- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Three D.C. Council candidates who beat incumbents in this week’s primary are expected to change the nature of legislative debates on issues as wide ranging as workplace smoking, affordable housing and a publicly financed baseball stadium.

“This is not just a switch of personalities; it’s a switch of policies,” said Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, of Tuesday’s election outcomes.

Mr. Graham said the “progressive wing” of the council doubled its membership in one day with Democratic primary victories by Ward 8 candidate Marion S. Barry, Ward 7 candidate Vincent C. Gray and at-large candidate Kwame R. Brown.

The three candidates still must win the Nov. 2 general election, but in the District, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, their victory is all but certain.

Mr. Brown said yesterday his focal points would be improving education, public safety and affordable housing.

“We want to make housing affordable for public servants like teachers, firefighters, and police officers,” he said. “Those who work for the city should live in the city.”

Mr. Gray said he wants to be faithful to his promise to be a full-time council member in contrast to the defeated incumbent, Kevin P. Chavous, who was criticized for spending too much time on his law practice.

“First and foremost, I want to create a first-class, responsive officer for the community,” he said.

But although the new candidates, if elected, could be a powerful bloc on the council in support of social programs, they are not likely to inherit influential committee chairmanships.

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp said if the three should win in November, they would take office as junior members, despite the fact that Mr. Barry previously served six years on the council from 1974 to 1978 and from 1992 to 1994. Mr. Barry abandoned his Ward 8 council seat in 1994 to run for his fourth term as mayor.

Mrs. Cropp said Mr. Barry’s rank as a junior council member should not surprise him, because it is a longtime council policy. She said she has not discussed Mr. Barry’s rank on the council with him, but said when important committee assignments are doled out, he will have the same seniority as political newcomers Mr. Brown and Mr. Gray.

Mr. Barry told The Washington Times yesterday that, if elected, he would demand a powerful chairmanship and expressed a preference for either the Judiciary Committee or the Health and Human Services Committee.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams at his weekly press briefing called Mr. Barry “an enormously skilled politician” with “enormous intellectual ability.” He said that he planned to support Mr. Barry in the general election and that Mr. Barry’s win reflected a sense of disenfranchisement among some voters in Ward 8.

Mr. Williams also said the upsets should tell city politicians that “working those constituent services is enormously important.”

“Yes, the city is advancing,” Mr. Williams said, “but not everybody is advancing with it. … A lot of people see a lot of this development coming in, and they don’t feel a part of it. The lesson of yesterday is they need to be represented.”

Mr. Williams said he will continue to work with incumbent council members on a number of major initiatives, including bringing major-league baseball to the District.

But Mr. Graham predicted that Tuesday’s elections could derail some of Mr. Williams’ plans to win support for a publicly financed stadium.

“What you have is three new members who are against it replacing three other members who were for it,” he said.

Major League Baseball officials are expected to decide within weeks where to move the Montreal Expos, with both the District and Northern Virginia as front-runners. If the decision favors the District, the council is expected to take up the issue of securing public funds to build a stadium.

“Right now, we have a council in place, and I’m going to work with it,” Mr. Williams said.

Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, is chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee that would usher a stadium-funding bill through the council. Mr. Evans, who is running unopposed, said he disagrees with Mr. Graham that the shake-up would alter the council’s direction.

“Times change, and things change,” said Mr. Evans, who is already well-acquainted with Mr. Barry and Mr. Gray. “I think they will be good additions to the council.”

Mr. Evans also said he did not view the election results as a voter revolt against incumbents. He said the three incumbents who lost Tuesday, lost for individual reasons in distinctive contests.

“It wasn’t, ‘Let’s throw the bums out,’” he said.

Mr. Evans brushed aside fears that Congress would penalize the city because of Mr. Barry’s election.

It “doesn’t mean [Congress] will do any less than they already do, because they do nothing,” Mr. Evans said. “If anything, it will be a convenient excuse to continue to do nothing to help us.”

Mr. Evans was more concerned that reporters would fixate on Mr. Barry and perpetuate a sensational, but not necessarily flattering, image of the city.

Otherwise, he said, “Things will be fine.”

Council member Adrian M. Fenty, who is running unopposed, agreed.

“I think Marion Barry will both want to and be forced to work with the new council members and the new residents and the new view of the city,” the Ward 4 Democrat said.

“From what I heard citywide, there was just not an engagement with the citizens,” Mr. Fenty said.

• Tarron Lively, Jim McElhatton and S.A. Miller contributed to this article.

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