s a distinction that avoids the debate’s real attractiveness to Gray: the other candidates had promised not to discuss ethics.
One thing they won’t be so willing to gag themselves on, though, is how much of the city’s boom Gray is responsible for. Gray’s shown himself to be unreasonably touchy on the issue, making it the perfect thing to bring up when audiences tire of hearing about alleged shadow campaign financier Jeff Thompson.
Debates moderated by Advisory Neighborhood Commission members will once again test LL’s belief in representative democracy.
Jack Evans will continue to raise and spend gobs of money. Wells, whose campaign reached the unhappy milestone of spending more than it raised in December’s finance disclosures, will start to run out of funds, making an object lesson of the risks of self-imposed bans on corporate contributions. Wells protege Charles Allen, who has taken on his old boss’ corporate contributions abstention himself, will still manage to win his Ward 6 Council race, thanks to years spent preparing for the race.
In a mayoral contest that’s already seen restaurateur Andy Shallal winning endorsements from Danny Glover and Barbara Ehrenreich and Evans garnering the support of a former White House butler (but not the butler from The Butler), the race is ripe for another out-of-left field endorsement. LL’s money is on chefs, particularly new American citizen José Andrés, who has already tweeted that he loves Wells’ “vision for the city.”
One-time fringe mayoral candidate and Gray campaign henchman Sulaimon Brown will endorse a mayoral hopeful again. Brown’s backing will come for free this time around, but the candidate will not be thrilled.
Ex-mayor Adrian Fenty, remade as a Silicon Valley guru with Steve Jobs’ widow on his arm, will invent the next Snapchat.
Vincent Orange, whose campaign somehow generated $0 in campaign expenses while taking in more than $80,000 in contributions, will keep his effort similarly low-profile through the primary. That will earn him a primary day polling in the single digits, which is exactly what he pulled in 2006. That’ll be fine for VO—for him, the thrill is in the running.
Council chairman Phil Mendelson will hold onto his seat in April, winning the right to continue managing a Council that seems impervious to reasonable reforms like changing the incumbent-friendly April primary date. If Mendelson can’t get his measures passed, at least he can continue to do his parenting routine and tell the councilmembers how disappointed he is in them.
Despite Mendelson’s win, perennial oddball candidate Calvin Gurley will still take a third of the ballots from the anyone-but-Mendelson crowd. Gurley’s haul, in turn, will make Orange wonder why he didn’t just run for chairman instead.
At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds will shake out of her fundraising doldrums and realize that she didn’t win her seat in April’s special election only to hand it over a year later to Shadow Rep. Nate Bennett-Fleming.
The trial of politically juiced Chinatown restaurateur Tony Cheng will start up again, after being delayed in 2013 when Cheng’s attorney had his license suspended. When it begins, we’ll find out whether Cheng really is just being hassled by the feds, as his attorney claims.
The Harry Thomas Jr. scandal, now downright quaint, still has a few indictments left in it. Thomas, a court-ordered guest of the federal government in an Alabama prison camp until next year, made a trip to D.C. last year, reportedly for a meeting in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The reason, maybe? Thomas is giving up somebody else. After all, unlike Thomas’ ill-fated Team Thomas charity, Ron Machen doesn’t send people on trips for swing sports.
Photos by Darrow Montgomery, graphic by Carey Jordan