Big Money Dominates D.C. Race For Council

Muriel Bowser has the endorsement of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty for the Ward 4 D.C. Council seat.
Muriel Bowser has the endorsement of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty for the Ward 4 D.C. Council seat. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
By Elissa Silverman and Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writers and Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 29, 2007

Iraj Askarinam, owner of the Spaghetti Garden in Adams Morgan, wanted to talk to the mayor.

His issue: the city's enforcement of laws regulating the amount of alcohol restaurants can sell. So Askarinam went to a recent event where he could get Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's ear: a meet and greet for Muriel Bowser, whom Fenty (D) has endorsed to fill his old Ward 4 seat.

"A friend told me the mayor would be there, and I could talk to him," said Askarinam, who went with his daughter, a Ward 4 resident. He wrote a $100 check for Bowser.

Fenty's support for Bowser has turned the May 1 special election to fill two ward seats on the D.C. Council into an exercise in machine-style power politics, pulling significant amounts of money into the campaign with Fenty right in the middle.

"It's hard to compete with the mayor," said Michael A. Brown, who challenged the mayor in last fall's Democratic primary and has raised the second highest amount of money in the Ward 4 race.

The power politics model has spilled over to the Ward 7 race, where D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) supports Yvette Alexander -- one of the 18 candidates vying to take his old seat. Fenty has not endorsed a candidate in that race.

Alexander, who had $3,300 in January before Gray's endorsement, raised $58,400 during the next six weeks. Last night, Gray appeared with Alexander at a fundraiser on the Southwest waterfront, and the candidate picked up more than $6,000. Alexander's next closest competitor in money, Victor Vandell, who often mentions his work as a volunteer in Fenty's mayoral campaign, raised $51,800.

More than a half million dollars has been raised in the Ward 4 race, which has 19 candidates. Bowser's share is $287,000, and Brown has raised $130,800. In both races, a majority of the money comes from contributors outside the ward.

The emphasis on cultivating donors with deep pockets from across the city and contrasts with that of Fenty's initial run for the Ward 4 seat seven years ago, when he defeated a two-decade incumbent with $43,700. Even in the mayoral primary, Fenty relied heavily on small donations from his Ward 4 neighbors.

Now Fenty and Gray have transformed typically low-key races into big money contests, with fundraisers that resemble high-priced wedding receptions. They have helped fill Bowser and Alexander's campaign war chests with $500 checks, the legal limit in a ward race, from real estate developers, major D.C. government contractors and other business interests who lobby D.C. Council.

Bowser has received 422 donations of $500, which make up almost three-quarters of her total raised.

Alexander has 79 donations of $500, for 64 percent of her total.

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