Endorsements in the D.C. Council race

Friday, October 22, 2010

WITH VINCENT C. GRAY and Kwame R. Brown facing only token opposition in their bids for the District's top two jobs, attention in the Nov. 2 election centers on the competitive D.C. Council races. (There will also be elections for school board, which we will turn to on another day.) Six seats on the 13-member council are up for grabs and -- thanks to the efforts of the local Republican Party in recruiting candidates -- there are real choices for voters in the ward races.

That's a welcome development, given the challenges facing the District and the unhealthy long-term consequences of unchallenged one-party rule. Looming budget deficits will require hard decisions about spending and taxes. Reform of the schools is a work in process, and the council will play a critical role in determining whether the changes continue or are slowed. And the council has a role to play in healing divisions of race and geography that emerged in this year's bitter mayoral contest.

In Ward 1, incumbent Jim Graham (D) is facing a spirited challenge from an impressive newcomer. Republican Marc Morgan, an environmental strategist with a rich political and civic background, offers smart ideas on how green technology can create jobs and help businesses; he also has useful insights on education and issues related to HIV/AIDS. But, as much as we admire Mr. Morgan's fresh approach, we believe that Mr. Graham overall has served his community well and deserves to be reelected. The progress in Ward 1 is, in large measure, due to Mr. Graham's work over the past decade. His needling and prodding have brought needed development and better city services to his constituents. Also running in Ward 1 is D.C. Statehood Green Party candidate Nancy Shia.

Ward 3 sees a similar match between a Democratic incumbent, Mary M. Cheh, and a promising Republican, Dave Hedgepeth, but here we believe the newcomer is the wiser choice. Ms. Cheh has done some good work in her first term on the council, most notably on the environment and in her efforts to make the government more open to public view. But she's been heedless in pushing legislation (such as lengthening the school day) that, no matter how well intentioned, is impractical, given the city's finances. She insisted on overly ambitious election reform and, when the inevitable problems arose, blamed the people who had urged a more cautious approach. On the single most important issue facing the city, school reform, Ms. Cheh failed to provide the principled leadership her constituents should expect.

Ms. Cheh argues that school reform has been central to her work on the council. She did, along with a majority of the council, vote for mayoral control and confirm Michelle A. Rhee as chancellor. She stood by the chancellor's decision to shutter schools, an easier stance for her than for others since Ward 3 was spared any closings. But as the decisions became increasingly difficult, and when Ms. Rhee most needed support, Ms. Cheh was nowhere to be found, instead joining the choirs of criticism and micromanagement over teacher layoffs and the transfer of a middle school principal. Her graceless criticism of Ms. Rhee when the chancellor tendered her resignation was emblematic.

In short, Ward 3 can do better, and Mr. Hedgepeth offers a grounded approach to the complex issues facing the District. He has expressed strong support for school reform, crossing party lines to endorse Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in an effort to keep Ms. Rhee. He is most impressive when it comes to the fiscal issues the District faces, rightly arguing that the city cannot tax itself out of its hole but needs to reassess exactly what it is providing residents for the estimated $21,000 in taxes per household. He also would relieve burdens that discourage the growth of new business.

Ward 5 is a three-way contest between incumbent Harry Thomas Jr. (D), Republican Tim Day and independent Kathy Henderson. Elected largely on the strength of his family name, Mr. Thomas has stood in the way of school reform, catered unduly to the unions and made a mockery of council oversight. Recent revelations about his involvement with a shadowy nonprofit should only add to the unease of voters in Ward 5. They might also take note that, even as he seeks their votes, he is contemplating a run for an at-large seat in the special election that would be held if, as expected, Mr. Brown is elected council chairman. On the other hand, Mr. Day, an accountant with a record of community service, impresses us with his devotion to the ward and his pragmatic ideas about how to solve some of its more persistent problems. He is particularly interested in issues confronting children who are economically disadvantaged.

Tommy Wells (D), running for a second term in Ward 6, is the clear choice over Republican Jim DeMartino. Mr. DeMartino, a former Marine Corps officer, is a serious-minded candidate with sound approaches to education and city finances. But Mr. Wells has established himself as an able legislator who does his homework and is an important voice on environmental and transportation issues.

In the race for two at-large seats, choice is limited, with incumbents Phil Mendelson (D) and David I. Catania (I) seeking reelection against token opposition from Statehood Green candidate David Schwartzman and Richard Urban, an independent. Mr. Catania gets our enthusiastic endorsement. One of the longest-serving members of the council, Mr. Catania is hardworking, detail-oriented and independent-minded. His oversight of city health issues has helped to give the city one of the lowest rates of uninsured people in the country, and he was a crucial ally for school reform.

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