The D.C. Council Primary

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

UPSTAGED BY the presidential race, the D.C. primary is not getting much attention. That's a pity considering the importance of the decisions to be made by city voters. Six of the 13 D.C. Council seats are up this year, and the Sept. 9 primary -- just six days away -- features contested races for five of them, including those held by some of the District's best-known and longest-serving leaders.

The challenges confronting the District cannot be overstated. From continuing all-important reform of schools to safeguarding fiscal stability in uncertain times, the city will need legislators who are astute at forging solutions. Accordingly, we offer enthusiastic endorsements of three Democratic incumbents -- Jack Evans (Ward 2), Muriel Bowser (Ward 4) and Yvette Alexander (Ward 7) while welcoming the candidacies of two newcomers, Patrick D. Mara, Republican at-large candidate, and Charles Wilson, a Democrat seeking the Ward 8 seat. Unopposed in the primary are at-large council member Kwame R. Brown (D), as well as D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).

One of the most spirited races is Mr. Mara's unexpectedly strong challenge to veteran council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large). There is much to admire in Ms. Schwartz's four decades of service to the city. She has been a fierce advocate for good government who showed courage in speaking out against the wasteful spending of the 1980s and in challenging then-Mayor Marion Barry (D). There is no questioning her love of this city, but, sadly, her service of late has been detrimental to the District. Unrelentingly negative, Ms. Schwartz opposed no-smoking laws, open-meeting reform and, most notably, the mayoral takeover of the schools. No more urgent issue faces the District than the improvement of its public schools, and as much as we salute Ms. Schwartz's past contributions to the city, we fear the consequences of her continued presence on the council. Mr. Mara, a government relations manager who was a staff member for the late U.S. Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), is an engaging candidate who says he would make school reform his priority. Mr. Mara understands the importance of regional cooperation and would bring a much-needed business sensibility to the council.

Elected in 1991 and now finishing his fourth term, Jack Evans is the senior member of the council and, without question, one of its most effective. His challenger, lawyer Cary Silverman, is smart and energetic, but voters would be making a big mistake in not returning Mr. Evans to office. Mr. Silverman has, somewhat unfairly to our mind, sought to portray Mr. Evans as not caring about the needs of Ward 2 because of the attention he pays to city-wide issues. Mr. Evans played a crucial role in bringing baseball to the District and in winning council support for school reform. It is undeniable that Ward 2 has, like the larger city, flourished under Mr. Evans's able leadership. Moreover, as chairman of the council's Committee on Finance and Revenue, Mr. Evans has been a key guardian of the city's fiscal health.

Elected in the spring of 2007 to complete the unfinished Ward 4 council term of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), Muriel Bowser didn't need much time to get up to speed on the job. She has proven to be a perceptive legislator, smart in her questioning of legislation and collaborative in her approach to government but not afraid to make hard decisions. She has had the unenviable task of following in the constituent-service footsteps of Mr. Fenty, but she has worked tirelessly to be responsive.

Ward 7's Yvette Alexander is the other newcomer on the council, elected to fill out the term of Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D). We didn't endorse Ms. Alexander in last year's special election, but in a short time she has shown that she has clear insights into the needs of her underserved ward and the determination to see them met. She has identified education and crime as the biggest challenges facing the city and aims to anchor the solutions in neighborhoods.

Affection in Ward 8 for Marion Barry, plus the presence on the ballot of four challengers, is seen as ensuring the former mayor's victory. A better choice is Charles Wilson, a consultant and president of the Historic Anacostia Block Association who is waging a campaign keyed to getting the community involved in solving its problems. Mr. Wilson is eloquent in talking about his love for Ward 8, and he has the energy to take on its biggest challenges.

On Tuesday, the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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