An Election? Yes, Vote April 23
You probably know this, but there’s an election being held tomorrow, April 23, in Washington.
You didn’t know?
That’s a possibility, too, although the splash of political signs around the city—local D.C.’s own version of spring planting, promoting Elissa, Perry, Anita, Matthew, Paul and Pat—should give you a hint.
The election is a special one—although after so many special elections over the last few years—it may not seem so special. This one’s for the District Council at-large seat vacated by Phil Mendelson when he ascended to the District Council Chairmanship in yet another special election. In addition, there was another special election for another open at-large seat several years ago in which Vincent Orange barely squeaked out a win over Republican Pat Mara. And let’s not forget—you have?-- the special election held to replace Ward 5 Councilman Fred Thomas, Jr., who resigned and is currently in jail, won by Kenyon McDuffie.
A neighbor asked me about the candidates this morning. We discussed a few of them, and she was tending toward Anita Bonds, the long-time city and Democratic Party official who now holds the seat, courtesy of an interim appointment, which technically makes her the incumbent. “She’s been around a while,” she said. “She seems to know what she’s doing.” “I don’t know though,” she added. “Maybe, I just won’t vote.”
Another neighbor pointed out that there had been a story in the Washington Post that morning which reported that Alissa Silverman, a Democratic “reform” candidate, had tried to get fellow Democrat Matthew Frumin, a Ward 3 advisory neighborhood commissioner, to drop out of the race to winnow the field of Democrats which might otherwise split among four candidates, which includes Bonds, and attorney Paul Zukerberg, whose key issue is the marijuana de-criminalization. The other two remaining candidates are Statehood D.C. candidate Perry Redd and, of course, Mara, the Republican now making his third bid for a city council seat.
The one thing that has characterized all the special elections—and to a smaller degree the general elections—is that this one is likely to have a very low voter turnout with the conventional wisdom being that 15,000 votes could win the election. There are 38,000 Republicans registered in the District, a factoid which gives Mara a lot of hope.
Yet, in the only poll taken, by the Public Policy Polling Company, shows Bonds holding a narrow 6-percent edge over Silverman and Mara—19 percent to 13 percent of likely voters—with Rudd, Frumin and Zukerberg trailing in single-digit percentiles.
The Bonds lead seems to this corner somewhat ephemeral—the last appointed incumbent, the capable Sekou Biddle finished third behind Mara and Orange. And Bonds, who’s taken to becoming invisible on the crowded candidate forum trail, stumbled when she suggested that black voters vote for her because she was the only black Democrat in the field.
Not discounting the presence of Rudd—who has proven by far to the most rhetorically powerful and eloquent candidate in the field judging by the two forums I attended—the fact that he and Bonds are the African Americans in the field says something about the population shift in the city. Yet it shouldn’t say anything about whom you should vote for. Rudd’s obliquely addressed the changes in the city, its gentrification and rising prosperity where bikers and bike lanes are every bit as important as crime in the streets.
Everybody on the campaign trail talks about affordable housing. It wasn’t discussed as much at the Georgetown Business Association forum as it was at the TENAC forum, where it was a key topic, given that the group fights for tenants and renters rights. It seems even with $100 million set aside on the part of Mayor Vincent Gray for affordable housing, no candidate has so far managed to identify what affordable housing actually is and who can afford it for that matter.
In the Georgetown forum at Tony & Joe's Restaurant—where Silverman and Bonds were absent—the discussion was as much about high gas prices as it was about housing, making the city competitive with suburban contractors and employees, zoning and other issues. Mara touted his connections to Republican members of the committee that has oversight over D.C. and to Republicans in general as a way of being able to help the District. He has also promised to be a keen watchdog on the council’s ethical issues—some of which remains if only as a kind of uncomfortable atmosphere after the affairs Graham, Thomas and Brown (Kwame).
Speaking of Brown, Michael Brown, who was originally in this race to regain a seat on the council that he lost in the last general election, decided to drop out because of personal and family reasons. His name, however, remains on the ballot.
Silverman has professional expertise as an economic and budget policy worker and researcher and in a previous career was a journalist covering politics and city government for the Washington Post and the City Paper, where she was for a time the Loose Lips reporter and an effective one.
In many ways, she’s easily the most effective and competent candidate in the field and is in the tradition of a liberal and reforming Democrat which the majority Democrats among voters ought to find appealing. But in the course of the campaign she’s also managed to challenge Zukerberg’s registration signatures and reportedly tried to get another candidate to drop out. At the TENAC forum, she and an angry Zukerberg got into a political argument about her challenge and her claim not to have taken corporate donations, which Zukerberg challenged.
Bonds failed to show up for the TENAC forum, which might have been a naturally sympathetic arena for her, filled as it was with long time community leaders, labor leaders and activists.
Zukerberg insists he’s not a one-issue candidate but his resounding claim that the city has put more young men into jail for drug charges than it has graduated from high school is still one of the best attention getters around—all the more so because it sounds true.
Bonds has a number of endorsement to cite, the most impressive of which is the backing of several of her colleagues on the council, including Marion Barry, Jack Evans, McDuffie, Muriel Bowser and Yvette Alexander.
Mara has been endorsed by the Washington Post, the Chamber of Commerce and the Sierra Club, certainly an eclectic group. But the Post may be right in claiming that Mara would bring a fresh presence to the council, but they’re wrong in presenting him as a latter-day Carol Schwartz, who was the essence of a non-traditional Republican. Mara’s entry into the 2008 race challenging and defeating Schwartz in a bitter campaign, led to his own defeat when “independent” Michael Brown entered the race in the general election. While Mara has endorsed marriage equality, abortion rights and budget autonomy (from Congress), he did on the other hand support Mitt Romney and is a hard-core fiscal conservative. In the climate of super-charged commercial development and a rush to condo, this doesn’t make him an outsider on the council.
Voters will also be asked to weigh in on Proposed Charter Amendment VIII regarding local budget autonomy. As things stands the Home Rule Act gives Congress affirmative action in regard to the entire District of Columbia budget. The Charter Amendment “ would permit the Council to adopt the annual local budget for the District of Columbia government; would permit the District to spend local funds in accordance with each Council approved budget action; and would permit the Council to establish the District’s fiscal year.”