- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 24, 2011

When the D.C. Democratic State Committee appointed a relative newcomer named Sekou Biddle to an at-large seat on the D.C. Council in January, it left former council member Vincent B. Orange in the lurch.

Mr. Orange has been absent from D.C. politics since a failed 2006 mayoral bid and his unsuccessful attempt last year to become council chairman, but he wasn’t about to disappear.

Mr. Biddle, who filled the seat left by council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, must fend off Mr. Orange and a crowded field of seven other candidates to retain his seat in a special election Tuesday.

He boasts the power of a pseudo-incumbency and endorsements from many of his council colleagues. Mayor Vincent C. Gray spoke on his behalf at a January fundraiser.

But ties to the establishment may not be as beneficial as they were when they were forged at the beginning of the year.

Mr. Gray still faces questions about his hiring practices. And Mr. Brown is dealing with a critical audit of his 2008 campaign finances and the lingering embarrassment of him having at one point two city-leased and fully loaded Lincoln Navigators at his disposal.

In an interview Friday, Mr. Biddle said despite concerns that voters may have about his connections to other elected officials, the response to him as an individual legislator has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

Before joining the council, Mr. Biddle, 39, served on the D.C. State Board of Education and worked as executive director of Jumpstart for Young Children - an education prep program for preschool children.

During his few months on the council, Mr. Biddle has presided over the Special Committee on School Safety and Truancy, which last week released an interim report with recommendations on how to remedy the problem among D.C. youth.

“One of the things I’ve shown is the ability to jump in quickly,” he said.

Mr. Biddle grew up in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Northwest and attended D.C. Public Schools. He is married with two sons and lives in the Shepherd Park community of Northwest.

The Democratic committee made headlines by appointing Mr. Biddle in hectic fashion, including late appearances by high-ranking officials, who were later accused of swaying a less-than-transparent vote. That led to Mr. Orange’s second charge in the special election.

Mr. Orange, 54, a former vice president of Pepco Holdings Inc., grew up in poverty but secured a scholarship to attend a private high school in Colorado, kicking off his route to careers as a lawyer and certified public accountant, according to his campaign.

He served Ward 5 on the D.C. Council from 1999 to 2007, and is notable for introducing legislation that established April 16 as Emancipation Day, a public holiday, in the District.

Two significant labor groups, the AFI-CIO and the Washington Teachers’ Union, have endorsed Mr. Orange, giving him potentially large voter blocs at the polls.

In the money race, Mr. Biddle outraised Mr. Orange $74,000 to $70,000 in the waning weeks of the campaign. Yet Mr. Orange has raised more funds overall and had more than $134,000 on hand compared to roughly $24,000 in Mr. Biddle’s coffer, according to campaign finance reports posted April 18.

Among the other contenders, Republican Patrick Mara gained momentum with an endorsement from The Washington Post.

Democrats Bryan Weaver and Joshua Lopez are maintaining name recognition through ambitious campaigns.

The field also includes Democrats Tom Brown and Dorothy Douglas, independent Arkan Haile and Statehood Green Party candidate Alan Page.

The winner will join a 13-member council that is knee-deep in a mayoral budget plan that proposes difficult cuts to human services and tax increases on the wealthy and specific services in the District.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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