”Three terms for an unpaid job is enough,” said Panetta, 40, who used the symbolic office to parlay his experience as a consultant to grassroots political campaigns into a number of novel attention-getters in support of District voting rights.
They included establishing a “District of Columbia Olympic Committee” to field symbolic curling and racewalking teams and setting up a “Free and Equal D.C.” political action committee, which purchased radio ads last year criticizing two Democratic sponsors of legislation that would gut city gun laws.
Panetta said he still plans to run the PAC, whose aims are to “make sure we have friends in Congress and make things a little difficult for people who aren’t.” But he said it’s “time for some new blood” in the shadow seat; he’s supporting and informally advising his energetic challenger in last year’s Democratic primary race, Nate Bennett-Fleming.
Bennett-Fleming, 26, garnered a respectable 43,243 votes (nearly 42 percent) against Panetta last year — “I believe I got more votes than anyone’s ever gotten under the age of 30,” he notes — and he already has an exploratory committee in place.
A recent graduate of the University of California’s law school, Bennett-Fleming is currently working as a fellow for a House Financial Services subcommittee. The Ward 8 native was a fixture at debates and community meetings during last year’s campaign, and now he says he’s prepared to knock on more than 7,500 doors explaining that he’s someone with “energy, the understanding to connect with the city, but also the legal training and the congressional relations [experience] that has the ability to upgrade our movement.”
Bennett-Fleming said he’s exploring work as an adjunct law professor, which would allow “a more full-time approach” to the shadow job.