Democrats start jockeying for at-large D.C. Council seat

November 15, 2012

Sloan, known for his 2010 challenge to Eleanor Holmes Norton, wants city Democrats to appoint him to the D.C. Council. (Mike DeBonis/The Washington Post)

And you thought the election was over.

Nov. 6 has come and gone, but election season rolls on in the District of Columbia. In less than a month, local Democratic officials will gather to select an interim D.C. Council member, filling the at-large seat vacated by Chairman Phil Mendelson.

The selection is set for the evening of Dec. 10, and already five candidates have picked up nominating petitions for the race, which will be voted on by the D.C. Democratic State Committee‘s roughly 80 members. The winner will serve as a council member until a special election is held in the spring.

As anticipated, committee chairwoman Anita Bonds is among those seeking the appointment. Her party post might give her a leg up, but she will have competition. John Capozzi and Douglass Sloan, who have both previously appeared on city ballots, are running, as is Donna Alston, who unsuccessfully pursued three District offices in 2010. David Fuller has also collected petitions.

In order to be eligible for the appointment, candidates must collect the signatures of at least 200 registered Democrats, including at least 25 per ward and at least 27 committee members. Candidates must also have been a registered Democrat in the city for at least a year, ruling out recent Democratic convert A.J. Cooper and ousted council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large), who is considering a special election run. 

Sloan mounted a long-shot run against Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton in 2010, ending up with 9 percent of the vote but winning plaudits in some circle for running an energetic campaign. A former mayoral and D.C. Council aide who is now a consultant who recently ran campaigns for Vincent Orange (D-At Large), Sloan said he’s running to “add another progressive voice to the council” on the issues of job creation, campaign finance reform and education.

Sloan, a Riggs Park resident and advisory neighborhood commissioner, said he does not plan to run in the special election if he does not win the party appointment. “I believe that those three months as a council incumbent could be critical in terms of helping me implement my ideas and also raising money to get my name out during a special election,” he said.

Capozzi, a Hillcrest human resources consultant and veteran civic activist, served a term as the District’s “shadow” representative to Congress from 1997 to 1999 1995 to 1997. He’s also run twice for D.C. Council seats and served for many years (though not presently) as an elected member of the Democratic State Committee.

His message thus far is focused on opening up an appointment process that has been slammed for being obtuse and clannish. Capozzi’s particularly critical of the fact that the local party under Bonds hasn’t elected new members in more than four years; party offices were not on April’s primary ballots for the first time in memory, and the committee has not moved to schedule a convention or caucus at which new members might be selected.

The upshot, Capozzi says, is that party members who haven’t been accountable to the city’s 350,000 registered Democrats in more than four years will have the power to select the city’s next council member.

“People are really upset with how the state committee has handled this process, as well as their own internal non-election,” he said Thursday. “Serving on the city council is an honor and a privilege, and I think it’s about adding some honor and integrity to the process here.”

Capozzi said he’s not confident the committee is focused on improving a process that was much criticized the last time it was used — in 2011, when Sekou Biddle narrowly beat Vincent Orange in a process marred by the use of secret balloting in apparent contradiction of party rules. Among other things, Capozzi noted, there appear to be few requirements for those seeking the appointment to disclose campaign finance information. 

The local Democrats, he added, “could do a lot to be a positive force in this city, but it hasn’t been for the past four years — excuse me, the past four-point-whatever years.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · November 15, 2012