- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

“Tha May-ah” — Marion S. Barry — looked at me incredulously.

But I had to fess up. Yes, I had indeed made a little side bet with television station WRC (Channel 4) reporter Tom Sherwood about the outcome of the D.C. Council race in Ward 8.

“You bet against me,” Mr. Barry, the odds-on favorite, said with a slight scowl. “You know better than that.”

The mayor for life predicted that he not only would defeat D.C. Council member Sandy Allen and ANC member Jacque Patterson in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, but also win “by big numbers.”

“I got this,” he said with his trademark braggadocio — except the bold voice, broad body and brash swagger were gone.

He looks tired and sounds uninterested. He is like a flashlight in need of fresh batteries.

Some things never change: Mr. Barry arrived 40 minutes late Wednesday at the candidates forum. It was held at the Washington Highlands Library and sponsored by the Ward 8 chapter of the AARP.

Yours truly was in the back of the packed room, scribbling notes and humming to myself to pass the time until the People’s Prodigal Prince made his grand entrance.

Of course, he stopped the show right in the middle of a muddle about who did or didn’t do what in the past two decades to cure the social ills plaguing the “last, the lonely and the least,” as Ward 8 candidate Joyce Scott characterized the residents in the forgotten world east of the Anacostia River.

My bad. I tend to whistle while I work and I can’t get this catchy tune out of my head, especially since I’ve been studying the races for the D.C. primary this year — “New Day.” Sung by Patti LaBelle, this motivational hit suggests we “embrace the good and bad and let go of the past,” then look to a brighter future because “it’s a new day.”

Judging from the frustration I’ve heard from city voters, I think a lot of them are singing Patti’s chorus right along with me:

“It’s a new day/Open my eyes and my path is clearer/It’s a new day/Pushing ahead because my goal is nearer/It’s a new day/I’m spreading my wings and I’m doing things my way/Because it’s a new day.”

I might lose my bet, but Mr. Barry’s victory will be a squeaker if he pulls it off. And while I’m out here on this limb, I’ll say the same fate faces at-large council member Harold Brazil and Ward 7 council member Kevin Chavous.

Folks are angry, afraid and fed up. They want a change — not for the sake of change, but for their survival. They can feel how fast they are losing ground with crime, schools, housing and jobs.

They are looking to new faces to deliver goods and services they need today and tomorrow. They don’t want to hear about what did or didn’t arrive yesterday. They don’t cotton to the negative and nasty tactics of desperate incumbents.

It should come as no surprise that the council campaigns of newcomers Kwame Brown for the at-large seat held by Mr. Brazil, Mr. Patterson for Miss Allen’s Ward 8 seat and Covenant House Executive Director Vincent Gray for Mr. Chavous’ Ward 7 seat gained traction this summer.

These gutsy contenders are taking a page from young bloods such as Ward 4 council member Adrian Fenty, who has made his mark by delivering on constituent services.

No matter that the executive branch is responsible for providing services such as public safety, public schools and public works and that the legislative branch can only monitor the delivery of those services through its oversight authority.

When folks complain to their council members, they want results. When they take the time to go to meetings and candlelight vigils, they want to see their ward representatives front and center.

Having another job is no longer an acceptable excuse from someone who earns, as a part-time council member, three or four times as much as a person who lives east of the river.

Everywhere I’ve gone this political season, I’ve heard the cry for “a full-time council member.” It’s a new day.

Vera Abbott represents that new day. Founder of the Ward 8 Chapter of the AARP, Mrs. Abbott could be counted among the senior citizens that Mr. Barry could count on.

I said “could.”

Mr. Patterson counts her among his supporters. His long-shot “make a change” strategy is to concentrate on voters who are dissatisfied with Mrs. Allen, disillusioned with Mr. Barry and relatively new, homeowning professionals like himself.

This is the first time, for example, that residents in the Fairlawn area, who were part of Ward 6 before redistricting, will cast ballots in Ward 8.

I pulled Mrs. Abbott closer to Mr. Barry to illustrate why I thought this election is not merely his for the asking.

When I asked her whether she was going to vote for Hizzoner, she hesitated. Then she politely smiled and said, “We love our mayor dearly.”

“Yes, but are you going to vote for him?” I said. “What’s he got to do to get your vote?”

She crinkled her nose. She made a seesaw motion with her hand. Finally, she looked him in the eye and said, “Well, I’m going to be frank. … I’d love to see my mayor work at his investment business or teach at [the University of the District of Columbia]. He has a lot he can offer there.”

As expected, Mr. Barry shrugged and dismissed her comment. “I know her. I tell you, I’m going to get her vote.”

I bet he won’t.

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