Jim Graham is, by most measures, in an enviable position for a politico seeking reelection. Over four D.C. Council terms, the Democrat has earned unmatched name recognition (also, bowtie recognition), built a network of community supporters across his Ward 1 bailiwick and established a fundraising base matched by few ward council members.
As reported this week by Washington City Paper, Graham filed papers Tuesday, not for a full-blown reelection campaign but rather an exploratory effort. That’s the sort of toe-in-the-water effort typically reserved for candidates seeking a particular office for the first time.
The decision to opt for an exploratory campaign raises some questions, none more succinct than this one, posed in a statement from already-declared Ward 1 candidate Brianne Nadeau: “What does Graham have left to explore?”
Well, among other things, he’s exploring whether his involvement in ethics controversies have harmed his reelection chances. That’s the takeaway from a telephone poll fielded Friday by Ward 1 voters — including, as it happens, Bryan Weaver, another already-declared candidate for Graham’s seat.
Weaver said the poll asked about both Graham and Mayor Vincent C. Gray, before offering biographical information about Graham, Nadeau, Weaver and a third declared candidate, Beverley Wheeler, and then asking for respondents’ preferences.
The automated poll then turned, Weaver said, to Graham’s ethical controversies — most prominently, his involvement in an alleged contracting quid pro quo that ended in his being criticized by the city’s ethics board and reprimanded by his council colleagues.
Among the questions, Weaver said: “How important to you is the endorsement of The Washington Post?” (The Post editorial board has been deeply critical of Graham’s role in the contracting deal.)
Graham acknowledged Friday that he is polling — “I’ve always polled,” he notes — and said it was “important for me to get that kind of sense of the political situation.” The survey, he said, is “just one factor” in his ultimate decision.
In an interview earlier in the week, Graham said the exploratory committee is a way to publicly acknowledge that he is still wrestling with whether to run again. At 68, he would be well into his 70s by the end of a fifth term. He also would be running against adversaries who have made clear that they will make an issue of his ethics record.
Graham said he doesn’t doubt he would win if he ends up deciding to run — a decision, he believes, he can put off until December — and he is already hinting that he is leaning toward seeking another term.
Since he announced his exploratory panel this week, Graham said Friday, he’s heard from “dozens of people” weighing in on whether he should run or not.
“It’s mostly been run, I must say,” he said.
Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.