Fenty a Strong Presence in Crowded Ward 4 Race to Replace Him

By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has made the special D.C. Council election to replace him in Ward 4 an early test of his political influence.

He has thrown his support in the May 1 election to Muriel Bowser, an advisory neighborhood commissioner competing in a field of 18 that also includes Michael A. Brown, a Fenty rival in the September mayoral primary.

Residents in Wards 4 and 7 will vote to fill vacancies created by Fenty and Vincent C. Gray (D), now the council chairman. Voters in Wards 3 and 4 also will elect a new school board member because Victor Reinoso gave up his seat to become deputy mayor for education.

Candidates have been aggressively campaigning to stand out from the crowd in the confusing Ward 4 race, which has two women named Bowser -- Muriel and Renee -- and two men named Green -- Michael and Carroll.

More than a few of the candidates have run for office before, such as Brown, who spent more than a year challenging Fenty for mayor before dropping out and supporting former council chairman Linda W. Cropp. The time on the hustings paid off Wednesday, when Brown was the only candidate of 16 on a Coolidge Senior High School stage to score 100 percent on a series of schools-related questions asked at a forum.

Other campaign veterans in the ward campaign include former school board president Robert G. Childs, former Ward 4 school board member Dwight E. Singleton and T.A. Uqdah, who unsuccessfully ran for the Ward 4 seat in 1992.

Special elections often attract a large group of candidates because voter turnout is often low and the office can be won with a small base of support. In April 1997, Sharon Ambrose, who retired from the council last month, triumphed over 11 competitors for an open Ward 6 seat with 2,888 votes. Only 27 percent of registered voters in Ward 6 voted.

Political analysts expect at least those numbers in Ward 4 on May 1 because the ward has bragging rights to the highest voter turnout in the city in most elections.

Fenty has put effort into his support for Muriel Bowser, 34, a Riggs Park advisory neighborhood commissioner who served as his mayoral campaign coordinator in Ward 4. He spoke in favor of Bowser Thursday night at Bowser's campaign kickoff, which was held at the home of Fenty's mayoral campaign chairman, William Lightfoot.

Fenty, who was in the middle of his second council term when he was elected mayor in the fall, described his decision to handpick a successor as building a legacy. "I think it's extremely important we continue the progress we've made over the past six years, and there is no one better qualified to do that than Muriel Bowser," Fenty told reporters.

Fenty has influenced the race in other ways. Most of the candidates talk about maintaining a high level of constituent services, which was Fenty's hallmark on the council, and vow to run an aggressive door-to-door campaign. Bowser has adopted Fenty's green and white campaign colors and his penchant for door knocking, but her language attracted some snickers at the Wednesday night forum.

"Her signs look like Fenty. Her stickers look like Fenty. When she speaks about the school takeover, she parrots what Fenty says," said Renee Bowser, a Petworth advisory neighborhood commissioner.

The former officials and advisory neighborhood commissioners all have bases of support, but Fenty's endorsement means star power for Muriel Bowser. Among those packed in the heated tent in Lightfoot's back yard were Tom Lindenfeld, a nationally known consultant who engineered Fenty's primary day get-out-the-vote strategy; John Falcicchio, who spearheaded a Fenty campaign fundraising effort that netted $3.8 million; and many other veterans of Team Fenty, some of whom now occupy top jobs in D.C. government.

Some who came to show their support for Bowser don't live in the ward. "I care about every part of the city," said developer Herb Miller, who lives in Georgetown.

Victor Vandell, a candidate in Ward 7 who has campaigned with Fenty's green and white colors and emphasized his work as Fenty's campaign coordinator in that ward, also showed up at the kickoff and handed out green-and-white business cards.

Fenty's team made a big effort to get people to come to Bowser's kickoff, including automated phone calls from Lightfoot to hundreds of Ward 4 residents. Jeanny Ho, who volunteered for Fenty's transition, said she received two calls urging her to attend the Bowser event.

Still, some who came to the kickoff said they haven't made up their mind. "It is a plus that Adrian Fenty supports her, but I want to make sure we have a representative that can stand up to him, if need be, in the interests of the ward," said Petworth resident Estrellita Fitzhugh.

Candidates for the ward seats have until Feb. 21 to collect 500 valid signatures to appear on the ballot; those running for school board need 200 valid signatures.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company