- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Morning-after pills can be hard to swallow, especially when election results raise new unanswered questions among winners and losers.

First, who will the Democratic Party appoint to fill the now-vacant at-large seat of D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson?

Second, will any of Tuesday’s losers run in 2013 or, for that matter, 2014?

Third, by the time the Easter Bunny starts hopping around, D.C. voters will return to the polls to elect a permanent at-large council member for Mr. Mendelson’s seat, meaning the body’s racial breakdown could change.

Formalities, for now, include counting absentee and special (or provisional) ballots, followed by the Board of Elections’ certification of the Nov. 6 preliminary results and a resignation letter from Mr. Mendelson, who will have to step down as an at-large Democrat before he can assume the chairman’s post.

“The board is expected to certify results on Nov. 27,” Ken McGhie, the board’s general counsel, said Wednesday. “Once the board gets the letter of resignation, a meeting will be scheduled for a selection date for the special election. That will probably be in either March or April.”

But what of real, Mitt Romney-like change?

It was hardly newsworthy that the District’s three Electoral College votes were colored blue, the only crayon color D.C. presidential voters have ever used since the Kennedy-Johnson era.

Is skin color in local elections a different sort of issue?

If the D.C. Democratic Party chooses a white candidate to keep the Mendelson at-large seat warm until the special election, then the council will have a larger majority of white members.

Racial makeup of the council really shouldn’t be an issue, said Denise Rolark Barnes, a native Washingtonian and publisher of the city’s premier black newspaper.

Candidates’ “grasp of the issues should matter,” Mrs. Barnes said.

“Race doesn’t always dictate that a candidate understands the issues,” she explained, citing unemployment, housing, education and the overall economy in Wards 5, 7 and 8. “I think it matters in the Ward 8 communities that up until recently the voters were not fully engaged in the role of politics.”

In other words, Chocolate City has become more latte and middle-class-like.

For those unfamiliar, Ward 8 is Marion Barry territory and home to a new generation of first-time homeowners and self-sufficient renters, as well as some of the most poverty-stricken blocks in the city. These are the voters who could not be ignored during the last three citywide races, and were not ignored.

Yet, Michael A. Brown, who always tended to the least, the lost and the last, failed to get over the hump Tuesday, losing a black-held seat to a white newcomer.

“The electorate would prefer someone who looks like them, especially in the District, where folks have written the Chocolate City concept,” said Mrs. Barnes, who moderated several candidate forums this year. “There is uncertainty about what this means for them, but [demographic changes show] there is a high percentage of homeownership and that can make voters feel comfortable and look beyond skin color.

“My gut tells me that it does not matter,” she added.

Names to watch: Yvette M. Alexander, the aforementioned Mr. Barry and Mr. Mendelson, Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans and Vincent B. Orange all won their respective council races; and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who retained her seat in Congress and has faced only minimal opposition since 1990 — are Democrats who presumably will continue leaning forward during these so-called “post-racial” times.

Yet, with all the incumbent victories, the future direction of the District remains as uncertain as ever.

D.C. voters should perhaps start asking themselves tougher questions, such as, Does home rule even matter anymore?

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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