Earlier today, Georgetown resident Fiona Greig ended her short-lived campaign to unseat Jack Evans as Ward 2’s D.C. Council member. In a statement to supporters, she cited an “intimidation campaign” from Evans and “decided I just wasn’t ready to mount the kind of campaign it would take to win.”
Her campaign chairman, Ken Archer, announced Greig’s withdrawal at Greater Greater Washington this morning by decrying “gutter politics and smear campaigns” and suggesting that’s why more candidates don’t run for office.
Both Greig and Archer suggest the problem is that D.C.’s political system and culture make it difficult for political newcomers to challenge entrenched incumbents for D.C. Council seats and other offices, that “the process intimidates good people from running.”
I hate to react this way to anyone who shows an interest in getting involved in D.C. politics, but if there’s a place in the country where entrenched incumbents don’t enjoy the advantages of “the process,” please let me know. It’s the incumbents, after all, who make the election and campaign finance laws. And yet in the District, there’s an unusually robust history of city incumbents getting themselves ousted by energetic challengers. Ask Jim Nathanson, H.R. Crawford, Sharon Pratt, Frank Smith, Charlene Drew Jarvis, Kevin Chavous, Harold Brazil, Carol Schwartz or Adrian Fenty about that.
Greig might have been better advised to look inward for answers than outward. She was embarrassed last week when Washington City Paper reported that she has inadvertently filed a private donor list with the Office of Campaign Finance. The list referred to donors as “homosexual” and “super wealthy.”
I was made aware of the list late last month, questioned Greig about it and also spoke to several gay activists about whether the use of the term “homosexual” was offensive. The consensus was that it didn’t indicate bigotry so much as a crippling lack of savvy for a candidate hoping to win a ward encompassing the traditional heart of D.C.’s gay community. Seeing no evidence of anti-gay malice, I decided the story wasn’t for me.
Greig and Archer paint the episode as illustrating the ruthlessness of local politics rather than illustrating her campaign’s ineptitude. With flimsy evidence, they go on to accuse Evans of hiring a private investigator to dredge up the filing and perhaps even surveil Greig’s home. (Evans’s campaign denies hiring anyone to do so.) Greig and Archer suggest that basic opposition research — if you can call retrieving a public document “opposition research” — is evidence of dirty tricks and scheming sufficient to turn off any bright-eyed wannabe politico.
In other words, they suggest Evans shouldn’t have tried to defeat her.
It’s an awfully Mayberry-esque notion of politics for someone who wants to hold office in a major American city. By way of comparing “dirty tricks,” consider that last week in Fairfax County — a lot closer to Mayberry than D.C. — voters were sent an anonymous campaign mailer referring to a Senate candidate as “openly homosexual.”
Running for office is not fun; it is not easy. It requires campaigning five or six late nights a week over the course of months. It requires cold-calling strangers and asking them for money. It requires building a record and building relationships with voters you can later count on to actually cast a ballot. Evans happens to be very good at this; he hasn’t won six council elections because he’s lucky. Consider that four years ago Cary Silverman, a Mount Vernon Square resident activist, did all of those things and still ended up with only 35 percent of the vote.
Yes, more could be done to reduce the influence of money in local elections. But as the defeats of the aforementioned incumbents proves, that shouldn’t be an excuse. The path to victory is pretty simple: build a record and a voter base, start campaigning early, work your tail off. Greig didn’t do that, and even if she did, Silverman, Clark Ray, Bryan Weaver and many others will tell you that voters sometimes just aren’t interested.