D.C. primary date may still be changed

September 27, 2013

Mendelson isn’t giving up on nine-week election delay. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

With six weeks until candidates are scheduled to pick up ballot petitions for an April 1 primary, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is renewing efforts to push the election back to June after efforts to do so earlier this year failed.

An emergency bill that would change the primary date from April 1 to June 9 is on the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting. A similar emergency bill was pulled for consideration in July after Mendelson failed to gather the nine votes necessary for passage; a permanent bill changing the date has not moved through the council’s Government Operations Committee.

Interviewed in the John A. Wilson building Thursday, Mendelson gave no assurances that he has secured additional votes in favor of the date change. But he said he was confident the public was against an April Fools’ Day election, which he argues would create unnecessarily long lame-duck periods and force candidates to gather petitions during the holidays.

“I believe most people think it’s a very good idea,” he said Thursday in the John A. Wilson Building, where council members’ offices are located. “The opponents pretty much reside in this building. Under the name incumbent.”

Council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) have opposed the bill in the past, with Bowser — a mayoral candidate who will almost certainly be on the primary ballot — being particularly outspoken on the matter.

Mendelson has support outside the council for the date change, including from Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who has yet to announce whether he will seek a second term next year and could benefit from an extra two months to make his decision. Another citywide official, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), also wants the date changed, telling council members in letters sent earlier this month that the signature gathering required for an April primary “seriously interfered with residents during both the Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday seasons.”

“It was mortifying to my supporters and me to have to stop residents on the streets during the busiest seasons of the year, particularly in cold weather,” she wrote, adding: “I do not believe that there is a compelling reason for the District to have one of the earliest primaries in the U.S.”

D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan has also supported the date change, and on Thursday night, he reiterated his support in an appearance before the Ward 3 Democrats, according to a tweet from D.C. resident Keith Ivey that said Nathan referred to the early primary as “incumbent protection.”

Ted Gest, a spokesman for Nathan, acknowledged the comment but said it was “part of an argument that the primary should be later to give all candidates sufficient time to prepare and run a campaign.”

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.
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Mike DeBonis · September 27, 2013