The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The best-kept secret in the District of Columbia

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, second from left,  and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, second from left, and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
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The best-kept secret in the District of Columbia is the fact that the primary election is in the home stretch, with voting day only seven weeks away. In a heavily Democratic city where the primary almost supplants the general election in importance, the June 19 deadline looms large.

Most residents can be forgiven if the primary isn’t on their minds. The outward signs of an election are missing this year. Where are media profiles of the candidates? How about aggressive press coverage of candidate forums and debates? Where are the yard signs, the mass mailings, stickers and T-shirts, canvassing and phone banks?

If ever there was a stealth D.C. election — and I have been observing D.C. elections since before passage of the Home Rule Act of 1973 — this year’s primary is it, and it’s a shame. Key offices are up for grabs. The occupants of those jobs will be responsible for overseeing a multibillion-dollar enterprise funded by taxpayers. Election Day decisions will weigh on the city for the next four years. Now is the time for voters to get woke and weigh in.

Not everyone, however, regrets the lack of attention. Incumbent Democrats — Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large council member Anita Bonds, council members Brianne K. Nadeau (Ward 1), Mary M. Cheh (Ward 3), Kenyan R. McDuffie (Ward 5) and Charles Allen (Ward 6) — must just love below-the- ­radar electioneering.

They hold all the cards with name recognition, experienced campaign staff, money in the kitty and, of course, records to run on. Some of their claims of glory may be puffed up, but their lesser-known opponents are left to scramble for attention.

If all goes as expected, June 19 will mark not only the end of Bowser’s primary campaign, but the beginning of a procession that will culminate in her expected victory in the November general election. Odds are Mendelson, Bonds, McDuffie and Allen also will survive their primaries and join Bowser at the general election night celebration.

Nevertheless, independent candidates will probably emerge to challenge Bowser and the others in the November general election. The filing deadline for independents is Aug. 8, so there’s still plenty of time to enter the race. (Think: Ward 7 Democratic council member and former mayor Vincent C. Gray.) Stay tuned.

But the incumbents seem ready to take them on. Check their financial reports — they have, relatively speaking, plenty of cash.

The exception: Nadeau. During the period covered by her March 10 report, she lagged challenger Sheika Reid in campaign contributions, but Nadeau has accumulated a war chest that far exceeds her challengers’. And by a vote of 31 to 8, incumbent Nadeau took a licking from challenger Kent Boese in the race for the prized Gertrude Stein Democratic Club endorsement that occurred Monday in the heart of her Ward 1 Columbia Heights neighborhood.

Nadeau’s critics contend that she is better suited for social work than legislative policymaking and government oversight. She, of course, argues otherwise. Keep an eye on Ward 1 results.

The June 19 primary also features a race for D.C. delegate which, at first blush, seems about as exciting as watching grass grow. Little wonder. The incumbent, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has had a longtime lock on a job she first won when George H.W. Bush was president.

Despite her nonvoting member status in the House, Norton has been a formidable presence on Capitol Hill on the District’s behalf, both in advancing economic measures benefiting the city and in fending off right-wing congressional incursions into D.C. self-rule. With 14 terms under her belt, Norton seems on the way toward her 15th.

That said, this year’s race is worth a double-take. Norton has a scrappy opponent in Kim R. Ford, a D.C. native who was raised in Ward 4 and lives in Ward 5.

A Sidwell Friends School alum, graduate of Vanderbilt (B.S. international business, 2003) and the University of Pennsylvania (M.A. public administration, 2008), and former Obama administration official (helping to implement the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), Ford is establishing a presence on the D.C. political scene.

She has already had an impact on the city launching a college access and readiness program at the University of the District of Columbia Community College resulting in a three-year stint as dean of workforce development and lifelong learning.

Money does not a victory make; still, her fundraising results as of March 2018 are eye-catching.

Ford, the novice, has racked up more than $106,000 from 550 individual campaign contributions. Among her contributors, she counts D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine.

Norton, by contrast, has raised only $37,285 in individual contributions. Norton tops Ford in total contributions with $191,285, only because of $154,000 in donations from political action committees.

Ford trails Norton in cash, but heading into the stretch with $55,000 in hand isn’t too shabby for a first-time candidate.

No predictions, but there’s a fresh and energetic face on the scene.

D.C., put June 19 on your calendar, for more reasons than one.

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