D.C. Democrats to pick interim at-large council member

Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 4, 2011; 11:09 PM

A new mayor and legislators were sworn in Sunday in the District, but the city's election season continues this week with a high-stakes party vote pitting several D.C. Council members against a former member of their body.

Candidates have started vying for a vacant at-large council seat, which will be filled through a special election April 26. But Thursday, a select group of city Democrats will choose one of their own to fill the seat in the interim. As a sitting council member, the victor is expected to gain an advantage in fundraising and name recognition going into the election, which is open to members of any party.

Former D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. had expected to win broad support in the 80-odd-member D.C. Democratic State Committee, in which he has been active since leaving office in 2007. But elected officials are rallying instead behind a State Board of Education member, Sekou Biddle.

The winner of Thursday evening's balloting, which will take place at Democratic National Committee headquarters, will claim the seat vacated by Kwame R. Brown (D), now the council's chairman.

Orange, who served on the council from 1999 to 2007, had been viewed as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, given a long track record in D.C. politics that includes an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2006 and campaign for chairman last year.

But he is battling a growing tide of support for Biddle, a Ward 4 resident who is a relative newcomer to District politics. The D.C. Council that Orange left in 2007 has changed dramatically, leaving him with few alliances among elected officials, and a scorched-earth campaign in which Orange tried to capitalize on Brown's personal financial troubles might also have cost him support.

On Monday, Brown risked his political reputation by announcing that he wants Biddle to replace him on the council. A day later, council members Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) also threw their support behind Biddle.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) is neutral in the race. But Lorraine Green, one of Gray's closest friends and advisers, co-hosted a fundraiser for Biddle on Tuesday night at Ben's Chili Bowl.

"I'm coming on strong right now," Biddle said Tuesday. "My record and my career and my commitment to the issues is resonating."

Orange is confident that his personal ties to many committee members will overcome Biddle's high-profile support. "I've got the football, and I'm about to score the touchdown," Orange said. "They're trying to do whatever they can to make me fumble, and that's not going to happen."

In addition to Orange and Biddle, Ward 4 accountant Calvin H. Gurley, Ward 1 businessman Stanley J. Mayes, Ward 4 social worker Saul Solorzano and Ward 7 State Board of Education member Dorothy Douglas are also running for the interim post. But most local committee members and party leaders say Orange and Biddle are the front-runners for the nomination.

"I think it's going to be a tight race," said Pat Allen, chairman of the Ward 2 Democrats. "I have known Vince Orange for a long time, so I am kind of favorably inclined to him, but Sekou Biddle has called me and seems like a good guy, so I am still just trying to weigh them both."

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