D.C. Council member Sekou Biddle’s friends in the John A. Wilson Building have proved a key issue in Tuesday’s special election, helping fuel criticism from Biddle’s opponents in the race that he’s too connected to the political establishment.
As controversy mounted this spring, Biddle was forced to try to distance himself from D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), both of whom were early supporters of the former school board member from Ward 4.
But some of Biddle’s other-high profile endorsers on the council still seem as if they could be assets in trying to round up voters in an election that could be decided by a few hundred votes.
In addition to Gray and Brown, Biddle is being supported by council members David A. Catania (I-At Large), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), all of whom have proved they have effective political operations.
So what are the council members who support Biddle doing to help their colleague in his matchup against former council member Vincent B. Orange (D) and seven other candidates? Turns out, not much. And one of them even appears to be working for the opposition. On Monday, residents in Ward 7 received a robo-call from Alexander asking them to support Orange.
And interviews with five of the eight other council members who support Biddle reveal that many of them won’t be spending the next 24 hours heavily working their wards or contact lists trying to round up support for their endorsed candidate. It’s not that they aren’t willing to help, some say. Instead, several indicated that they haven’t been asked to do much.
Take Cheh, who won reelection last year with 60 percent of the vote and represents vote-rich Ward 3. In an interview, Cheh said she’s been attending house parties for Biddle but wasn’t out campaigning for him over the weekend.
“He didn’t ask me to do anything,” she said.
In Ward 5, Thomas won reelection last year after he sailed through the Democratic primary against four candidates with 62 percent. Thomas drew 5,000 more votes out of Ward 5 than Orange did in his race for chairman against Brown.
Thomas has never been fond of Orange, who beat his late father, Harry Thomas Sr., in the 1998 Ward 5 council race. But Biddle does not appear to be using Thomas in a major way to try to keep Orange’s margins in Ward 5 in check this year.
“I’m not involved at this point,” Thomas said in an interview Monday. “I just got back in town, so I really haven’t coordinated anything.”
In Ward 8, Barry has often boasted about his ability to help citywide political candidates in Southeast. Despite being a potential political liability outside his ward, Barry is still well respected by many of his constituents.
But when The Washington Post asked Barry if he plans to try to help Biddle, the former mayor responded, “I have nothing to say about that.”
Barry instead noted that the Ward 8 Democratic Committee overwhelmingly voted last month to endorse Orange.
“At the Ward 8 Democrats, it was 141 for Orange and six for Biddle,” Barry said. “And I was one of the six.”
In Ward 6, a critical swing ward in Tuesday’s election, Wells is widely seen as a political figure who could potentially sway some votes. Last year, he won reelection with 85 percent of the vote against a GOP candidate.
Wells has hosted an event for Biddle and made a robo-call for him, but is now out of town. Catania, who has a large base of support in the city’s gay community, has also cut a robo-call for Biddle.
But Catania was on vacation over the weekend, so he hasn’t been putting a lot of effort into lobbying his friends and supporters to turn out to vote.
In an interview, Bowser said she’s not heavily involved in the Biddle campaign, either. She said she is focusing her energy on the Ward 4 school board race.
“I’m really focused on D. Kamili Anderson, but as you know, I support Sekou,” Bowser said, referring to a candidate in the school board race. “I’ve done what he’s asked of me at this point.”
When pressed on whether she would have liked to have been more involved with Biddle’s campaign, Bowser responded, “It’s a strange situation.
“I think he’s running the race the way he thinks he needs to,” she said. “I wish him the best.”