Vincent Orange, D.C. mayor candidate, speaks out

November 12, 2013

Vincent B. Orange, seen in June 2012, as he makes his ultimately unsuccessful case to be named the council’s chairman pro tempore. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Let there be no confusion: Vincent B. Orange is in the mayoral race, and he says he’s here to stay.

“I think you know me by now,” said Orange, the fourth D.C. Council member to declare a mayoral run, in a Tuesday interview. “Once I’m in, I’m in.”

But Orange’s entry to the 2014 Democratic primary race was unorthodox by most standards. The public was served notice of Orange’s interest in the job not through news release or kickoff rally, but rather when supporter Gerri Adams-Simmons on Friday, with Orange’s consent but without any fanfare, became the first person to pick up ballot petitions at the D.C. Board of Elections.

Orange, at the time, was traveling in England after attending a conference of the British Business Improvement Districts. He said he signed a form authorizing Adams-Simmons to pick up petitions before he left town earlier in the week (though the signature was dated Friday). Orange said he has no immediate plans to form a campaign committee, leaving the “Draft Committee to Save Our City” led by Adams-Simmons to handle signature-gathering for the time being, with fundraising to come later.

Orange, 56, said his decision to embark on a second mayoral run followed a series of eight meetings with small groups of supporters, starting with a September gathering at Adams-Simmons’s home in Ward 4. “She had a very nice turnout, and we had a nice discussion, and they basically wanted to draft me to run for mayor,” he said.

Prior to those meetings, which stretched into October, Orange said, “I always thought about my options, but it was nothing really serious.”

Orange said was especially surprised to get the message that “Ward 4 was open” — his implication being, without naming names, that fellow Democratic candidate and current Ward 4 council member Muriel Bowser lacks support on her home turf. “That was very encouraging,” he said. (Bowser, for her part, on Monday touted having collected some 4,000 voter signatures — twice the requirement for primary ballot access — in the first weekend.)

So what is the Orange mayoral message? For a man who ran as an unabashedly pro-business candidate in 2006, he is now tacking hard populist.

“Vincent Orange is here to present a balance,” he said. “I’m not here to stop what is taking place, because I helped build what was taking place. I am a part of that. But what I am also saying is that I’m not going to be blind to the fact that we are letting people suffer. We are moving people out of the city. We are forcing people to go on the safety net to apply for governmental benefits, for food stamps, for energy assistance, for child care. And I am saying that we are in a position where we can help that population graduate from that status and still stay in this city while at the same time continue to build the city. You can have both.”

He reconciles his current message with his past thusly: “I pride myself on being part of the solution which has made the District of Columbia a good place to be financially, socially. … When I look back and reflect on that. I see that we’re leaving people behind, and that was not the plan. The plan that I bought into in 1999 was the economic resurgence of Washington, D.C. … There are major parts of the plan that we have not executed.”

So under a Mayor Orange, he said, the city would put a new emphasis on affordable housing, set a substantially higher minimum wage, lure higher-paying employers, improve the training of residents for jobs planned for the city, make a “major investment” in the University of the District of Columbia and deploying more taxpayer money with local “certified business enterprises.”

And Orange said he would not be shy, if elected, about spending more to accomplish that: “We’ve now had over the past four or five fiscal years an accumulation of $800 million in surpluses. I think they’re about to announce another $300 million surplus. That’s $1.1 billion that has not been spent on delivering services to all the citizens of the District of Columbia. And while Wall Street might say we’re doing well, Congress might say we’re doing well, we could be doing a lot better and we can be addressing more needs of all of the citizens of the District of Columbia.”

“We’re hoarding money,” he added, “and I think we need to share the prosperity and give people the opportunity to grow.”

Orange, who lost 50 pounds in recent months, said he feels good about his chances in the three-month campaign sprint between the Jan. 2 petition deadline and the April 1 primary: “I need to be prepared to get my voters to the polls and make sure I am successful in executing my path to victory. … I think 40,000 votes, in the current makeup, will win this election.”

On the primary ballot, Orange could face fellow lawmakers Bowser, Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6). Reta Jo Lewis, a former State Department official, and Andy Shallal, the owner of Busboys & Poets, have also picked up petitions, as have a handful of less prominent candidates.

One thing Orange said he is not concerned about is the ongoing federal investigation into campaign corruption — one that has touched on his past campaigns. The Washington Post reported in August that Orange’s 2010 and 2011 council campaigns benefited, like several others, from secret expenditures by businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson. Orange had previously disclosed accepting money order contributions linked to Thompson that he later considered “suspicious and questionable.” As recently as October, Orange’s name appeared on a grand jury subpoena seeking information about various political and campaign figures linked to Thompson.

Orange characterized the subpoena, much as he has characterized previous investigative activities, as federal authorities simply doing their “due diligence.” He also made note that he was re-elected to his at-large seat in 2012 after some of his campaign ties to Thompson were exposed.

“I’m probably one of the most vetted candidates out there running,” Orange said. “We’re not running away from anything. We are just running for mayor now.”

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 12, 2013