Political eyes are focused on the 2020 elections, when voters get to decide whether to elect a new president and vice president or keep the ones they have. The presidential race, however, is not the only game in town.
In 2020, the District has races of its own to decide.
Unlike the fight for the White House, which gets decided on Nov. 3, six of the seven D.C. contests will be effectively resolved months earlier, on June 2. That is primary election day, and in this heavily Democratic town, a Democratic primary victory is tantamount to clinching the general election.
The exception to this is one of the two races for at-large D.C. Council seats, which will be decided in the general election under terms of the Home Rule Act.
Of the seven city contests, the election for delegate to the House of Representatives is least likely to be an attention-getter. The incumbent, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), has decided to seek a 16th term. Unless an experienced and exceptionally skilled figure appears out of nowhere, Norton’s a shoo-in. Newbies get nowhere against her.
The six remaining ballot entries (representing nearly half of the 13-member council) are on the market: two at-large council seats and the Wards 2, 4, 7 and 8 seats, occupied, respectively, by David Grosso (I), Robert C. White Jr. (D), Jack Evans (D), Brandon T. Todd (D), Vincent C. Gray (D) and Trayon White Sr. (D).
At issue: Do today’s D.C. voters much care about these council races — or the council itself?
Maybe the reason people in the District don’t seem to care is that they thought D.C. government had been pretty much cleaned up after the scandals of 2012 and 2013, when council members Michael A. Brown, Kwame R. Brown and Harry Thomas Jr. pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, Marion Barry got censured for taking cash from contractors with business before the council and Jim Graham got reprimanded for intervening in the city lottery. Those folks are long out of office.
But the D.C. government’s problems are far from over.
Just this year, the longest-serving council member, Evans, has faced a federal investigation, an FBI raid on his home and a $20,000 ethics board fine for using his position as a lawmaker for personal gain; he lost his seats on the Metro board and the finance committee.
Meanwhile, the District has become a contract hustler’s paradise: Note the disgusting award of a rigged, sole-source $215 million contract to operate sports betting in the city.
Government oversight is a major council responsibility. D.C. lawmakers should be monitoring the actions of the executive branch, including programs and policies implemented by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and her administration. The council, on behalf of taxpayers, ought to be examining whether programs are performing as intended, within both the budget and the law.
Not so on this council’s watch, under the insipid and irresolute leadership of Chairman Phil Mendelson (D). Members, by and large, seem more interested in aggrandizing themselves — which they do to perfection and often at each other’s expense — than in taking oversight seriously.
Concerns about waste, fraud and abuse seem to have taken a holiday. Predatory landlords have been having a field day, at the expense of tenants, while D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs housing inspectors collect paychecks while skating through their jobs. The council whimpers.
Then there’s gun violence: children afraid to walk to and from school and bodies falling all over town. The media’s new standard of measurement: Are shootings “non-life-threatening”? City leadership’s solution? Free Metro and bus rides for kids, and send in city-paid violence “interrupters.”
A deputy mayor for education and schools chancellor are forced to split the scene after bypassing the school system’s competitive lottery system. Inflated graduation rates exposed by the media. School budget overruns detected by the city auditor. Hand-wringing at the council.
On top of that, the council now has a solid bloc of lawmakers who are more responsive to outside cause-oriented special interests than to the general public. Think decriminalizing of prostitution, guaranteeing universal paid family leave and making the District a medical marijuana mecca.
That said, let’s look at who’s on deck next year.
Evans told me he has not decided whether to seek reelection. I’m told the only Evans fundraising now underway is for contributions to his legal defense fund. A crowd of candidates are seeking to replace him — almost as many as the number of federal prosecutors on his trail.
Todd has declared and is running hard. Left-leaning groups are out to get him, in part because he’s seen as Bowser’s protege. They have settled on political novice Janeese Lewis George as their standard-bearer. She has got a lot of catching up to do.
Gray has indicated that he’s seeking reelection. Trayon White is seeking reelection. A couple of would-be challengers are sniffing around. But he’s wired in to the community and is good at retail politics.
Robert White hasn’t yet responded to my inquiry. Grosso’s staff told me he is “still weighing his options.” C’mon, it’s either a council job or what?
Again: Do today’s D.C. voters much care about these council races or the council itself? If they do, they might want to start telling these incumbent candidates what they expect from them.
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