THE VOLATILE race to become the Democratic nominee for D.C. mayor has overshadowed spirited contests for seats on the D.C. Council. Unlike the election for mayor — in which the announced candidacy by veteran council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) promises a competitive general election in November — winners of the April 1 council primaries are likely to be the presumptive favorites to take office in January.
School reform, strengthening neighborhoods and increasing employment are among the issues being debated. All are important, but the foremost consideration must be a restoration of ethics to a body that has been shaken by the forced resignations of three members and the questionable actions of three others.
Early voting starts Monday for D.C. Council chairman, an at-large seat and seats in wards 1, 3, 5 and 6. In Ward 3, incumbent Mary Cheh is unopposed.
Phil Mendelson, tapped by his colleagues to become chairman in June 2012 when Kwame Brown was forced to resign after pleading guilty to bank fraud, has token opposition from perennial candidate Calvin Gurley. We have had disagreements with Mr. Mendelson, and his leadership has been lackluster when compared with that of predecessors such as Linda Cropp or Vincent C. Gray. But he is serious and dutiful; he is the better choice.
In Ward 1, incumbent Jim Graham faces a challenge from local activist and communications strategist Brianne Nadeau. Mr. Graham points to the progress of the ward’s neighborhoods during his 15 years in office and his championship of social issues. But his questionable ethical conduct has undermined his claim to public office, and Ms. Nadeau is the better choice, with thoughtful ideas and a collaborative approach. She is keenly in touch with the needs of Ward 1 neighborhoods, and the energy and smarts that have been a hallmark of her campaign are a harbinger of how she would govern.
In Ward 5, incumbent Kenyan McDuffie is the clear choice over challengers Kathy Henderson and Carolyn C. Steptoe. Since his election in 2012, Mr. McDuffie has emerged as a leader. He demonstrated his commitment to improving the council’s integrity with his able direction of its censure of member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and his championing of long-needed campaign finance reform.
Two smart, capable candidates, Charles Allen and Darrel Thompson, are running for the Ward 6 seat vacated by Tommy Wells, who is running for mayor. Both have government experience (Mr. Allen most recently as an aide to Mr. Wells, and Mr. Thompson as a staffer in the U.S. Senate), and both are focused on schools, affordable housing and encouraging business growth. Mr. Allen has the keener knowledge of neighborhood issues, the complexities of D.C. government and how to bring about solutions to its problems. His sensitivity to ethical concerns would be valuable.
At-large member Anita Bonds was appointed in 2012 and won last year’s special election to fill Mr. Mendelson’s unexpired term when he became council chairman. There’s been a learning curve for Ms. Bonds, as evidenced by her seesaw of votes for and then against the bill that would have singled out large retailers to pay higher wages. She showed character in serving on the committee that recommended censure of Mr. Barry, a longtime ally, but she has generally been viewed as ineffective. We see far more promise in Nathan Bennett-Fleming, a lawyer who serves as an elected advocate for D.C. statehood. Having grown up in Ward 8 and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley law school, he has insight into the issues struggling neighborhoods face and the skills to help solve them. He’s passionate about education and has mounted an energetic campaign that has attracted young people. Also running are John F. Settles II and Pedro Rubio.
In addition to the mayoral and council races, the April 1 ballot will include the District’s delegate to the House of Representatives. The incumbent, Eleanor Holmes Norton, is unopposed.