Obama-Clinton Rivalry Muddles D.C. Alignments
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Washington lawyers Jim Hudson and Bill Lightfoot know how to spot a winning politician: Two years ago, they teamed up as co-chairmen of Adrian M. Fenty's powerhouse mayoral campaign.
But this year, the Fenty brain trust is divided.
Hudson raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Barack Obama's presidential campaign and helped line up Fenty's endorsement of the Democratic senator from Illinois. Lightfoot is a member of the D.C. steering committee for Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign and lobbied for the senator from New York during the D.C. Democratic State Committee's straw poll in December.
"They've been fun debates," said Lightfoot, sounding a tad too eager to play down the split over Obama and Clinton. "It's an event among friends."
With the approach of next Tuesday's primary in the District, political movers and shakers have lined up behind the two candidates in a network of interesting alliances and rivalries.
Community leaders who usually see eye to eye are on opposing sides, such as gay rights activists Peter Rosenstein (pro-Clinton) and Philip Pannell (pro-Obama). Elected officials who often spar suddenly find themselves unlikely partners, such as D.C. Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who are on Clinton's steering committee.
Even some households are divided. When Robert A. Malson, president of the D.C. Hospital Association, told his wife, Pepco lawyer and Clinton-backer Deborah Royster, that he intended to donate money to Obama, Royster scoffed.
"I told him we would welcome him back to the fold" after Obama lost, Royster said with a chuckle. "We have had some interesting dinner conversations."
Fifteen delegates will be up for grabs in the District, whose population is 57 percent African American. Many black voters elsewhere in the country have shown that they support Obama.
Having the mayor in his corner won't hurt Obama, either. Fenty, who endorsed Obama in July, has worked for him as an advocate and a surrogate. One day last week, Fenty joined Obama at a major rally at American University and then worked the VIP room at an Obama fundraiser at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Fenty said he appreciated Obama's pledge to support congressional voting rights for the District and identified with the senator's fresh point of view.
Obama "had the courage not to run a campaign that divides us, but rather to lead a movement to bring the country together with refreshing optimism and the simple refrain, 'Yes, we can!' " Fenty told the crowd of high-rollers with a rhetorical flourish often missing from his speeches about city business.
Yesterday, Fenty stumped for his candidate in Newark with Mayor Cory Booker.