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Mayoral Flack Cuts Press No Slack

Orange Alert

The music was loud. The crowd was large. The food was tasty. And the drinks -- well, like everything else, the drinks were free, at least from 6 to 7:30 p.m. It was another Dream birthday for D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr., complete with an orange and white cake.

On Friday, Orange (D-Ward 5) celebrated his 48th birthday at Dream, the most popular nightspot in his ward, if not in the city. But some of the estimated 3,000 guests were left wondering: Was this Orange's annual party for his constituents? Or was this yet another event to trumpet his exploratory bid for mayor?

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The lines are becoming increasingly blurred as potential candidates for mayor throw parties, speak to community groups and solicit dollars in the name of their exploratory committees. As one of two incumbent council members exploring the possibility of running for mayor in 2006, Orange walks a thin line.

If the birthday party was an exploratory event, then Orange probably should have conducted a poll, raised some money, given a speech or done something to gauge support for his candidacy, according to campaign finance officials. But because exploratory committees are virtually unregulated under the District's campaign finance law, potential candidates can do almost anything they please without public scrutiny.

Orange, who has drafted legislation that would require exploratory committees to behave more like campaign committees, said this year's birthday bash was just another party. The exploratory committee, he said, was not involved.

But, Orange also said: "Anywhere I go, it's going to be exploratory. Most people came there thinking it was exploratory because they know Vincent Orange is contemplating running for mayor. People were there to say 'Run, Vincent, Run.'"

Although the event was not billed as a fundraiser, Orange said he did slip in a subtle call for contributions during a five-minute speech before cutting the cake.

"I said, 'My birthday is actually on April 11. Do you know the reason I had it on April 8? Because I need you to donate."

So far, Orange has raised just over $150,000 for his exploratory committee, none of which was needed to finance the buffet of salmon cakes, macaroni and cheese and warm corn muffins. All of that was provided through a special arrangement with club owner Marc Barnes, who agreed to provide free food and drink to Orange's guests so long as he made the money back from drink sales after the open bar closed.

After last year's birthday party, Orange said he wound up paying Barnes $2,970 under a similar arrangement. He said he pulled the cash from his constituent services fund.

This year, Orange said, his birthday bash attracted so many people, who ponied up so much cash for so many drinks, that Orange wound up owing Barnes nothing.

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