D.C. Council challengers hope turnout translates into turnover
Voters have the chance to oust one-third of the D.C. Council in primary elections Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean it will happen.
The political races have placed several city lawmakers on the defensive after a roller-coaster year that featured sweeping ethics reform and a guilty plea from one of their colleagues, watering down the benefits of incumbency as popular sentiment turns against the legislative body. Yet a slate of energetic challengers in key races has been unable to present a united front for partisan voters.
In the District, where nearly 75 percent of registered voters are Democrats, primary elections are often more important than general elections, and the races for local office overshadow the presidential candidates whose names are on the ballots.
Democratic incumbents in three council races — Yvette M. Alexander in Ward 7, Marion Barry in Ward 8 and Vincent B. Orange in an at-large seat — have appeared vulnerable and lost key endorsements, yet their bases of supporters could help them rise above challengers who might split the remaining pool of voters.
“It’s definitely something to be concerned about,” said Tom Brown, a Democrat from Ward 7 who has emerged as Ms. Alexander’s most high-profile competition. “If I didn’t think I was the best candidate, I would definitely have considered supporting someone else.”
Council member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, picked up key endorsements and the support of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and holds a financial advantage over Democratic challengers Renee L. Bowser, Calvin Gurley, Baruti Jahi, Judi Jones and Max Skolnik. The two Bowsers are not related.
As chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, Muriel Bowser garnered praise for crafting a comprehensive ethics reform bill before the end of last year, perhaps solidifying her place as Ward 4’s voice on the council.
But for council members in other races, much remains to be decided.
The race for the at-large council seat could go a long way in determining whether a federal investigation into prolific campaign donor Jeffrey E. Thompson is resonating with D.C. voters.
Mr. Thompson, whose network of associates delivered generous sums of money to almost all of the District’s sitting council members, was linked to a federal probe of campaign finances after agents raided his home and offices on March 2.
The timing was especially unfortunate for Mr. Orange, a Democrat who returned to the council last April after a special election to fill the at-large seat left vacant by Kwame R. Brown when he was elected council chairman. Reporters dug into a series of money orders Mr. Orange received last year from Mr. Thompson’s network, prompting the council member to eventually note they seemed “suspicious” and worthy of review.
Mr. Orange was among the largest beneficiaries of Mr. Thompson’s donations and is running a citywide campaign. While Mr. Thompson has not been accused of any wrongdoing, the at-large council race could provide insight into whether residents across the city will use their first trip to the ballot box since the scandal broke to send a message about the perception of pay-to-play politics in city hall.
Mr. Orange, a former council member for Ward 5 who unsuccessfully ran for mayor and council chairman in 2006 and 2010, has gained traction through legislative efforts to gauge the progress of elementary school students and temper the cultivation of medical marijuana in Ward 5. He also made headlines by offering ethics proposals, for which his colleagues provided little support, that would impose term limits and ban outside employment among council members. He unanimously won the endorsement of the Ward 5 Democrats last week.
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