Hubbub. The Democratic candidate forum is over. The crowd has splintered in the auditorium of a public charter school on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. Nate Bennett-Fleming, 27, raises his voice.
“Can I have your attention for just three minutes?”
The city council candidates have gone straight for the doughnuts.
“It’s hard to get your attention, and it’s hard to be a shadow representative.”
The gadflies buzz.
“Because people don’t know it exists.”
They aren’t listening, Nate.
“Don’t you guys think we deserve statehood?”
A few attendees, still seated in folding chairs and listening politely, murmur “yes.”
“I said, ‘Don’t you guys think we deserve statehood?’ ”
Several people turn from their conversations, say “yes” and resume chatting about more pressing topics: the 25 percent unemployment rate in Ward 8, the expiration date of Marion Barry’s political viability, the scandals that have ulcerated the D.C. Council and the mayor’s office, the mid-February sun warming this magnificent, preposterous city — the city that bore Nathan Bennett-Fleming, that propelled him from Anacostia out into the world, that now is welcoming him back by placing his name in the bottom right corner of Tuesday’s primary ballot, under “United States Representative” of the “District of Columbia,” for which he’s running unopposed, either because nobody’s bold enough to challenge a focused candidate who has worked his entire young life to get to this point, or because no one wants the job.
Hard at work
What does a young man do with a freshly framed law degree, a Harvard fellowship, an internship at Goldman Sachs and summer apprenticeships at two of the District’s premier law firms?
He works overtime to get a job that doesn’t pay.
The shadow representative receives no salary. He gets an office, in the basement of the Wilson Building near the switch room, but no furniture or staff. He gets the titles “Hon.” and “Rep.” but is refused admission to the floor of the House of Representatives.
In mid-March, Nate puts on another suit, affixes a gold clip to his tie and enters the Ballou High School auditorium for another forum, this one featuring candidates for the Ward 8 seat on the D.C. Council.
The candidates jabber, and Nate parses their words, absorbing the forum with an academic ear, sifting for “solution-based” ideas. When the candidates express support for vocational job training, Nate whispers about the greater need to encourage entrepreneurship. When Barry cites the due-process clause while addressing the issue of the bundling of campaign donations, Nate shakes his head. “What does that have to do with the 14th Amendment?” he mutters.
He’s overdressed and over-analytical, boyish but businesslike, somehow warm and distant at the same time. He’s had a lazy eye since birth, but he sees just fine, and his most notable characteristic is his voice, which is soft in conversation but preacherly at a lectern.