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Dueling Endorsements for Vacant Seats

By Elissa Silverman and Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 22, 2007; DZ02

A flurry of endorsements for D.C. Council candidates competing in the May 1 special election happened Tuesday.

The announcements started at 11 a.m., when two prominent labor groups had dueling news conferences. At Second Street and North Dakota Avenue NW, the local councils of the Service Employees International Union endorsed Muriel Bowser, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's choice to succeed him in the Ward 4 council seat. The labor group, which represents health-care workers, janitors and adjunct university faculty, among other service workers, backed Fenty in the mayor's race and provided an army of ground troops for his victorious effort on Primary Day last September.

Meanwhile, across town at 17th Street and Kalorama Road NW, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees gave thumbs up to Michael A. Brown, who challenged Fenty (D) in the primary and is now running for his Ward 4 seat. The group endorsed Fenty's main rival, Linda W. Cropp, in the mayoral primary.

Fenty has put his political machine behind Bowser, showing up at several of her fundraisers and lending key operatives to her campaign. His efforts at kingmaking did not appeal to AFSCME's leadership, apparently.

"Will our power-hungry mayor and the rubber stamp city council dictate to voters when their voices will be heard and when their priorities will count?" asked Geo T. Johnson, executive director of the local organization, in a written statement.

Johnson said that Brown's longtime involvement in District affairs, including his opposition to the baseball stadium package passed by the council, earned the group's endorsement.

For the Ward 7 seat, which became vacant when Vincent C. Gray (D) became council chairman, AFSCME endorsed Roscoe Grant Jr.

Then in the afternoon came word that the D.C. Chamber of Commerce political action committee had also weighed in. The political arm of the influential business group endorsed Brown and Yvette M. Alexander, who is Gray's choice to succeed him in Ward 7.

The group had prominently backed Cropp in September's primary and then quickly worked to make amends with Fenty upon his victory. Upon hearing the election results primary night, chamber President Barbara Lang quickly raced from Cropp's hotel suite to Fenty's victory party.

The chamber's backing of Brown raised eyebrows. Some wondered whether the chamber did it to spite Fenty. Others questioned why the group decided to back a former rival of the mayor's and possibly risk the embarrassment of betting against Fenty twice.

Kelvin Robinson, chair of the chamber PAC, said that the endorsement was "not about Mayor Fenty."

He said that PAC members chose candidates they thought best reflected the group's priorities of keeping a healthy business climate in the city.

"We know more about his business friendliness than we did about the other candidates," said Robinson of Brown.

Charter School Board Access

After last month's flap about public comment, or lack thereof, at the monthly meeting of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, Chairman Thomas A. Nida rolled out the red carpet Monday night for anyone wishing to speak.

It was the first time the board allowed public comment during its monthly meeting. Nida opened by recognizing any public officials in attendance. Then he welcomed Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Nick Alberti and David Holmes, who once again shared their concerns about the proposed 12th Street NE location for Appletree charter school.

At the end of the meeting, Nida opened the floor for general public comment, and Herb Faling, president of Northeast Neighbors for Responsible Growth, used the time to have a Q&A session with Nida about the board's criteria for approving school locations.

The charter board is a seven-member panel appointed by the mayor from a list of names offered by the U.S. Department of Education. When it comes to public access, the board still has some kinks to work out. It ran out of agendas on Monday, and the public doesn't have access to the contracts and action items, known as "decision memos," that the board votes on each month.

But Nida told the two dozen or so people in attendance that the board was trying something "a little different."

"This is a process that has to be refined," Nida said.

Alberti, who was shut out from speaking last month, thanked Nida for making the changes. "It's a step in the right direction," he said.

Despite the more civil tenor of Monday's meeting, the Capitol Hill ANC leaders continue to press the issue of how the charter board operates.

Commissioner Joseph Fengler sent a letter last week to acting D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer asking her to look into the charter board's open meeting and public information practices.

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