Once they were known as the Young Turks. But that was a long time ago. Now council members Harold Brazil (D-At Large) and Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) look more like the old guard, and both face tough races against energetic challengers in Tuesday's Democratic primary.
Council member Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8) also is running for her political life against former mayor Marion Barry, among others. If the three veterans were to succumb to their Democratic challengers, it would be the first time since 1998 that the 13-member council has undergone such broad upheaval.
Political analysts say a variety of factors are contributing to restlessness among voters. Rampant development, rising property taxes and skyrocketing housing prices have made the city more prosperous but left many low- and middle-income residents feeling threatened, the analysts say. In Wards 7 and 8, east of the Anacostia River, they say, many voters feel left behind by the city's economic renaissance.
On a more personal level, the three incumbents have been accused by their opponents of of having lost touch with their constituents. Brazil and Chavous, who both have private law practices, have been criticized for giving the city part-time attention. And many Ward 8 residents grumble that Allen has failed to respond to their complaints about lousy services, including trashy streets, open-air drug markets, prostitution and unregulated businesses.
"The council members have lost the street corner, so to speak," said Terry Lynch, a longtime community activist. "I don't think they enjoy the street corner support that's important for a successful candidate."
Brazil, Chavous and Allen counter that the city is far better off than it was when they rose to power in the early 1990s. Then, the city was the nation's murder capital, bonds issued by a virtually bankrupt District government were relegated to junk-bond status, and vast swaths of downtown were blighted by crime and vacant buildings.
Today, the murder rate has plummeted. The District has a balanced budget, an A2 bond rating and cash reserves of more than $250 million. And the downtown streetscape offers a lively tableau of shops, restaurants and gleaming new office towers.
Development has been slower to come to the neighborhoods, particularly those east of the river. But the first Starbucks recently opened in Ward 7, the council has approved a massive redevelopment of the Anacostia waterfront, and crime-plagued public housing complexes in Ward 8 have been replaced by modern townhouse developments.
"The economic revival is coming" to the neighborhoods, Allen said. "No, it's not going as fast as any of us want it to go. But the people actually doing the moving and shaking are moving a lot faster now than in the past."
The three council races are generating by far the most interest in Tuesday's primary, when Democrats, Republicans and Statehood Green party members will select nominees for the Nov. 2 general election. In the District, where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 10 to one -- and fewer than 2 percent of voters are registered with the Statehood Greens -- winning the Democratic nomination typically is tantamount to winning election.
Two other incumbent council members -- Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4) -- are unopposed, both in the Democratic primary and in the general election.
On the Republican ballot, at-large council member Carol Schwartz, 60, faces two relatively unknown challengers. Community activist Robert Pittman, 39, has a long history of civic involvement focused on police and health issues. And Don Folden Sr., 51, is a bus driver and former vending stand owner who is campaigning for more parental involvement in public schools and better city services.
"You know what? We ain't got no business talking about no baseball team," Folden said at a recent AARP forum when asked about efforts to bring the Montreal Expos to D.C. "They're closing down the libraries. The hospitals are closed. And we're talking about a baseball team? Get real."
Schwartz's at-large colleague, Harold Brazil, 55, faces his toughest race since he first won citywide office in 1996. According to a recent poll conducted for the Brazil campaign, challenger Kwame R. Brown is within striking distance of the Democratic nomination. The poll of 498 likely Democratic voters shows Brazil with the support of 42 percent of Democratic voters, while Brown got 33 percent.
The race has been the nastiest of the season, with Brazil running a largely negative campaign against Brown, 33. Brazil has accused Brown of misleading voters about his college credentials (he did not get an MBA from Dartmouth, as an early campaign piece suggested), his stand on gay marriage (he supports only civil unions) and his position on high-density urban development (Brown's Web site says he is for it, but Brown said he was against it at a recent Tenleytown forum).
In recent days, the Brazil campaign sent out a mass mailing accusing Brown of failing to vote in D.C. elections from 1994 to 2002, a period when Brown lived in Virginia. "Kwame claims to be a lifelong resident, but you can't find that in the voting records. It's like he never existed -- until a few months ago," the piece says.
Brown has, for the most part, declined to fire back. The son of veteran D.C. political strategist Marshall Brown, he instead touts his broad experience working for two local banks and as an assistant store manager for Wal-Mart, as a Commerce Department official during the Clinton administration and as president and chief executive of the Maryland/D.C. Minority Supplier Development Council, a private nonprofit organization that helps major corporations identify minority business partners.
Brown has run an energetic campaign, knocking on more than 15,000 doors and attending more than 100 "listening sessions" with interested voters. He accuses Brazil of being a part-time council member and of doing too little to maintain affordable housing in the midst of the city's real estate boom.
A third candidate, Sam Brooks, 24, is a recent college graduate whose encyclopedic knowledge of local issues and closely reasoned positions have impressed many voters. Though Brooks's campaign organization consists only of himself and two volunteers, he nonetheless won the support of 9 percent of those surveyed in Brazil's poll.
In Ward 7, Chavous, 48, faces his most difficult council race since he ousted H.R. Crawford in 1992.
Vincent C. Gray, 61, a former city human services director who now runs Covenant House Washington, a nonprofit organization that works with troubled youth, is the leading contender among a pack of challengers that includes activists Mary D. Jackson, James (JJ-Jimmy) Johnson Jr., Donna E. Daniels and Mia Hairston-Hamilton, who assumed the campaign from her son, Terry Hairston, a former Ward 7 school board member who was shot to death in May.
Gray, who has garnered an array of important endorsements -- including that of the Democratic State Committee -- accuses Chavous of having lost touch with the ward and of failing to bring economic development to the community. Chavous dismisses the criticism, claiming credit for two new elementary schools, two planned libraries and the planned makeover of the run-down Skyland shopping center.
In Ward 8, the city's political cognoscenti are waiting to see whether the underfunded campaign of former mayor Marion Barry, 68, can oust his former campaign manager, Sandy Allen. Allen, 60, has represented the city's poorest ward since 1996 and now faces an array of challengers, including D.C. school board member William O. Lockridge, Advisory Neighborhood Commission members Jacque D. Patterson and "S.S." Sandra Seegars, and community activists Joyce Scott and Frank Sewell.
Also on the Democratic ballot: Shadow representative Ray Browne faces challenger Susana Baranano, who says she would more aggressively pursue the support of other states in the District's bid for voting representation in Congress.
And a band of Howard Dean loyalists is waging a spirited campaign to oust much of the Democratic State Committee. The group, which calls itself the "Running Against Bush" slate, is made up mainly of young, first-time office-seekers.
They say the party is run by entrenched insiders who gave up too easily on their vision of making the D.C. presidential primary the first binding contest in the nation.