By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray is throwing his support behind at-large candidate Michael A. Brown as the candidate tries to fend off the write-in campaign of incumbent Carol Schwartz.
Brown, a Democrat-turned-independent, and Schwartz, a longtime Republican, have emerged as top competitors for the at-large seat that the Home Rule charter requires be filled by a non-Democrat.
It has created an awkward situation for Schwartz and her colleagues in a city where there is an unwritten rule that council members do not endorse other candidates over incumbents. But there were unusual circumstances this year. Schwartz lost the September primary to newcomer Patrick Mara. In addition, the Democratic-dominated city has largely been swept up into the historic national election, which could not only return the White House to Democrats but also yield the nation's first black president.
Brown is a lobbyist and the son of the late Ronald Brown, a U.S. commerce secretary who served as the first black chairman of the Democratic National Convention.
"Michael has the desire, and he certainly has longstanding experience in the political arena, given his family background," Gray (D) said. "Though running as an independent, Michael's ties to the Democratic Party in this heavily Democratic city is in keeping with the climate expected to take shape after next Tuesday. I have great admiration for Carol Schwartz, but the landscape changed enormously when she lost in the Republican primary. A write-in campaign is a steep climb."
Brown has emphasized improving the lives of youths and older residents, saying he wants to eliminate taxes for seniors who have lived in the city for 20 years or more.
There are two at-large seats to fill. Observers expect Democratic incumbent Kwame R. Brown to keep his seat, which has left the other six candidates to compete for the seat Schwartz holds. Brown, Schwartz and Mara are outpacing their competitors: Statehood Green David Schwartzman and independents Dee Hunter and Mark Long. Gray's endorsement will appear on a mailer going to 50,000 households this week, Brown said. He also has been endorsed by council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) and is expecting support from council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8). "I'm very pleased with endorsements I've received from council members, including Chairman Gray, and I look forward to working with him," Brown said.
Schwartz was braced for the endorsements, although she had requested that her colleagues stand down. "Why not just sit it out?" she asked.
But Schwartz has been building support herself, albeit quietly, among council members reluctant to support her publicly because she is a Republican, despite her moderate views on social issues and her citywide popularity.
There is speculation that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has become a stealth Schwartz backer, although spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said he has not endorsed a candidate. Schwartz has hired consultant Tom Lindenfeld, who worked on Fenty's mayoral campaign, and is getting advice from Fenty confidante Jim Hudson.
Hudson said Brown's candidacy is inconsistent with the city charter, "if not with the letter, with the spirit of the law."
He also said Schwartz's primary loss could be attributed to her support of legislation that requires employers to give paid sick leave to most workers. The business community then began helping to fill Mara's campaign coffers.
Mara has played down the financial boost, saying, "I got off my duff" to knock on doors to meet voters face to face, a grass-roots effort Schwartz could not match.
Hudson said that Schwartz's organization has significantly improved from the primary and that her popularity extends beyond the GOP. "If she had won the primary, this thing would be hands-down for her," he said.
The assemblage of some of Fenty's camp for Schwartz and Gray's support for Brown once again puts the mayor and chairman on opposite sides. Fenty and Gray, who hold the two most powerful elected positions in the city, have been in a power struggle since taking office in 2006.
Although council alliances have been fluid, Schwartz's acceptance of help from Fenty's camp could be viewed as Schwartz becoming someone Fenty will be able to count on.
"Anybody who knows me knows that I have an independent voice," Schwartz said. "Always have been. Always will be."