Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this article incorrectly described D.C. Council member Jack Evans8 (D-Ward 2) as a lobbyist. Evans is a lawyer at Patton Boggs and is not a registered lobbyist.

Local Election Season Quietly Kicks Off

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 11, 2008

Before about 100 people, D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser tried to fend off debate challengers Baruti Jahi and Paul E. Montague. It's an election year, after all, and last week, Bowser (D-Ward 4) and her opponents sparred for more than an hour, fielding questions on issues ranging from school closings to crime.

But it was the final question in the local political season's first debate that spoke to the heart of matters in the District: Whom are you supporting in the Democratic presidential primary?

The drawn-out battle between Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is overshadowing the local elections. There is far more talk about the fight over Democratic Party superdelegates than over who is running for six D.C. Council seats in the Sept. 9 primary. Even the Democratic State Committee contests seem to be generating more buzz.

For the record, Bowser and Jahi said they support Obama; Montague said he's for whoever gets the Democratic nomination.

"What we are finding is that people are unaware that an election is going on," said council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), a 17-year incumbent who is running for reelection. "We just had a presidential primary that had the largest turnout in history [42 percent]. Virtually no one is focused on Sept. 9."

There are six council races -- in wards 2, 4, 7 and 8 and for two at-large seats -- in addition to contests for the delegate to the House of Representatives and shadow U.S. senator and representative.

Candidates began picking up nominating petitions Friday from the Board of Elections and Ethics. They must file by July 2 to qualify for the September primary.

Candidates are also encountering financial fatigue. The small pool of politicos known for opening wallets and making calls is weary after two years of nonstop giving.

There was the mayoral race in 2006, as well as seven council races, including the chairman's. Then came last year's special elections to replace Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) in their wards. With 36 candidates in the two races, lawns were littered, bumpers were stickered and coffers were emptied. Now there's a presidential race, and the national economy is tanking.

But campaigns, like other shows, must go on.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who kicked off her campaign yesterday near an Eastern Market playground, is vying for a 10th term.

Bowser could face two opponents in the primary, and Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) is expected to have at least one. Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) could face a challenge from Clarence Cherry, a PTA president. Cherry picked up a petition Friday.

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