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11 enter special at-large D.C. council race

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2011; 10:20 PM

Eleven candidates are running in the April 26 special election for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council, setting up a noisy citywide campaign.

Last month, the D.C. Democratic State Committee selected former school board member Sekou Biddle to temporarily fill the vacancy created by the election of Kwame R. Brown (D) as council chairman. But candidates from any party or none can appear on the ballot in the special election.

Biddle and 10 others met the Wednesday deadline to submit the signatures of at least 3,000 voters. The Board of Elections and Ethics has two weeks to determine whether the signatures are valid.

The election's outcome could help shape the debate as the council considers proposals to raise taxes or slash services to close a projected fiscal 2012 shortfall of $400 million to $600 million.

The election will also determine whether the council continues to have a majority of African American members and could produce the the city's first Hispanic council member. Currently, there are six white and seven African American members, including Biddle. Eight of the candidates for the seat are black. Two are white, and one is Hispanic.

Among the candidates are eight Democrats, a Republican, an independent and a member of the Statehood Green Party. Former Ward 7 school board member Dorothy Douglas is the only woman.

Biddle has been endorsed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and six other council members, including Brown. But the former Ward 4 school board member faces several potentially formidable Democratic opponents.

In addition to Douglas, the other Democrats in the race are former council member Vincent B. Orange, Ward 8 Democratic Party Chairman Jacque Patterson, Ward 1 activist Bryan Weaver, accountant Calvin H. Gurley, Tom Brown of Southeast Washington, and Joshua Lopez, a campaign aide last year to then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). Turnout is expected to be low, candidates said.

Biddle, as the incumbent, is expected to have a well-funded campaign and is backed by the local Democratic committee. But Orange, a candidate for council chairman last year, said he has the edge because he has high name recognition and received nearly 50,000 votes last year.

"This race is going to be about who has the energy to get it done and make that contact with the people," said Orange, who lives in Northeast.

Patterson said he will work to rally his base in Ward 8 while reaching out to voters in Northwest Washington. He said the big field could help him because, "we know where our base is."

Lopez, of Guatemalan descent, is going after young voters, former Fenty supporters and Hispanic voters. Weaver, one of two white candidates in the race, is hoping to mobilize voters worried about "good government, transparency and green issues."

The lone Republican in the race is Patrick Mara, who is also white. Republicans are optimistic that his no-tax-hike pledge will set him apart from the Democrats.

The crowded field could provide an opportunity for Alan Page, a member of the Statehood Green Party, who is campaigning on creating a "progressive tax structure."

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