You've got to hand it to D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. The man knows how to fill a room.
Nearly 500 people turned up at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in December to eat a free breakfast, Orange's first exploratory event for the 2006 mayoral race. An estimated 3,000 showed up to drink free booze at his birthday celebration at Dream nightclub in April. And on Sunday, 367 people signed the guest list at his announcement for mayor, where live blues and free, Dream-catered barbecued chicken were on offer in Orange's leafy Northeast Washington back yard.
"Our goal was to have more people than Fenty," said Orange (D-Ward 5), referring to his council colleague, Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4). (Fenty, sadly, offered no free food at his June 1 mayoral announcement, and he attracted only about 100 people.)
But salmon cakes can't buy you love, as the saying goes. While many of the people sipping free California champagne pledged their loyalty to Orange, others readily confessed that they either have no intention of supporting him or have yet to make a firm decision.
Take Neil Alpert, chairman of the D.C. Baseball Association.
"Right now, I'm supporting everybody who supported baseball -- the mayor, Vincent, [Ward 2 council member] Jack Evans," said Alpert (who appeared to be sipping Coke, not bubbly). "If the mayor doesn't run, I'll support Vincent."
A Ward 5 resident who would identify herself only as Bernice said she, too, is supporting Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). "I'm a native Washingtonian and this city is running real good right now," she said. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Right?"
Other tables were populated by senior citizens bused over from the ward's many senior homes, as well as potential candidates for Orange's council seat, which he must abandon to run for mayor. One of them, ANC Commissioner Regina James, fought to block Orange supporters John Ray and Pedro Alphonso from bringing slot machines to Ward 5. James said she showed up Sunday "just to be nosy."
Then there was Tim Thomas, who said he helped run council member Kwame Brown's successful at-large campaign last year.
"Outside of this yard, you got seven other wards," Thomas said, arguing that the affluent population of vote-rich Wards 3 and 4 are unlikely to be swayed by Orange's approach to campaigning.
Even in Ward 5, where Orange has served nearly eight years as a council member, Thomas said, Orange has a tough time inspiring enthusiasm. "Look around," Thomas said, gesturing toward empty tables dressed in orange and green. "Most people just ate the food, and they left."
A Nightmare Scenario
Is the D.C. Council on the verge of becoming one big mayoral debate?
With Fenty and Orange in the race and Evans (D-Ward 2) and D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) thinking about it, as many as four mayoral contenders could soon be parrying on the dais, engaging in sundry acts of speechifying and grandstanding.
It's a nightmare scenario, and not just for anyone forced to listen. Even Cropp is worried.
"The city doesn't need a year and a half of being in an upheaval,'' she said Monday.
Fenty, meanwhile, is already on the campaign trail. He held his first fundraiser last week at the Ward 2 home of ANC Commissioner Babak Movahedi and turned up at a variety of community events, including Home Run Baseball Camp in A.U. Park. There, Fenty revealed to the school-aged campers (as well as their voting parents) that his favorite fruit or vegetable is bananas and his sport as a kid was track.
When the conversation turned to baseball, Fenty, an outspoken opponent of the mayor's efforts to bring baseball to the District, sounded like a booster. "Baseball teaches great lessons about life and about conflict in life," he said. His opposition to building a new stadium for the Nationals, whose first-place ranking in the National League East seems to be quieting a multitude of dissenters, went unmentioned .
* Defeated council member Kevin P. Chavous has his own Web site, kevinpchavous.com, which touts him as "a leading national advocate for school choice" who is available for speaking engagements and high-profile consulting work. "Since leaving the D.C. Council, Mr. Chavous has emerged as one of the nation's most respected and influential education reform leaders," the site says, noting that Chavous is "a Distinguished Fellow with the Washington, D.C. based Center for Education Reform," as well as a board member of the Charter School Leadership Council.
Coming soon: A Chavous-focused nonprofit organization that will "engage state, local and national policymakers on progressive education reform practices."
* On the strength of the "extraordinary response" she received at the Capital Pride parade two weeks ago, bugle-blowing activist Faith has decided to make her seventh run for mayor, according to her husband, Jude Crannitch. "Where others are spending $200,000 and $300,000 on exploratory committees, Faith took this to be her exploration -- and it only cost her $90 for the parade application fee," Crannitch said.
* District Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, who threw a party earlier this month to celebrate his fifth anniversary in the job, would like it to be noted that he is the city's longest-serving chief financial officer. And he still has two years to go -- at which point the next mayor will have an opportunity to replace him.