Charles Matthew Hudson won’t seek at-large D.C. Council seat; Kishan Putta will

C. Matthew Hudson Jr., pastor of Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, has enjoyed close ties to leading D.C. politicians. (Courtesy of Matthews Memorial Baptist Church)
C. Matthew Hudson Jr., pastor of Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, has enjoyed close ties to leading D.C. politicians. (Courtesy of Matthews Memorial Baptist Church)

On Wednesday, Charles Matthew Hudson Jr. said he was ready to jump into the ever-more-crowded race for the at-large D.C. Council seat being vacated by David A. Catania. “Absolutely pursuing the at-large seat, for sure,” he said in an interview.

By Thursday, Hudson had changed his mind.

An independent bid from the politically connected pastor of Matthews Memorial Baptist Church in Ward 8 would have been an intriguing wild card in the wide-open at-large race. Hudson has had close ties to Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and has chaired the government-appointed board overseeing United Medical Center since 2010. Numerous political events, including a post-primary Democratic “unity breakfast,” have been held in the basement of Hudson’s church.

Weeks after filing registration papers with the city campaign finance office, Hudson said Wednesday he was ready to pick up ballot petitions and run a campaign focused on supporting a community college, building a new east-of-the-river hospital and improving pre-K education options. “I’m running on hope,” he said.

The next day, however, campaign adviser Denise Tolliver said he’d had a change of heart. And in an interview Friday, Hudson said he decided he wouldn’t be able to give his full attention to both legislative duties and his church flock of 2,000.

“I felt it’s too much,” he said. “I will not be able to give up my church. … The work is too much. I won’t be able to do a good job.”

Part of the issue with running citywide, Hudson said, is that he is really most interested in the parochial issues of Ward 8, where he lives and works. “These people need some representation,” he said. “My whole point about running is that Ward 8 needs a voice. Barry needs help. When I speak, people are going to notice I’m really talking about Ward 8. That’s what I had to think about over and over again.”

While that might sound like a declaration of interest in the Ward 8 council seat that will be contested in two years, Hudson said he was not interested in taking on Barry: “He’s not going to get out of office, so as long he says he’s in office, the people are going to vote for him,” he said. “I am not going to run against Marion Barry. I want to make that very clear. I just think he needs help.”

Hudson said he has no plans to make an endorsement but said he’s intrigued by the possible candidacy of a fellow clergyman, the Rev. Graylan S. Hagler of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ. “I’m going to listen to what people are saying about Ward 8,” Hudson said.

While Hudson is out, an up-and-coming neighborhood activist says he is most definitely in the race.

Putta was first elected to the Dupont ANC in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Kishan Putta)
Putta was first elected to the Dupont ANC in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Kishan Putta)

Kishan Putta, who has served one term on the Dupont Circle advisory neighborhood commission but has racked up some notable accomplishments in that short time, filed papers Tuesday and said he intends to press forward with an independent run.

In particular, Putta has been an outspoken advocate for bus service improvements along lower 16th Street NW — including a dedicated transit lane — and was a major force pushing city transportation officials to repave the 15th Street NW bike lane. He also cites his work, with fellow commissioners, pushing for improvements at Stead Park and helping to get a serial smash-and-grab thief sentenced to a serious prison term.

“As an ANC commissioner, you don’t have any staff, you don’t have any office, so I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to get things done, but issue after issue, we were,” he said. “There are a lot of good candidates out there, but not all of them can get it done. I can get it done.”

Putta, 40, said he was inspired to seek higher office during his time serving as an enrollment consultant to D.C. Health Link, the city’s health insurance exchange. “That’s how I gained the confidence that I could run a citywide campaign,” he said. “In essence, we did run a citywide campaign.”

In a race filled with former Democrats who have jettisoned their party affiliations to take advantage of Catania’s departure, Putta has one distinction: He isn’t a former Democrat; he’s a former Republican, switching to independent ahead of his ANC run two years ago.

Says Putta, perhaps seeking to assure deep-blue District voters, “I don’t really feel a connection with that party any more and have not for several years. … I’ve been able to get done what I’ve gotten done without any party support.”

As it stands, as many as 13 candidates could appear on the pick-two ballot in November.

If 40 years of electoral history is any guide, one of the two at-large seats will be retained by Democrat Anita D. Bonds. Also on the ballot will be party nominees Marc Morgan (R), Eugene Puryear (Statehood Green) and Frederick Steiner (Libertarian). Besides Hagler and Putta, another seven independent candidates have filed papers with campaign finance authorities — Wendell Felder, Brian Hart, Eric J. Jones, Khalid Pitts, Elissa Silverman, Kevin Valentine Jr. and Robert White.

Ballot petitions will be made available next Friday, June 13. Citywide candidates will have until Aug. 6 to collect signatures from 3,000 District voters.

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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