- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

Two of my favorite Democrats are running for the same office. The incumbent is at-large D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, whose liberal principles leave me saying ouch every time a colleague of his proposes emergency legislation and Mr. Mendelson questions the veracity of the "emergency." His chief opponent so far, but more on that later is none other than Marion S. Barry Jr., whose civil-rights principles hold true to the adage that says you can take the man out of the South but you can't take the South out of the man.

Mr. Mendelson said Wednesday that "his plan has been to run a serious campaign all along." He vowed to not run a slanderous campaign (as tempting as that might be), and said he will let his record speak for itself. Mr. Barry said "the time has come," and he has already asked the pertinent question regarding Mr. Mendelson: What record? (Ouch.)

So believe me when I say, folks, that both my buddies have records on which to stand. But this race will not spin on traditional D.C. matters such as education, crime, and pocketbook issues. It will spin on one issue personality.

So let's size up the situation. Mr. Mendelson is a nice white guy. He's married and the father of a too-cute toddler named Addie. He lives in Ward 3, the most affluent area of the city, and he's neither charismatic nor offensive. Mr. Mendelson is a studious and thoughtful lawmaker and unlike many of his colleagues who constantly seek the spotlight, especially when something as intriguing as a Barry candidacy heats things up Mr. Mendelson seems to just go his merry way unnoticed. Consequently, he is not, well, a big play maker. He is the opposite of the other three at-large council members, who are high-profile committee chairmen. That doesn't mean Mr. Mendelson doesn't wield power, though. As overseer of the council's redistricting panel, he orchestrated melding three political wards into one predominantly black bloc that can aptly be called East of the Anacostia River.

Now, for a politician like Mr. Barry, that creates a hell of a soap box. After all, residents on the east side have been complaining since the 1998 elections that they don't have enough supermarkets, that their expendable dollars and votes are taken for granted, and that there is insufficient affordable housing in their neck of the woods and they are right. Many of them also, however, are grade A, homogenized apathetic voters voters who are quick to criticize, but slow to mobilize. That will benefit not nice-guy Mr. Mendelson, but quick-thinking Mr. Barry.

Remember, Marion Barry said "the time has come." The time has come for the majority-white council the unprecedented majority-white council, by the way to take notice, because nothing significant has occurred during their post-Barry tenure (except their decision to crown themselves "council members for life" by overturning term limits). The time has also come for mayoral wannabes, including Harold Brazil, Kevin Chavous and Carol Schwartz, to take notes, because their so-so council records lack substance. And the time has certainly come for potential spoilers like former Gore wizardress Donna Brazile, community gadflies Dewitt Kinlow and Dee Hunter, and former Clinton Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater whose names are in the 2002 election and marked "potential" to dust off their copies of Jonetta Rose Barras' 1998 primer, "The Last of the Black Emperors: The Hollow Comeback of Marion Barry in a New Age of Black Leaders."

Indeed, the time has arrived for all the District's potentates male and female, gay and straight, Democrat and Republican to reckon with the reality that the Barry candidacy means D.C. elections are finally on the verge of media attention.

The mayor's race was essentially a non-starter, considering Tony Williams is practically guaranteed another mayoral victory without a substantial opponent. The other council races will likely draw the usual also-rans. And the re-election campaign of D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton? Been there, and done that so many times we can vote blindfolded.

D.C. voters even pass up issues that have high potential for controversy, such as challenging the constitutionality of the D.C. law that forbids voters from electing an all-Republican legislature. It seems we'd rather focus on the familiar, which explains the constant chatter about whether D.C. should have full congressional representation.

That leaves us with Mr. Barry to liven things up. I mean, you should have seen the faxes and e-mails flying Wednesday after Mr. Barry's announcement with all manner of folks dying to go on the record with their versions of "Why Marion Shouldn't Run." (Ouch).

The songs and their dances might stop lesser politicians in their tracks. After all, Mr. Barry had folks shuffling backwards in 1998, when he toyed with re-election, stepped down from his soap box to test the waters, but subsequently said, "ouch." Understand, too, Mr. Barry has been closely, very closely, watching the pack of wannabes since 1998, when there were so many candidates running at-large that Mr. Mendelson's victory is still considered a fluke. Today, four years later, Marion Barry still doesn't like what he sees and between me, you and the political goal post, a lot of other voters don't, either.

So, all I can say is, let the campaign petitioning begin, and may the best politician win.


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