- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2010

Republicans have another shot at winning a seat on the D.C. Council after losing all four of their bids last week.

With Kwame Brown, an at-large member, winning the race to succeed Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray as council chairman, he now will have to step down so the city can hold a special election in 2011 on a date yet to be determined.

However, the vote will be a free-for-all with no party affiliation listed, giving Washington Republicans a rare shot in this overwhelmingly Democratic city. In the last at-large special election, in December 1997, a Republican squeezed past two Democrats with a voter turnout of only 7.5 percent

Current law requires the city to wait 114 days after a vacancy occurs to hold a special election, but local lawmakers are eager to speed up that process. The council passed a measure that would cut the time to 70 days, and the District’s nonvoting congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, introduced a similar bill that lingers in the House.

In the meantime, the D.C. Democratic State Committee will appoint a placeholder to the seat, in accordance with the D.C. home-rule charter.

But whether the election is held in March or in May, the issues defining the contest will seem like deja vu — spending, school reform, jobs and bridging real and perceived class and racial divides, which were central to the recent elections. And the timing might perk up voters, because the council and mayor will be beginning serious deliberations about taxes, which could bode well for fiscal conservatives, said Democrats and Republicans.

“I’m giving running serious thought because a lot of people have expressed interest in me running,” said Dave Hedgepeth, a Republican who endorsed Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and lost his Ward 3 council race against Democratic incumbent Mary M. Cheh, who backed Mr. Gray.

“You have to consider low turnout, and that it’s a citywide race, so candidates have to get started as soon as possible,” he said. “You also have to consider the Democratic field.”

Well- and lesser-known Democrats began picking up nominating petitions from the city’s Democratic Party this week. So far, interested candidates include former council member Vincent Orange, who has run in two citywide races; Anita Bonds, the city’s Democratic Party chairman; Jacque Patterson, head of the Ward 8 Democrats; and Kelvin Robinson, who served as Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ chief of staff.

“We may all be Democrats, but we’re not all on the same page,” said Mr. Patterson, who works for the Federal City Council. “How we go about education reform, the economy and fiscal problems are important to people who live east [of Rock Creek Park] and west of the park, but we have too few Democratic candidates who can bridge that gap.”

D.C. Republicans haven’t fielded an at-large council run since 2008, when upstart Patrick Mara upended the popular Carol Schwartz in the Republican primary, only to lose the party’s only seat to Democrat-turned-independent Michael Brown in the general election.

The GOP knows D.C. voters don’t have much of an appetite for the party — all Republican candidates lost on Nov. 2, but its leaders will contest the race and maintain major-party status.

“The election will be held as the council and mayor begin debating increased taxes and cutting spending,” said D.C. GOP Executive Director Paul Craney. “It’s a good time for Republicans to run and target different neighborhoods. We absolutely will run someone.”

A Democratic Party leader warned that Republicans are within striking distance.

“Low turnout in such [special] elections can be a problem,” said Doug Sloan, a member of the D.C. state committee, who lost his Democratic primary bid for the congressional delegate seat to Mrs. Norton. “Targeting voters is important, as is name recognition.”

He mentioned the fact that there are more independent voters in each of the city’s eight wards — city rolls list 73,178 independents versus just 29,728 Republicans — and that thousands of voters wrote in Mr. Fenty’s name for mayor on their November ballots.

Nearly 28,000 D.C. voters wrote in a name, with most almost certainly being for Mr. Fenty, on whose behalf a write-in campaign was launched.

“Republicans are going to knock on the doors of independents,” he said, adding that the D.C. GOP also has the “advantage of Paul Craney.”

“He is sharp enough and politically savvy enough to pull in a win,” Mr. Sloan said.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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