Beverley Wheeler, Robert White seek D.C. Council seats

September 19, 2013

White, 31, enters the D.C. Council race less than a week after leaving Norton’s employ. (Courtesy of Robert White)

As the 2014 city elections edge closer, the candidate menagerie continues to expand.

In recent weeks, two D.C. Council candidates have joined the fold: Beverley Wheeler, a Columbia Heights consultant who is seeking the Ward 1 seat as a Democrat; and Robert White, a former aide to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton who lives in Brightwood Park and is seeking an at-large seat as an independent.

Wheeler, who filed her candidacy papers last week, said she’s looking to building on more than two decades of neighborhood activism and government service by joining the council and focusing on community development, affordable housing and education.

“I asked myself, are you going to continue to yell at your TV screen, yell at your e-mails, or get in there and make things happen?” she said.

Wheeler, a 59-year-old D.C. native, has lived in Columbia Heights for 24 years where she has been involved in various neighborhood development initiatives, including the successful bid to save the Tivoli Theater on Park Road. She has worked for four mayors, including serving as Anthony A. Williams’s director of neighborhood action. More recently, she worked as executive director of the State Board of Education and as president and CEO of the Center City charter schools.

Two other Democrats, Brianne Nadeau and Bryan Weaver, are already pursuing the Ward 1 seat, and four-term incumbent Jim Graham (D) has yet to announce whether he will seek re-election, saying as recently as Tuesday he remained undecided.

Wheeler said she’s “in this regardless” of what Graham does: “I think we need a leader with vision and passion and experience to take Ward 1 in the next direction. … We’re not leading, we’re being reactive in a lot of stuff that we do. If Jim runs, great. If not, great, whatever. I’m in it to win it.”

White, 31, quit Norton’s office last week after spending five years handling a portfolio of economic development, environment and home rule issues and filed his papers Tuesday. He’s a native Washingtonian with degrees from Archbishop Carroll High School, St. Mary’s College and American University Law School.

“I’ve always just had a particular affinity for D.C.,” he said by way of explaining his first run for office. “My family has lived here for generation but I am the first in my family to graduate from college. Interestingly, now I’m a gentrifier. I have a very interesting kind of perspective.”

White says he wants to attack tensions in city neighborhoods and address a “lack of vision and leadership” on the council. “I don’t think leadership in our city had kept pace with our growth,” he said, citing the recent debate over the “living wage” measure targeting big-box retailers.

“If we were serious about doing this, we would have done this years ago,” he said, while also saying he couldn’t say how he would have voted on the measure: “What I can say very definitively, it came too late and it showed a lack of leadership in the council.”

White says he only recently switched to no-party status after spending five years working for a staunch Democrat. The independent label, he said, was not a matter of political calculation but “an indication of the commitment to residents, that their representative is beholden only to them.”

As an independent, White has a longer trip down the campaign trail. While Wheeler will be contesting the April 1 primary, and will be collecting ballot petitions starting in November, White won’t be on the ballot until next November. As a non-Democrat, he will be for all intents and purposes seeking to claim the seat now held by David A. Catania (I-At Large), another four-term incumbent.

“He hasn’t announced yet that he’s running for a seat, so I’m not going to talk about him,” White said of Catania.

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 | September 19, 2013