D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. announced yesterday that he is running for mayor, casting himself as a veteran politician with the business savvy to broaden the city's economic renaissance and spread its benefits to public schoolchildren, blue-collar workers and forgotten neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.
Addressing dozens of supporters at a catered picnic in the shady back yard of his family's home in Northeast Washington, Orange (D-Ward 5) took credit for helping to nurture the city's financial turnaround during two terms on the council. As mayor, he said, he would seek to build on that success by focusing resources on public schools, affordable housing, health care for the poor and jobs for city residents.
"Vincent Orange is here to provide a better chance. Because God gave me a better chance," Orange said. "That's all we want. ABC. A better chance. A better chance."
With yesterday's announcement, Orange, 48, becomes the second declared candidate in the 2006 campaign. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) is also seeking to replace Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), who has yet to say whether he will seek a third term.
Unlike Fenty, who is among the mayor's harshest critics, Orange said he "will not be running an anti-Williams campaign," even if the mayor joins the race. "My campaign will be based on building on the foundation" of the past six years, he said.
However, Orange said, there are "significant differences" between himself and Williams, who he said "blinked on education," has failed to spread prosperity to all parts of the city and could do more to rein in chronic unemployment.
For example, Orange said, a labor agreement the mayor worked out for the new baseball stadium would essentially restrict major contracts to bidders whose workers are unionized. While Williams says the deal is designed to benefit city residents, Orange says it would prevent many minority contractors, as well as many D.C. residents, from winning a piece of the $535 million project, he said. Orange said he will introduce emergency legislation Tuesday to ban the arrangement before the city's Sports and Entertainment Commission formally approves it.
"We shouldn't force people to have to join a union," Orange said. "This is not in the best interests of the city."
While Orange jabbed a bit at the mayor, he saved his toughest shots for Fenty, who is emerging as Williams's strongest rival. In polls conducted for exploratory committees formed by Fenty and two other potential candidates, the surveyed voters were far more likely to say they would support Fenty than Orange or anyone else in the crowded field of possible contenders.
Yesterday, Orange, without naming Fenty, made repeated references to what critics say is his reputation as a media hound who has done little but criticize the mayor and others during 41/2 years on the council. "While some people have been out chasing cameras, I have been part of the solution," Orange said.
Orange described himself as "an underdog" and said that Fenty has been campaigning for months under the auspices of his exploratory committee. By contrast, Orange said, his own exploratory committee tested the waters relatively quietly. Now, his campaign is beginning, he said. He plans to spend the next four months walking every city street, knocking on doors and introducing himself to voters.
Orange suggested that he also plans to spend a good bit of time introducing the voters to Fenty, a lawyer who was once sanctioned for failing to protect the interests of a poor, elderly client.
"I don't want to get into people's records right now, but there are things that really haven't been dwelled on, things that I think people need to know about," Orange said. "Once they have the true picture, then we'll see what they decide."
Orange chose Father's Day to announce his candidacy to highlight what he clearly considers one of the most important aspects of his own record: his accomplished family. His eldest son is attending Morehouse College. His middle son has a 3.85 grade-point average at St. John's College High School. And his daughter, 9, is a cheerleader at Bunker Hill Elementary School.
Yesterday, the children introduced their father, who was raised in poverty in Oakland, Calif., but went to college, earned a law degree and became a certified public accountant.
"He may not be as visible as some would like, but he's doing a good job," said Orange supporter and Ward 5 ANC Commissioner Wilhelmina Lawson. "We just haven't been out there yet. He has a well-oiled machine behind him."