D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous yesterday dismissed an endorsement given to his opponent by the city's Democratic Party, calling the process "a sham" that will not hurt him in the Sept. 14 primary.
"I don't take any stock in that. It's not even a worthy process," Chavous said. "It doesn't hurt me at all. . . . The only thing about this process is that it should remind everyone that it's the voters that are going to make the decision. And I like my chances with those folks."
Chavous made his comments a day after the D.C. Democratic State Committee overwhelmingly endorsed Vincent C. Gray, a former city agency chief who now runs the Covenant House.
The committee voted 35 to 3 Tuesday night in favor of Gray in the Ward 7 race, dealing a blow to Chavous's bid for a fourth four-year term. Incumbent Harold Brazil picked up an endorsement in the at-large race, and no endorsement was bestowed in hotly contested Ward 8, where incumbent Sandy Allen is being challenged by former mayor Marion Barry and several others.
This marked the first time the committee has endorsed candidates. The process was challenged by some committee members who boycotted the event because they believe it is improper to take sides in a primary. Only 38 of the 71 members voted.
Committee Chairman A. Scott Bolden defended his decision to back individual candidates by saying that the endorsements will give the party more influence in the city's political arena.
But Chavous, who did not attend the meeting, contended that Bolden and Gray have been conspiring to beat him.
"Scott Bolden has been working with Vince Gray. Everybody knows that," Chavous said. "We heard weeks ago that he was going to endorse [Gray]. This thing was all a setup."
Chavous, 48, has served three terms on the council, having defeated a longtime incumbent in 1992. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1998, losing to Anthony A. Williams. More recently, he has been the chairman of the council's Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation.
Gray, 61, has emerged as the most serious threat from a pack of challengers, and he has the most government experience, having worked as the director of human services under then-Mayor Sharon Pratt.
Some Ward 7 activists and residents have complained that Chavous has grown distant and aloof and that the ward has not benefited from the kind of economic growth that other parts of the city have experienced in recent years.
Gray joined the Democratic State Committee after being elected chairman of the Ward 7 Democrats 11/2 years ago. Within a few months, Bolden tapped him to become the chair of chairs, which means Gray oversaw and worked closely with the other ward chairmen.
Bolden said he respects Chavous and stressed that he did not lobby any committee members to tell them how to vote.
In a general sense, Bolden said, "I have consistently advocated with our state committee members that they should vote for Democrats who support the D.C. Democratic Party as one of many factors in their consideration."
Gray said he did not know Bolden before working with him on the state committee. The endorsement came from "people with whom I have worked over the last year and a half. I look at it as their opportunity to make a statement in regards to my work," Gray added.
Wanda Alston, a Ward 7 committee member who supported Gray, said members know that Bolden is trying to bolster the state committee.
Alston said Chavous "has a point" when he said Bolden and Gray had formed an alliance.
"He knows which side Scott Bolden's politics are on," Alston said. "But I understand what [Bolden] is doing. He wants us to be taken seriously, so if you want to seek our support, come to us for an endorsement."
The fact that Chavous did not attend the event, while Gray made remarks to the audience shortly before the vote, hurt Chavous, said Anita Bonds, a committee member from Ward 5.
"Because he didn't show, people were like, 'Hmm, why is he not here?' " Bonds said.
She added that "what happens when a small group makes decisions is that it's about friendships, and Vince has been a good friend to the folks who were there last night."
June Johnson, a committee member from Ward 6, did not attend the meeting in protest. She said Bolden staged the event solely as a way to support council candidates that will return the favor to him. Bolden has been mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate in 2006.
"It's quite clear that Scott wanted to endorse Vincent Gray and Harold Brazil," she said.
Whether the endorsements -- and the money and resources the state committee intends to put behind its candidates -- will make a difference is uncertain.
"This party politics stuff really doesn't bother me," Chavous said. "Whatever they did is not going to impact . . . on whether we get services in the ward. This is not going to affect the way people vote at all."