But the moderator of Tuesday night’s six-candidate forum ended the hour-long debate: The candidates had less than 15 minutes to make it across town to another forum ahead of the April 23 D.C. Council election.
Paul Zukerberg, a Democratic candidate, raced to his Kia Sorento parked nearby. Inside, hurrying and out of breath, he looked for directions on his cellphone. Zukerberg was supposed to go to the D.C. Jewish Community Center near Logan Circle. But he said he’s been to so many debates that he mistakenly drove to Adas Israel Congregation in Cleveland Park — where he had attended a forum weeks earlier.
“I’m even Jewish; I should have known where I’m going,” Zukerberg said when a synagogue guard told him he was at the wrong place. “I should have just followed another candidate.”
The legendary District forums are as quirky as they are clubby — a tight circuit of familiar faces turns out for them — and their numbers have soared, including about three dozen for this month’s citywide special election. And although the forums are tamer compared with some in the 1980s, when prostitutes would fill the audience and shouting matches were often the norm, some now question whether they are starting to outlive their usefulness.
“It’s almost impossible for a candidate to knock on doors, because there is a forum almost every night,” said Elissa Silverman, a Democrat running in the special election. “It’s a frustration. I would rather be meeting voters on their doorstep. . . . The reality is most forums have physically less than 40 people.”
For this month’s special election, candidates have attended scores of forums. Some are sponsored by Democratic clubs. Others are hosted by business groups, such as the Georgetown Business Association , or held by activists, such as the D.C. Tenants Advocacy Coalition and D.C. for Democracy. The Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority held one on April 7. On Thursday, the candidates appeared at one held by the Washington Area Secular Humanists.
Candidates started their morning on March 20 at a breakfast forum sponsored by the Penn Quarter Civic Association, then appeared at an AARP forum in the afternoon and ended their day in a bar at a forum sponsored by the North Columbia Heights Civic Association. They attended a forum hosted by the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club the following night, when they answered questions on affordable housing, term limits and their favorite gay bar in the city.
“It’s hard to imagine it happening anywhere else,” said Jerry Clark, a local activist who has been attending forums for two decades. “I’d love to know if it is.”
When Zukerberg finally made it to the Jewish Community Center near Logan Circle on Tuesday night, he immediately apologized.
“Sorry for being late,” Zukerberg said as he walked in 30 minutes after the starting time.
“Did you come from a forum?” joked moderator Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.