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A Blitz to Heighten GOP's Profile
The Party, Long an Also-Ran, Dogs the Democratic Mayor

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 24, 2007

When Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) moves, the D.C. Republican Committee now has something to say about it.

Taxes. Homeland security. Campaign finance. Since April, the party has been dissecting Fenty's stances and comments in news reports and issuing its opinion.

Long a dim voice in a Democratic-dominated city, the local GOP is trying to step up its profile through frequent news releases and aggressive recruiting, said Robert J. Kabel, chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee.

For example, the committee put out a news release April 25 with the heading "D.C. Republican Committee Calls on Fenty to Rebuke Democrat Campaign" after a Washington Post article showed that Muriel Bowser, a Democrat endorsed by Fenty, used businesses outside the city to print her campaign materials. At the time, only 25 percent of the money spent on materials had been spent at Ward 4 businesses. Another article showed that off-duty firefighters had driven a truck to promote her candidacy. Bowser won the May 1 special election.

"Mayor Fenty claims to have run a campaign based on fiscal discipline and reinvesting in our community. Today, we call upon Mayor Fenty to challenge Muriel Bowser and make a public statement rebuking Bowser's campaign for not patronizing local business and using off duty fire men for campaign purposes," Kabel said in the release.

Kabel credited the blitz to Paul D. Craney, the local party's new executive director, but he said the party's momentum has been building since last year's elections.

Tony Williams, the vice chairman of the party, who is heavily quoted in the news releases, ran unsuccessfully against Democrat Tommy Wells for the Ward 6 D.C. Council seat in November.

But Williams, the 26-year-old son of national political pundit Juan Williams, garnered about 11 percent of the vote and gained financial support from the national party, which generally stays out of the District fray. About 8 percent of registered voters in the District are Republicans -- a number that has held steady since edging up from 7 percent in 2004.

"The demographics of the city are changing. The demographics of the party are changing," Kabel said.

Williams focused on tax issues during his campaign. He said rising assessments and taxes touch every resident.

"I can't tell you the number of people who are having to move," he said. "I have friends. They're living in a home their parents bought for $30,000. The District says it's worth $1 million."

Grass-roots issues such as taxes and constituent services have allowed the Republicans to be more successful as advisory neighborhood commissioners.

In the November general election, the party encouraged seven Republicans to run in the non-partisan contests for commissioners, Kabel and Williams said.

All seven won, putting the number of Republican commissioners at 13.

Although they still make up less than 5 percent of the 286 commissioners citywide, some of the GOP candidates had tough elections against strong incumbents or against multiple opponents.

Kris Hammond, who had lived in Eckington for just two years, beat out an incumbent for his Ward 5 commissioner seat.

Hammond said he does not talk to his neighbors about Republican and Democratic ideals, but he finds that the opinions shared by him and those registered as Democrats are the same.

Ward 5 residents are fighting the possible relocation of strip clubs to their community from the area surrounding the new Washington Nationals stadium. "The people I talk to at the door, I find that people sound pretty Republican," Hammond said. "They want safe communities that support morals. . . . Right now, we're hoping to clean up the graffiti on North Capitol Street."

Kabel said the nonpartisan work of the commissioners could persuade residents to support them in the larger elections.

"It's a farm team strategy," he said.

Longtime council member Carol Schwartz (At Large) has been the party's strongest fixture, he said.

The party will back her in the 2008 election but hopes that other candidates can be as successful, Kabel and Williams said. The groundwork must be laid now, they said.

"You have to let people know what you believe," Williams said.

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