Political polls, surveying select voters’ opinions, have seemed all over the place during this final stretch of the election season in the District. We have seen the results of one get knocked down, like a game of Whac-A-Mole, by the contradictory numbers of another.
Campaign fliers, filled with repetitive messages worthy of those late-night television binge-a-tons, have flooded mailboxes. Undoubtedly, candidates have had to find ways to spend all their cash.
But, although mayoral candidates raised more than $2 million, neither Ben Franklin nor the rest of his most-wanted posse can vote. In the past, a massive campaign coffer hasn’t necessarily translated into an election victory — ask D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who, during the April Democratic primary, was flush with cash but hauled in a mere 5 percent of the vote.
Ultimately, what matters is the number of voters who actually show up to cast their ballots. By Monday evening, election officials told me that more than 5,000 people had participated in early voting.
That’s a good thing. More than a few people died to ensure our right to vote. Even now, folks are battling discriminatory forces across this country to guarantee that ours remains a participatory democracy.
While there have been competitive races for seats on the State Board of Education, the D.C. Council and the newly established independent attorney general, most of us have been captivated by the mayoral contest among Democratic nominee and council member Muriel Bowser (Ward 4) and independents Carol Schwartz and Council member David Catania (At Large). Who would assert it hasn’t been exciting, despite the artificial limit on the number of all-candidate debates?
Unlike in previous general elections, this time residents actually have a choice. We have been invited out of the Democratic Party echo chamber to experience and assess two political independents — individuals with solid and robust work ethics, whose grasp of public policies improved the quality of life for many in the city; perhaps Catania’s contributions have been felt the strongest.
Will that be enough for voters to choose him over Schwartz or Bowser?
Having credible options sometimes makes choosing even more difficult. “Discernment is hard work. It takes time and emotional energy,” author Stephen Carter wrote in his book “Integrity.” “It is so much easier to follow the crowd.”
Honesty and integrity, discernment’s sidekicks, are equally important — not only that of the candidates we are compelled to gauge, but also our own. “We Americans have a remarkable capacity to say one thing and do another,” Carter wrote, “not always out of true hypocrisy but often out of a lack of self-assurance.” Perhaps even an absence of conviction or the courage to act on what we know to be true and right.
I like the three major mayoral candidates. At times in their careers, I have praised or endorsed them. On other occasions, I have disagreed vehemently with some action they have proposed or taken, usually earning a splash of each individual’s brand of vinegar.
While voting is an action taken alone, it cannot be a selfish act. It’s not about our personal agendas — like building a new stadium to seduce a football team to leave its suburban home. It’s not about whether the government enthusiastically embraces an effort to host the 2016 Olympics. It’s not about protecting a favored government agency manager. It’s not about the construction of a specific apartment complex in some neighborhood.
These singular desires may be important, but should they outweigh the needs of the collective? Shouldn’t the entire city be foremost on our minds?
Despite the admiration any of us may hold for each or all of the candidates, we are required to bring honesty to the public square. We cannot delude ourselves about who they are, reinventing histories or engaging in breathtaking hyperbole. Bowser, Schwartz and Catania are known quantities; each has a record.
What do those records say about the future?
I am from New Orleans, and I like to boast that my grandfather, Harold Dejan, as a youth, worked for a time as an assistant to Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. But I lack the clairvoyance needed for a solid prediction of how someone will perform in the future. An elected official’s history is all that is available. It tells us in unequivocal terms about an individual’s ability while providing insight into capacity and potential.
Our assessment of past events, facts and probabilities requires objectivity, the ability to confront and push aside our biases. In other words, before we cast our ballots, we must, with clear eyes, seek the truth as we choose leadership that would match the best of us and the best we hope for our city — our entire city.