The Final Stretch
In one week voters will head to the polls to decide some interesting elections up for grabs in the District. Republicans will pick national committee members and a presidential hopeful. Here is a look at two of the more interesting Democratic races for D.C. Council.
Ward Seven: There may be an upset in the making. Tom Brown, an impressive candidate who is gaining momentum, has emerged to be the leading challenger to Councilmember Yvette Alexander. Brown has won a string of endorsements from the Washington Post, AFL-CIO, Chamber of Commerce and the progressive blog Greater Greater Washington. Neither Alexander nor Brown has a well-funded war chest; they are running on financial fumes. As such, this race may be decided by the campaign able to orchestrate a superior ground game. One advantage Alexander has: four opponents dividing the anti-incumbent vote. But watch out for Tom Brown.
At-Large Council: This is the marquee race. A few weeks ago, when it appeared as though Vincent Orange was cruising toward reelection, I was planning to write a column about how Orange's campaign could be a springboard for a 2014 mayoral bid. But not now. Orange has come under fire since news broke of the blockbuster Jeffrey Thompson money-order bundling scandal. Orange's various accounts of the circumstances around which he received campaign contributions tied to Thompson have thrown a monkey wrench into his political machine and his opponents are using every opportunity to capitalize on it.
Key word: opponents. Plural. Sekou Biddle, Gail Holness and Peter Shapiro. In other words, anti-Orange voters have three options, which may benefit the incumbent. In the meantime, the challengers are pounding away.
Sekou Biddle is trying to reclaim the seat Orange took from him in a 2011 special election. Biddle won an interim job on the Council through an appointment process run by the D.C. Democratic Party. In the current race, he has positioned himself as an outsider. In fact, in his first piece of campaign mail Biddle does not mention a word of his tenure on the Council. He does, however, tout an endorsement from the Washington Post. Two weeks ago I wrote that the insurgent candidates should coalesce around the Post’s choice. Holness and Shapiro don't seem to have gotten the memo. Both believe they can win. They may be right.
Gail Holness, who describes herself as a "little Chihuahua" is relentless like a pit bull. Her performance at recent debates has been impressive. Holness has a solid base in the faith community and, from what I have seen recently, some very enthusiastic Howard University students supporting her candidacy. She is also the only woman in the race, a distinction that will surely win some votes. And Holness knows how to work a crowd. This Saturday she took the mic at a rally to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. A day later Holness delivered a sermon, "What if Jesus wore a hoodie?" Yes, Holness is a long shot. She has very little money and this is her first citywide campaign. But Holness's base does, in part, overlap with Orange's. If scandal-weary voters abandon Orange in droves, Holness may shock the world.
Peter Shapiro did not like my suggestion that he withdraw from the race to support Biddle. Who can blame him? At the time of the Post endorsement Shapiro had twice the cash-on-hand as Biddle. Shapiro's supporters reminded me that he is the real outsider in the race and pointed to Biddle's willingness to accept endorsements from Mayor Vince Gray, Council Chairman Kwame Brown, former Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. and other insiders during the 2011 special election. It is clear that Shapiro is not giving up. I have received campaign mail and two robo-calls from him. This past weekend I spotted his canvassing teams in Wards Two, Three and Five. It is also clear that progressive voters are not giving up on Shapiro. He has been endorsed by Greater Greater Washington.
Conventional wisdom suggests Orange, an incumbent with superior name ID and campaign cash, should still be favored to prevail. But without data from a recent poll and yet another scandal unfolding before our eyes, the At-Large race is officially too close to call.
Epilogue: this is my final column for The Dish. On Thursday I will begin writing for the NBC site, First Read – DMV.
Contributing to The Dish has been great fun and a privilege. The publisher has granted me wide latitude and never balked when I sought to push the envelope. Given the state of D.C. politics, what more could I have asked for?
Thank you for reading and especially for the comments posted here as well as to my inbox and in person.