Has a D.C. Council member seeking reelection ever experienced a worse week this close to Election Day than the one Vincent Orange just had? I don't think so.
Though he has not been accused of any wrongdoing, Orange has been at the center of a media feeding frenzy stemming from the campaign finance and corruption scandal that came to light after the FBI raided the home and offices of Jeffrey Thompson, a prolific contributor to campaign coffers.
Orange is mostly to blame for his time in the spotlight. At first, he refused to answer questions --and drove away in his car-- when asked about suspicious money orders and his 2011 campaign. Then an attempt to deflect criticism by attacking one of his opponents backfired (the gun-toting Republican who Orange criticized Sekou Biddle for hiring had been assisting Orange at the time of the gun incident). And most recently, Orange has offered differing accounts about how and when he received questionable contributions from Thompson.
Orange has seemingly thrown the damage control playbook out the window and instead decided to live in opposite world. From the beginning of this scandal he had two viable strategies for dealing with it: 1) circle the wagons, stonewall the media, declare full cooperation with authorities and stay silent so as not to compromise any ongoing investigations, or; 2) produce all the money orders and documents in question, fully detail his relationship with Thompson and agree to cooperate with investigators. Either strategy would have aided Orange in running out the clock until the polls close on April 3rd. The path he chose, however, is haphazard and now jeopardizes what should have been an easy reelection in a four-way race.
Clearly, Orange's opponents smell blood. At debates, in press releases, on twitter and via emails sent to supporters Biddle and Peter Shapiro have been forceful and unrelenting.
Gail Holness is also targeting Orange. While Holness does not have the financial resources to launch a widespread, damaging attack, her standing in communities rich with Orange supporters and her work ethic (I see Holness at political events as often as any other citywide candidate) and appeal may be siphoning critical votes from the incumbent.
Despite Holness's dogged foray into Orange's base, the dynamic of two ably-funded opponents targeting the same pool of voters is exactly what Orange needs. At last count Shapiro had $81,000 on-hand, Biddle $41,000.
For a roadmap of Orange's planned path to victory, look no further than the 2011 special election that delivered him to office. A field crowded with progressives of varying stripes --Biddle, Bryan Weaver, Joshua Lopez and moderate-Republican-with-crossover-appeal Pat Mara-- divided much of the good government, reform-minded electorate.
Now, a year later, with the At-Large race tightening, the question is: will progressives and scandal-weary voters rally around one candidate? Neither Biddle, who came in third behind Orange and Mara last year, or Shapiro is likely to bow out in deference to the other.
There is, however, an intermediary with the power to steer support to one of Orange's opponents: The Washington Post.
If the editorial board endorses Shapiro or Biddle, it is my hope that the other will stand down. Both candidates are smart enough to know that neither has a prayer without the Post.
Democratic Primary voters who seek change on the Council must be united on April 3rd. Progressives need to rally around one candidate.
I will be revealing my choice for At-Large Council in this column next week, the morning after I co-moderate a debate at the Black Cat. Unless, that is, the Post has endorsed by then. In which case I’ll be voting for their pick.