D.C. residents to decide on budget autonomy, council seat

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D.C. voters will turn out Tuesday to elect a council member and to decide whether to grant the city budget autonomy from Congress the fourth time in a year that residents have been asked to take to the polls.

Six candidates are vying for an at-large council seat, pitting an established political operative currently serving as the appointed incumbent against a stable of other Democrats, a Republican, and a D.C. Statehood Green candidate. Even though election season hasn’t let up over the past year which saw a party primary contest, a special election for a council member to represent Ward 5, and a special election for D.C. Council chairman during a general election voters don’t appear to have tired of the process.

Through the early voting period, which lasted from April 8 to 20, D.C. Board of Elections spokeswoman Agnes Moss said 2,894 ballots were cast. Ms. Moss said it’s an 1,100 ballot increase over the number of early voting ballots cast in a 2011 special election for an at-large council member, but she wouldn’t speculate on whether the early voting numbers could be indicative of high or low voter turnout Tuesday.

“The city appears to be energized in this election,” Ms. Moss said. “I can’t say we’ve seen signs of a voter fatigue.”

During the 2011 special election, 46,967 of 455,842 registered voters cast ballots. This election is projected to cost a little more than $1 million, Ms. Moss said.

A number of council seats were up for grabs over the past year as part of the normal election cycle, but two of the past three races included seats freed up when council members pleaded guilty to criminal charges and resigned.

Tuesday’s special election is for the at-large seat formerly held by Phil Mendelson, a Democrat who won the job of council chairman in the November elections.

Recent polling indicates Democrat Anita Bonds holds an edge. Ms. Bonds, who has served as the D.C. Democratic Party chairwoman since 2006, is currently serving in the at-large seat up for grabs after being appointed by party members to the position in December. A first-time office holder, she has a long history as a political operative working for former mayors Marion Barry, Anthony A. Williams and Sharon Pratt. She currently works for Fort Myer Construction, one of the city’s biggest contractors.

The results of a 1,621-person poll of registered voters, released last week by the Marijuana Policy Project and conducted by Raleigh, N.C.-based Public Policy Polling, indicated 19 percent of respondents would support Ms. Bonds.

The election is regarded as perhaps the best shot in recent years for a Republican to gain a seat on the council, which reserves two at-large seats for members of a non-majority party. The lone Republican in the race, Patrick Mara, has run twice before for council and currently serves as the Ward 1 representative on the city’s school board.

A Republican has not served on the council since Mr. Mara defeated Carol Schwartz in the 2008 Republican primary and lost the general election.

Mr. Mara has received a number of high-profile endorsements, but the PPP poll showed him tied with Democratic candidate Elissa Silverman with 13 percent of the vote. Ms. Silverman is a former journalist who went on to work with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.

Others in the race include Democrats Matthew Frumin and Paul Zukerberg and Statehood Green candidate Perry Redd, a longtime activist and music producer who has put his talents to work crafting a number of campaign songs.

Mr. Frumin is an international trade lawyer and has served as a Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative since 2008. Mr. Zukerberg, a defense lawyer, has for the most part campaigned around the single issue of marijuana decriminalization.

Also on the ballot is a referendum that would grant the District budget autonomy. If passed, the referendum would force Congress to actively disapprove the local electorate’s wish to detach the city’s budget from the spending process on Capitol Hill and would also let city officials set their own fiscal year instead of using the cumbersome federal version, from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

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