- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2000

When it comes to D.C. politics, one never knows quite what to expect. It is a guessing game whose ground rules were first spelled out a full decade ago.

Surely you recall 1990. Voters swept the first woman mayor, Sharon Pratt Kelly, into office in 1990 on her promise to "clean house." By 1994 her broom was in shreds, leaving her little evidence to hold up to voters. Marion Barry reclaimed the mantle that year, but home rule was practically gutted after the city was declared bankrupt. In 1998, voters elected Mr. Barry's former chief financial officer, Tony Williams, as mayor, and Linda Cropp, as the first woman to chair the city council. Others made history, too. Two homosexuals, Republican David Catania and Democrat Jim Graham, are now on the council, and two Republicans hold at-large seats.

Indeed, city hall looks nothing like it did 10 years ago. Is this politics run amok, one might ask? Or do those "firsts" reflect the kind of political dynamism that comes with orderly change and voter dissatisfaction?

Consider the 1998 elections. All but two of the 13 members of the D.C. Council ran for something. Four wanted to be mayor, one sought her first four-year term as chairman and the other five sought re-election to their ward and at-large seats. Three years of limited home rule (vis—vis the presidentially appointed control board) brought the Barry machine, which for years had been lubricated by the council, to a grinding halt. Moreover, voters approved a term-limits initiative in 1994, and that remains a constant reminder to every incumbent.

Elections in 2002 could again open the political floodgates. At this juncture, though, no one dare wager on the record, although a few scenarios seem plausible.

Mr. Williams made his re-election intentions known several months ago. He is trying to establish two distinct camps: administrators who can carry out his municipal objectives, and political operatives to carry out his political objectives. (More on that in a future editorial.) Other major contenders are anyone's guess, and that is understandable given the grueling 1998 campaign. Yet a couple of names are out there.

Council Chairman Cropp, who has won several at-large campaigns and earned respect as well on Capitol Hill, is perhaps more than any of her colleagues perfectly positioned to run for mayor in 2002. Her leadership on the council these next two years should be watched very closely. It falls to her to realign the council committees, coalesce the legislative agenda and find consensus on the school board nominations and confirmation. Moreover, depending on the results of the 2000 Census, redistricting could prove to be significant challenge.

Should Mrs. Cropp decide to seek re-election as chair, she could find an interesting opponent in Ward 3 Council member Kathy Patterson, a Democrat and the chairman of Government Operations. "Kathy," one council member said during the post-mortem of the last week's primaries, "does her homework." And, we might add, on every issue.

Then there is the thorniest of all subjects in D.C. politics, and that is race. Blacks are in the minority, courtesy of the 1998 elections. Of the five seats on the council that are citywide races, chairman and the at-large seats, two are held by black Democrats, Mrs. Cropp and Council member Harold Brazil. The others are held by whites: Republicans Carol Schwartz and David Catania and Democrat Phil Mendelson.

To be sure, there are no king-makers anymore when it comes to D.C. politics not incumbents (some of who learned the hard way), and certainly not the once-powerful unions. These days candidates must do their own bidding. They no longer can wait until election day and say, "Hey, remember me?"

In recent years, voters have proven themselves quite capable of running the political machine in Washington. They control the wires and the pulleys, and they decide who shall and shall not come into power. Indeed, any politician who has not been paying attention can easily be forgotten by 2002.

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