- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2010

The national anti-incumbency wave is hitting Republicans and Democrats alike.

In recent primary elections, discontented voters kicked both veteran Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Democrat, and freshman Rep. Parker Griffith, Alabama Republican, out of Washington. D.C. Republicans are hoping similar sentiment makes its way inside the city limits, where Republicans are trying to unseat Democrats in four D.C. Council races.

The candidates - Marc Morgan of Ward 1, David Hedgepeth of Ward 3, Timothy Day of Ward 5 and Jim DeMartino of Ward 6 - are trying to mark history knowing they face uphill battles. Neither history nor the odds are on their side. But they are driven by what they see as the lack of leadership, vision and innovative thinking in City Hall.

In a wide-ranging interview last week with The Washington Times, the four candidates discussed their positions on several hot-button issues facing taxpayers, including changing how D.C. voters elect their leaders.

For the most part, their key priorities are quintessential urban politics - too little school choice, blown budgets and, of course, parking, crime, transportation and taxes.

D.C. Republicans have always run for office in prior elections and occasionally won. But this year is different, as voters in other jurisdictions are showing the door to incumbents in both major parties.

“This is an anti-incumbent year,” said Mr. Day, who is challenging freshman lawmaker Harry “Tommy” Thomas Jr.

Now is the time to dislodge the lock and the key from the grips of the Democratic Party, who have controlled city politics since home rule was granted in 1973, the Republicans said.

Their strategy is simple: Find a way to persuade 6,500-7,000 voters in each race to vote Republican - a winnable but daunting effort since D.C. Democratic voters overwhelmingly outnumber Republicans, independents and members of the Statehood Green Party.

And that’s where the odds come into play.

The D.C. electorate is 75.28 percent Democrat vs. 6.86 percent Republican, according to the latest data on the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics website. Independents hold the second-highest percentage, 16.52 percent, and the D.C. Statehood Green Party holds 1 percent.

Mr. Morgan, who faces Jim Graham, is positioning himself to woo the pro-environment vote. A moderate Republican and environmentalist who helped the Republican gubernatorial ticket to victory in Maryland in 2002, Mr. Morgan pushes a green agenda that favors a free-market approach to growing jobs and small businesses, and building more environmentally friendly schools, housing, retail and office space.

“The city dropped the ball on green buildings,” he said, contending there is no vision and leadership for long-term strategy.

He advocates allowing small and disadvantaged business owners to help themselves by working on projects that allow them to retrofit their own buildings by going green.

“Lots of cities have sustainable [green] solutions,” Mr. Morgan said, citing Portland, Detroit and Chicago as urban centers that encourage the private sector to lead the way.

Mr. DeMartino, who is trying to unseat Tommy Wells, points to a similar lack of vision.

The Ward 6 population has grown by thousands because of new housing in the western and southern areas of the ward, where Nationals Park is located. But heavy-handed parking enforcement, rising taxes and Democrats’ failure to get the city’s “fiscal house in order,” Mr. DeMartino says, are affecting voters’ quality of life.

“Throughout Capitol Hill, the parking rules are abusive to everybody,” Mr. DeMartino said. “You can’t have family or friends visit, can’t go out to dinner. Repairmen are worried about being ticketed.”

Mr. Hedgepeth, a lawyer, says the rising cost of living in the District even concerns wealthy voters in his ward, where Mary M. Cheh is seeking a second term.

He cites the new shopping-bag and beverage taxes, and says he has serious concerns about the wisdom of the Healthy Schools Initiative, which charter school advocates have said is cost-prohibitive.

“One of the things about the bill is the cost to schools,” said Mr. Hedgepeth, whose daughters attends Murch Elementary School. “Murch has no cafeteria. The plan requires massive spending to handle the food provisions and adds new layers of bureaucracy, rules and regulations.”

All four candidates support school choice, and said one of the best appointments Mayor Adrian M. Fenty made was naming Michelle A. Rhee as schools chancellor. They also support the idea of a community college - if heightened council oversight proves the initiative is academically worthy and cost-effective.

The D.C. Charter is a particular hindrance to all D.C. voters, even the ones who happen to be Democrats.

The charter, which provided for the first elections for mayor and council in 1974, allows voters to elect members of all or no political affiliation in the mayoral, council chairman and eight ward races. But it prohibits voters from electing two members of the same party in at-large council races.

The charter says “that not more than one of the at-large members nominated by any political party” can win both at-large council seats in a given election.

Some at-large lawmakers have succeeded in getting around the “political party” stipulation. Both independents currently sitting on the council, for example, once had political affiliations - David A. Catania is a former Republican and Michael A. Brown is a former Democrat.



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