Next year’s presidential election will not be the only game in town. The elections for six D.C. Council seats will probably have more impact on the city’s future than anything that will be done — or fail to get done — under the next administration in the White House.
So with primary elections only eight months away, now is the time for D.C. voters to start thinking about the kind of women and men they want to help lead this city.
Next year’s elections should be a doozy. The contests, in the words of that traditional wedding couplet, bring “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”
“Something old” is self-evident.
Ward 2 Democratic council member Jack Evans, first elected in 1991 and reelected six times, is the council’s longest-serving member. Evans told me he filed for reelection July 1. During his 24 years of service, Evans has twice run for the mayor’s office; both tries were spectacularly unsuccessful. He’s now cemented in his council seat, and the only way he’ll give it up is if it’s pried from his cold, dead hands. At this stage, there are no official opponents in the wings. But it’s early.
The other political graybeard is Democratic at-large council member Vincent Orange. He shows no signs of packing it in. Orange, a former two-term Ward 5 council member, and an at-large member since winning a special election in 2011, has also filed for reelection, his chief of staff, James Brown, told me.
Independent at-large council member David Grosso, who occupies the minority-party set-aside seat on the council created under the Home Rule Act, isn’t actually old. Consider him slightly used, since he’s on the council. Grosso has staked out a position as the city’s chief social reformer, championing the legalization of pot, the decriminalization of prostitution and universal paid leave. His seat is up next year. Grosso has attracted an independent-turned-Republican opponent, Dave Oberting. There may be others.
Of the three veterans, Orange seems to have attracted the most company that doesn’t view him kindly.
Here’s where “something new” comes into play.
Political neophyte David Garber has entered the race against Orange, calling the council member “a corrupt politician with deep pockets.” The charge will resonate in some quarters of the city, but it will raise hackles in heavily black wards 5, 7 and 8, where Orange has supporters. Orange needs a crowd of opponents to help him eke out a plurality on Election Day. Winning a majority of votes is beyond his reach.
Restaurateur Andy Shallal told me this week that he will decide within the next three weeks whether he will try to unseat Orange. The fact that Shallal has discussed the management of his campaign with former mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2014 campaign manager, Chuck Thies, is significant. Thies told me he is “very supportive” of Shallal’s potential candidacy.
Shallal ran a long-shot campaign in last year’s mayoral Democratic primary, winning only 3.3 percent of the vote. He noted with humor that he still outpolled Orange, who got 2 percent in his own mayoral bid, and boasted that he came in ahead of Orange in wards 2, 3, 4 and 6, key foundations on which to build.
Now for “something borrowed.”
Look no further than the council races in wards 4 and 8, where Brandon Todd and LaRuby May were respective winners of spring’s special elections. The two protégés of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) are seeking full four-year terms. Todd was the mayor’s constituent-services director as well as a major campaign aide and fundraiser. May was Bowser’s field director. Today, they are in the service of voters in wards 4 and 8. But make no mistake: They belong to Bowser, and to Bowser one day they shall return.
On to “something blue,” or, perhaps, the blues, which Ward 7 council member Yvette Alexander could be experiencing around about now.
The two-term legislator has filed for reelection in 2016, her communications director, Tiffany Brown, told me. Alexander is facing a challenge from Ward 7 Democratic chairman Ed Potillo, who once served as an Alexander field director. But Potillo isn’t the one causing Alexander’s camp to mourn.
The greatest threat to her remaining in office could come from Gray, her former mentor and past occupant of the Ward 7 seat, who is weighing a possible return to elective office via either a challenge to Orange or Alexander.
Alexander would be his best bet. In a Ward 7 contest, Gray would have home-field advantage. It is his stronghold. Even when Bowser was outpolling him across the city in last year’s Democratic primary, Gray captured Ward 7 by more than a 2-to-1 margin.
But whether he makes his comeback by taking a shot at a seat held by Orange or Alexander, a victory by Gray would bring new and intense scrutiny to the novice Bowser administration.
Bowser’s budding “pay-to-play” strategy — through a big-money political action committee whose formation she has sanctioned — would be subject to vigorous legislative oversight. So, too, the city’s direction.
The presidential race could be downright boring compared with next year’s D.C. elections.
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