9% of DC Residents Turn Out for At-Large Council Election

Vincent Orange
Vincent Orange

In this age of wall-to-wall news, the results of a special April 26 election to fill a vacated at-large city council seat in Washington, DC is a small matter, probably not worthy of national attention, and barely noted even by city media.

Yet, in Washington, the election on Tuesday, won by the ever-present, two-term city council member (1998-2006) Vincent Orange, is all of a piece. There is a serendipitous, recurring quality to the campaign, which could be said to have begun in early January when Sekou Biddle, a board of education member, was appointed to the seat vacated by Kwame Brown, who had handily beaten Orange in a race for the city council chairmanship back in November.

Our city is the poster child for the notion that all politics is local. People who live here live in distinct neighborhoods, in areas with distinct qualities, atmospheres, residents and histories. However, the elephants in the Washington neighborhoods are the White House next to Lafayette Park, the Capitol Building, and the people who work in it. Those two places, the members of Congress, the government and the President all make us the center of the world, and entangle our daily lives and local politics in larger national and international issues.

The at-large council race didn’t concern too many people in the beginning, nor did that state of mind change—in the final tally of votes, it showed that 9% of eligible voters took part. It did not concern Mayor Vincent Gray or Chairman Kwame Brown much, except that they supported Biddle for the interim appointment, which in the end did not help Biddle.

Folks did come out to throw their hat into the ring: Sekou Biddle, of course; Bryan Weaver from Ward 1, a liberal community activist with smarts to spare; the youthful Republican Patrick Mara, who had once run for an at-large seat before, in which he managed to beat veteran Carol Schwartz in the GOP primary only to lose to well-know independent Michael Brown; Josh Logan, the young, Hispanic Fenty operative; and inevitably, there was Vincent Orange, not in the least deterred by his previous electoral setbacks.

The campaign did not really get rolling until the last two months, with forum after forum popping up all over the city. In such a race, barring some shocking revelations, forums are the medium and the message rolled into one.

Elsewhere things were not so quiet. Mayor Vincent Gray’s inauguration had been a big success, a one-city dream launched in spite of a looming budget crisis. However, things unraveled after that. Unsuccessful mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown unleashed a stink bomb of a scandal with charges of payoffs and job promises by the Gray Administration, all the while the council investigating Gray’s hiring practices. Kwame Brown, meantime, had his own troubles over ordering up a fully loaded SUV for himself amid questions about missing money from a 2008 campaign.

Investigations, as they say, are ongoing.

The scandals, as they are now lumped, had an effect on the campaign, which eventually had the candidates attacking the ethics of the city council, the administrations, and calling for ethics reform. The once-red-hot education reform issue was still talked about, but at the national level.

Bigger news tends to flatten council races and local governance: the crisis in Japan sucked the air out of local matters for weeks, while the Middle East spring of revolutions and upheaval in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria and other places took up everything else for a while. Today there is a daily standing headline in the Washington Post: “Turmoil in the Middle East.”

Besides causing all kinds of havoc in the White House, there is this: the Exxon Station at the end of Lanier Place in Adams Morgan is now selling regular gasoline at $4.45 a gallon. No one knows exactly why, except Glenn Beck, who says it’s the Federal Reserve that’s at the bottom of all financial plagues.

During the courses of the campaign, we have lived through Ann Hathaway’s Oscar gown changes, Lady Ga Ga, Justin Bieber (one of Time Magazine’ s l00 most influential people), and yes, Charlie Sheen and one more yes, Donald Trump.

Lest you think this is of no importance and without connection to politics or daily lives: Sheen, full of tiger blood and whatnot, had a tour date at the DAR, was an hour late, and got a full-scale police escort which he tweeted about. Not only that, but he agreed with Donald Trump that he had problems with the president’s birth certificate.

We will survive Donald Trump, of course. The president has now seen fit to present his long-form birth certificate, berating Trump and the birthers for “the silliness.” Trump is not satisfied, but he wants to run for president anyway. This in spite of the fact that he appeared to have no clue what the constitution said about privacy.

You can suspect that the only time Trump is being genuine is when he stands in front of the mirror in the morning and says “I love you.”

Trump has had low points, but as one GOP said, “you can’t fall off the floor.” Actually, Charlie Sheen proved that you can. He was dumped by one of his porn star consorts.

Then there was the budget crisis—not ours, which is coming up in a hearing soon—but the nation’s. There was a big scare covered to within an inch of its reality by the local press: What will happen if the government shuts down?

Well, for one thing, your trash doesn’t get picked up, which surprised many people who did not know how closely we were sleeping with the enemy.

A breathless near-midnight watch produced a tentative agreement signed on by the President and both parties (with major grumbling by the Tea Party house members). For the District, the result was a kick in the butt: the loss of abortion funding, the inclusion of a Boehner private school funding project, the loss of funding for needle exchange programs. The mayor and a number of council members were so incensed that they got themselves arrested in protest, and were forced to stay incarcerated until 3 a.m.

Mistrust was running so strong however, that many locals saw this as a political ploy, especially for Gray who needed a good showing somewhere. Biddle also took the jail route. Ward 8 councilman Marion Barry abstained this time.

You can see how the shadow of the budget debate might darken the thoughts of local politicians. What will the city be forced to give up next? Baseball tickets? Home Rule?

With the election looming fast, interest did not materialize in any strong way.

If campaign signs are a measure of community interest, this is what it looked like on Lanier Place: Several signs for Weaver (he is, after all a local boy), one for Biddle, a number of those ubiquitous “Don’t’ Tread on DC” signs (which now reek of irony, given the voter turnout), and a goodly number of “Scoop your Dog Poop” signs.

The election was held with another horrible and deadly weather story in progress in the South. The turnout was low. Vincent Orange was back on the council.

So it goes. All the news that wraps around itself.

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Tue, 29 Jul 2014 04:40:01 -0400

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