More Choices for Voters in November

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tuesday's primary is a closed one, which means only those registered with a party can vote. So, those who are not registered as Republicans cannot vote in the Carol Schwartz-Patrick Mara contest, and only registered Democrats can vote in the their party's contests.

In November, D.C. voters won't be confined to the traditional Democrat-Republican choices when they look at their ballots. In addition to members of the DC Statehood Green Party, there are a number of third-party and unaffiliated candidates this year. And although voters' attentions might be turned to Tuesday's local primary, that doesn't keep those who sprinkle the ballot with Independent, Libertarian and DC Statehood Green from waging a steady fight.

This is a Democratic city, but that doesn't keep other candidates from trying or from getting votes. Some candidates say the incumbents are unresponsive. Others say they can do better by running outside the two-party system. One is even running against the office: He calls the position "stupid."

The race for the at-large seats on the D.C. Council might be the most heated of them all. Member Carol Schwartz (R) has spent 16 years on the council but is facing a serious challenger in the Republican primary from Patrick Mara, a 32-year-old newcomer to the D.C. political scene. The general election in November will have three potential independent challengers.

Dee Hunter, a lawyer and Advisory Neighborhood Commission member who lives in Ward 1, is looking toward November. He said he would address a number of pressing needs if elected.

"The District is very consistent when it comes to any vulnerable population," Hunter said. "We let them rot."

He said he would work to open a full-service hospital east of the Anacostia and expand programs for senior citizens. He said he also wants to develop vocational educational programs that he said are missing from public schools.

Michael A. Brown, son of the late Ronald H. Brown, Commerce secretary under President Clinton, is also running for an at-large seat. Like Hunter, he said he is concerned about senior citizens and also sees a need for vocational education in the District. (Phelps Vocational High School recently opened.)

"There's no reason we shouldn't have a much stronger vocational presence in our school system," Brown said.

Brown has never held elected office, but his work as a lobbyist and his personal history make that irrelevant, he said. He could bring a bigger city presence to Capitol Hill, he said.

"I just don't think we get the respect we should on the Hill," he said, adding that his ties to federal lawmakers could avoid situations such as the one in which the District's new gun laws might be overturned by Congress.

Mark H. Long is also running for the at-large seat. Long, who works at a gospel music company, did not return calls for comment last week. He ran for the D.C. Council in Ward 7 last year.

The DC Statehood Green Party also has a full slate of candidates. Members say it is the only party that has a plank that calls for statehood for the District. The Democratic Party calls for voting rights.

"The leaders are compromising, and you can't compromise democracy," said Joyce Robinson-Paul, an ANC member who is running for shadow representative to Congress. Robinson-Paul said the District's delegation to Congress is too meek when it comes to statehood.

"If you don't speak out against injustice, it will stay forever," she said.

Damien Ober, a bartender in Mount Pleasant who is running as a Libertarian for shadow senator, got involved with Ron Paul's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination last year and released a series of YouTube videos in the past few months in which a shadowy figure takes jabs at the District's political system.

"Anyone who is going to run for shadow senator who talks about the issues doesn't realize how stupid the position is," Ober said. He compared his campaign to "a piece of art or a song."

Although it remains to be seen how well the independent candidates will do, political handicappers might want to look at the 2006 elections, when DC Statehood Greens won more votes than Republicans in local races.

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