October 28, 2012

PHIL MENDELSON (D), tapped by his D.C. Council colleagues to take the chairman’s seat vacated by a disgraced Kwame R. Brown, is almost certain to win the upcoming special election for the remainder of Mr. Brown’s term. He faces token opposition and, as his past contests have shown, enjoys deep support throughout the city. What is less certain is whether Mr. Mendelson can provide meaningful leadership of the council.

There’s no question that Mr. Mendelson is a better choice than challenger and perennial candidate Calvin H. Gurley (D). He is thoughtful and hardworking and is in public office because he wants to make a contribution; his 14 years on the council have been untouched by even a whiff of wrongdoing. His understated demeanor may be welcome after the drama of Mr. Brown or the clashes with the executive under then-council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D). But being council chairman requires more than getting along or having your colleagues like you. Mr. Mendelson, who talks about the urgent need for the council to restore public trust, has been silent about his colleagues’ wrongdoing, most recently when evidence emerged of misconduct by council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1). He has yet to take action on council use of personal e-mail for official business. Having built his reputation as a nitpicker, Mr. Mendelson would do well to step back and think about the tone and overall direction that are so badly needed.

Two at-large and four ward council seats also will be filled Nov. 6. The at-large incumbents are part of the problem in the city and don’t merit reelection. Our endorsements, already published, go to independent challengers David Grosso and Leon Swain Jr.

Two other incumbents – Jack Evans (D) in Ward 2 and Muriel Bowser (D) in Ward 4 – are uncontested; both are able legislators and deserve reelection. Sadly, that is not the case with the other two ward incumbents. Having long ago proved himself incapable of delivering for his underserved Ward 8, Marion Barry (D) nonetheless is likely to survive a lackluster challenge from independent Jauhar Abraham. We make no endorsement.

In Ward 7, the better choice is Ron Moten, the former Peaceoholics head who is running as a Republican in a spirited challenge of Democratic incumbent Yvette M. Alexander. Ms. Alexander’s tenure on the council, since 2007, is best described as listless. While Mr. Moten, as he freely admits, is “not the perfect candidate,” he offers refreshing energy, community insights and an appealing independence.

Five seats on the state board of education will be decided, but the races in Ward 2 and 4 are uncontested. Mary Lord, who has been on the board since 2007 in a ward seat, deserves election in her at-large bid. She understands the role of the state board and has smart ideas on how to sustain school reform. In Ward 7, Karen Williams, civic activist and early childhood educator, is the best candidate in a field that includes incumbent Dorothy Douglas. In Ward 8, longtime activist Phil Pannell gets the edge over incumbent Trayon “Tray” White because of his willingness to show leadership in critical areas, such as the need to close schools.

Finally, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who is seeking her 12th term as the city’s non-voting representative on the Hill, deserves reelection. Smart, tenacious and passionate, Ms. Norton — to borrow her now-famous phrase — yields no ground when it comes to the interests of the District.

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