Why good people like Fiona Greig don't run for Council
Ward 2 insurgent DC Council candidate Fiona Greig announced this morning that she's dropping out of the race against 20-year incumbent Jack Evans. Greig did not withdraw due to lack of support, but because she didn't want to expose her young family to the gutter politics and smear campaigns she encountered in her short time as a candidate.
I was chair of Greig's campaign. As a result, I got an inside look at what running for DC Council requires, and why the process intimidates good people from running.
Some may say that she was naïve and amateurish. And it's true that she was somewhat naïve to the ways of DC politics. Several people cautioned her before she ran that she should expect an intense effort to dig up any dirt whatsoever.
Ask yourself, however, if we should accept a political culture in which only hardened, cynical politicos want to run. And conversely, should we accept a system in which a woman with a young family (husband Paul and daughter Ella), who received a PhD in public policy from Harvard and worked for the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development as a manager at McKinsey, doesn't.
It was clear to us early that Greig (pronounced "Greg") could win. The demographic shift in Ward 2 since 2000 has been tremendous, and Evans has not really tried to connect with the new young residents to understand their concerns. Neither did Evans' last opponent, Cary Silverman. Evans beat Cary Silverman in 2008 and a ragtag collection of opponents in 2000 by only 1,500 out of a total of 5,000 votes.
The response of voters to Greig's door-to-door canvassing was overwhelmingly positive. Greig's message of retaining young families by improving school options, parks and transit while applying her consulting expertise to re-engineer DC agencies instantly resonated with these voters on doorsteps across the ward.
While he's raised way more so far ($233,000) than he had at the same point in the 2008 campaign ($160,824), he's raised much less from Ward 2 individuals so far ($36,200) than he had at the same point in the 2008 campaign ($55,931). Where's the money coming from then? For starters, one developer in Maryland gave Evans $6,000 ($500 from each of his separately incorporated properties) while Clyde's Restaurant gave him $3,500 ($500 from each separately incorporated restaurant location).
While Greig was going door-to-door connecting with voters, Evans pursued a very different campaign strategy. He hired a private investigator.
We found this out when Greig received a phone call from a journalist asking about a list of 40 fundraising targets inadvertently included in the first filing of her exploratory committee by a volunteer. Greig explained the context and the journalist decided the story wasn't newsworthy. We called the Office of Campaign Finance, who told us that a private investigator had requested the file.
The next day another journalist contacted us about the embarrassing file, Greig explained the context, and the journalist didn't run the story. It was clear that Jack Evans' full-time campaign staff was shopping the file they had received from their private investigator to different journalists.
Meanwhile, Greig received a call at her home by someone she met at a campaign event telling her that Evans' staff knows about her husband's divorce, and the problematic timing of his divorce vis-a-vis their wedding in November of last year. Obviously few people knew such personal details of her family's life.
Finally, Evans' staff found a journalist to run the story and release the file of fundraising targets. Particularly embarrassing in the file was the volunteer's note that one of the targets was a gay colleague of Greig's at McKinsey.
No mention was made about Greig's testimony earlier in the week to the DC Council on the alarming rise in hate crimes in the District. In fact, few journalists covered the hate crimes hearing at all. The minutiae of campaign missteps was more important than the rash of violence this summer against members of the transgender community.
Last week, I walked to Greig's house during all this drama, talking on my cell about the campaign to a colleague while I walked, and noticed a man walking close behind me smoking a cigar. When I stopped in front of Greig's house, he stopped. He then kept walking and then turned around to pace up and down her block about a dozen times. Greig's husband arrived later pushing Ella in a stroller, talking to friend on the phone. We told him about the investigator pacing the block and he came inside.
And that's just the intimidation from Evans' private investigator. Chair Anita Bonds of the DC Democratic Party, for example, refused to return our repeated phone calls and emails requesting to purchase enhanced voter data that the party resells to candidates. At the end of all of this, Greig considered her wonderful husband of one year, her beautiful new daughter, and decided that it wasn't worth it. I can't say I blame her.
Should she have expected these hardball tactics? Probably. But ask yourself this. How many other talented young individuals in DC have made the same decision to avoid politics? DC residents complain all the time about our councilmembers. But we can't complain about our representatives while defending the process that keeps better people from running.
It's a shame that Ward 2 voters now have no choice when it comes to their councilmember. I'm not discouraged, though. Every day it seems more and more District residents are fed up with politics as usual. I'm hoping to hear from others in Ward 2 who want a more inclusive government, and are more interested in digging through budgets than through an insurgent candidate's trash.
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