SIMMONS: Election brings changes for D.C. politics

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Morning-after pills can be hard to swallow, especially when election results raise new unanswered questions among winners and losers.

First, who will the Democratic Party appoint to fill the now-vacant at-large seat of D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson?

Second, will any of Tuesday’s losers run in 2013 or, for that matter, 2014?

Third, by the time the Easter Bunny starts hopping around, D.C. voters will return to the polls to elect a permanent at-large council member for Mr. Mendelson’s seat, meaning the body’s racial breakdown could change.

Formalities, for now, include counting absentee and special (or provisional) ballots, followed by the Board of Elections‘ certification of the Nov. 6 preliminary results and a resignation letter from Mr. Mendelson, who will have to step down as an at-large Democrat before he can assume the chairman’s post.

“The board is expected to certify results on Nov. 27,” Ken McGhie, the board’s general counsel, said Wednesday. “Once the board gets the letter of resignation, a meeting will be scheduled for a selection date for the special election. That will probably be in either March or April.”

But what of real, Mitt Romney-like change?

It was hardly newsworthy that the District’s three Electoral College votes were colored blue, the only crayon color D.C. presidential voters have ever used since the Kennedy-Johnson era.

Is skin color in local elections a different sort of issue?

If the D.C. Democratic Party chooses a white candidate to keep the Mendelson at-large seat warm until the special election, then the council will have a larger majority of white members.

Racial makeup of the council really shouldn’t be an issue, said Denise Rolark Barnes, a native Washingtonian and publisher of the city’s premier black newspaper.

Candidates’ “grasp of the issues should matter,” Mrs. Barnes said.

“Race doesn’t always dictate that a candidate understands the issues,” she explained, citing unemployment, housing, education and the overall economy in Wards 5, 7 and 8. “I think it matters in the Ward 8 communities that up until recently the voters were not fully engaged in the role of politics.”

In other words, Chocolate City has become more latte and middle-class-like.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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