- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

It appeared as a simple news item, but it has created quite the buzz. “When I read in the newspaper that she was leaving her job, my immediate reaction was that she is running for mayor,” said one politically astute D.C. businessman.

The “she” is Marie C. Johns. The job from which she officially will retire Feb. 29 is president and “the public face” of Verizon Washington. And the buzz is that she is going to toss her bonnet into the 2006 race for mayor.

“That’s what I heard. There’s a lot of excitement brewing,” said another in the business community about a Johns candidacy.

“We’d heard she’d been encouraged [to run], and she was interested,” said a third.

“There’s a lot of buzz about her running for mayor,” said syndicated political commentator Julianne Malveaux.

Wait, before the buzz boils over Mrs. Johns.

The emphatic word straight from her mouth is “unequivocally no.”

“I’m not planning to run. However, I do plan to stay involved as I have been for many, many years in community work, and I am looking forward to having the time and flexibility to pursue those things,” Mrs. Johns said yesterday.

“With all due respect, [the speculators] are wrong.” Mrs. Johns, 52, said, adding that her retirement has been planned for some time. She wanted to complete some Verizon projects — moving into the long-distance market and into a new office, among others — before she left the telecommunications giant. It is time after 21 years, she said, to hand over the reins to new leadership.

Granted, the D.C. mayoral race is a long way off. Mayor Anthony A. Williams hasn’t stepped aside or been kicked to the curb yet. But that doesn’t stop D.C. political junkies from playing their favorite game of “speculatin’.” The Johns’ resignation was simply more grist for the rumor mill.

The continuous guessing game is the D.C. pols’ parlor version of the Abbott and Costello routine of “Who’s on first?”

Only here it’s “Who’s running?” “Who’s not?” followed by an analysis of why “who” can or can’t win against an incumbent mayor, albeit one whose popularity isn’t all that high.

“Everybody’s dying to line up behind someone because they can’t wait for [the Williams administration] to be over,” the first businessman said.

“People are looking for an alternative,” said Marianne Niles, vice president and general counsel of the MCI Center, who had been encouraging Mrs. Johns to run for mayor for months.

In light of the citywide recall that Mr. Williams says he will “crush,” the speculation about a possible successor heats up. (Just as an aside — ever notice that the only time this mayor exhibits unmistakable passion is when someone says something that affects him personally?) “You don’t have to crush anybody,” said Ms. Malveaux, referring to the recall movement. “We’re just going to whip [you].”

With whom is the question?

Usually the list of candidates starts with the already-trieds such as D.C. Council members Kevin P. Chavous and Jack Evans or the up-and-comings such as Vincent B. Orange and Adrian M. Fenty. There also are the usual suspects such as former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder, businessman Michael Brown and former D.C. City Administrator Michael C. Rogers. It’s no secret that lawyer and D.C. Democratic State Committee Chairman A. Scott Bolden has been champing at the bit for a shot at the mayor’s desk.

Publicly, the wannabes attempt to sidestep the question. Or, like Mr. Rogers, offer an outright denial.

“All these people think they can just drop out of the sky to run for mayor,” said James Hudson, veteran D.C. campaign fund raiser. “They need $1 million to run a credible campaign; otherwise they need to stay home.” Staying at home is one thing everyone, including Mrs. Johns, agrees that she won’t be doing, candidacy or not.

Still, there are a small group of D.C. women who are not ready to give up on the idea of a Johns’ run in 2006 because they would like to see a credible woman candidate in the masculine mix.

“Why shouldn’t it be a woman? We need a woman to fix this mess,” Ms. Niles said.

She added that she had stopped prodding Mrs. Johns because she asked her to.

Barbara Lang, president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, said she would welcome a woman’s candidacy and a Johns’ candidacy if the mayor doesn’t run for a third term because “she’s everybody’s role model,” and “no one is more passionate about the city.”

Leave it to Ms. Malveaux not to mince words. A Ward 1 resident, she is a founding member of Future PAC, a group of black women (with nine board members who are city residents) that encourages and supports black female political candidates and participation.

“I’d be thrilled if [Mrs. Johns] ran. She’s done so much for the city,” Ms. Malveaux said. “As CEO of Verizon, she understands service delivery, and if she was mayor now, we wouldn’t have [the Department of Motor Vehicles] drama. Anything’s better than the i-d-i-o-t that’s in there now.”

Notice in the latest round of “Who’s running?” you never hear a woman’s name added to the “anybody-but-Anthony” list of “the playas” when the political “speculatin’” wheel starts to spinning.

“Marie for Mayor” or not, maybe that male-only field ought to change.

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