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Bolden Lost in the Election Shuffle

By Lori Montgomery and Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 23, 2004; Page DZ02

The voters, as we now know, were angry. In council elections last week, they showed it, voting to throw out Council members Harold Brazil, (D-At Large) Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8).

But amid the hoo-ha over the comeback of former mayor Marion Barry and what it means to the fortunes of current mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), one of those thrown out has been sadly overlooked: A. Scott Bolden, chairman of the D.C. Democratic Party.

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Bolden came in seventh in a pick-six race for at-large male members of the D.C. Democratic State Committee. He and longtime party insiders on the Victory 2004 slate were defeated by a bunch of Howard Dean devotees and political upstarts led by state committeeman John Capozzi.

Capozzi's team appeared on the ballot under the moniker "Running Against Bush." If they knew nothing else about the relatively unknown candidates in this potentially obscure race, D.C. Democrats apparently thought "running against Bush" was a pretty good idea.

It's impossible to say whether the voters also knew they were tossing out the chairman of the Democratic party. Bolden, who was elected to the top post nearly two years ago, has been among the city's most visible and controversial party chairmen. He has plowed hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars into making the party apparatus more "relevant" in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 10 to 1. His most recent effort was a snap meeting called just two weeks before the Sept. 14 primary to make endorsements in local races.

The D.C. state committee had never before attempted to pick and choose among Democrats, and the meeting infuriated Bolden's critics. They accused him of trying to curry favor with the mayor by endorsing at-large council member Harold Brazil and to advance a personal vendetta against Ward 7 council member Kevin P. Chavous by endorsing challenger Vincent C. Gray. Others dismissed the endorsement meeting as a crass attempt by Bolden to commandeer the political spotlight in anticipation of a run for mayor in 2006.

Bolden, a K Street lawyer and former president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, declined to say whether he is planning to seek the city's top job. He blamed his election loss on circumstance rather than dissatisfaction with his leadership.

"Running Against Bush had great ballot position, a very clever name and good grassroots strategy," Bolden said. "They were better on this day, and they won."

Bolden's loss is somewhat ironic. While other politicians were sanguine about last week's elections, Bolden was broadcasting an early warning about "restless" voters worried about "race and class and gentrification." His predictions proved prophetic. The election left Williams and representatives of the city's business community agonizing over their perceived failure to pay attention to the neglected wards east of the Anacostia River.

"Everybody thinks I'm so cocky and arrogant. But I attended over 100 meetings all over the city," Bolden said. "These elections put every incumbent on notice. If I were an incumbent, I wouldn't be too comfortable with the results of this election."

The party is scheduled to choose a new chairman in October, Bolden said. Among those mentioned for the job: Anita Bonds, the former Barry administration official who was recently hired as Williams's director of community affairs.

Up for Grabs

The ouster of three incumbent council members in Tuesday's election will open up the chairmanships of three influential committees -- Economic Development, Human Services, and Education -- and jockeying for the seats has already begun.

For example, council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) now chairs the Committee on the Judiciary, but wants to move to Education, which will be vacated in January by vanquished council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7).

Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) is the only one of the council's 13 members who has no chairmanship. He wants council chairman Linda W. Cropp (D-At Large) to refashion the current committee lineup and create a new panel devoted to housing, which Fenty would chair.

But that idea may not sit well with two council members angling to take over the entire economic development portfolio: Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) and Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6). Their battle over the powerful Committee on Economic Development is shaping up as one of the most competitive.

Orange, who currently chairs the Committee on Government Operations, said he has delivered economic development to his Northeast Washington community, pointing to the Home Depot and Giant that both opened in his ward two years ago.

"I've always brought community development into my ward," said Orange, who notes that he has also attended the important international shopping center convention in Las Vegas for the past four years running. "I'm letting it be known that I want economic development."

Ambrose said her ward has also seen its share of projects, including most of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, the redevelopment of a mall in Southwest and all four proposed sites for a Major League Baseball stadium.

"I don't know how the business community is reacting," Ambrose said. "I have worked a lot with individual developers and folks in the business community. I think they would be comfortable with me."

The decision on council leadership positions rests with Cropp, who expects to present her reorganization plan to council members some time in December. In an interview, Cropp said she has some thoughts about how to reshuffle the committees, but is not ready to discuss them.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company