Field for Ward 7 council race is set. Who will survive?
Ward 7 is shaping up to be a unique DC Council race this year. Unlike the other ward races, there are candidates other than Democrats in the running. Many believe this could actually make general election competitive, instead of the primary election being the only race that matters.
Incumbent Councilmember Yvette Alexander is running for a second full term, after being elected to her first full term in 2008. Alexander bested a field that included 3 other Democratic candidates that year, after having beat 17 other candidates the year before in a special election to secure the seat (with 34% of the vote).
Alexander is currently the chair of the Council's Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs, which has oversight responsibility for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, as well as multiple professional boards and accountability agencies.
Incumbency grants Alexander a leg up for fundraising. She's managed to raise over $82,000 (PDF) as of the last filing date, far ahead of the rest of the field.
Second in money raised, and by many accounts a candidate who could be a strong challenger, Kevin B. Chavous has raised nearly $29,000 so far. He touts the endorsement of the Ward 7 Concerned Citizens Coalition on his website. This organization came together last year to find a candidate to run against Alexander.
With grassroots support and name recognition (Chavous' father was the Ward 7 councilmember for 3 terms from 1992-2004), Chavous appeared to be in good shape until a mid-December arrest on a charge of solicitation of a prostitute. Yesterday, he agreed to a deal that would lead to the charges being dropped, provided he completes community service within the next 4 months.
Some in the ward have said Chavous is too young, and doesn't appeal to older voters. In addition, being a "legacy" candidate could be a hindrance.
Tom Brown, who ran in the special election last year to fill the at-large seat vacated by Kwame Brown (and temporarily filled by Sekou Biddle), is running on a platform that focuses on job creation. Ward 7 residents I have spoken with believe he's a strong candidate, but has not done as good a job convincing voters he's a strong challenger as others. He has a background in job training, which is a key issue in the race. Brown has raised nearly $18,000 so far.
Bill Bennett is a pastor in Ward 7. His website remains a landing site with no information other than his name, currently. Bennett has gathered support from many churches in the ward and has raised $11,000 so far.
Of interest is the person listed as the contact for the Bennett campaign on the BOEE website: Willie Wilson. Wilson has a history as a long-time advocate for the poor in Ward 8, but also has been called out for controversial statements in recent years.
Dorothy Douglas, who also ran in last year's special election to replace Kwame Brown, is running again. Monica Johnson is the remaining Democratic candidate. Neither of the two appear to be gathering large amounts of support in the ward in the early going.
What makes the Ward 7 race interesting is the inclusion of non-Democrats in the race. There are two Republicans running for the seat, Don Folden and Ronald Moten. One of the two will have an additional 7 months to make his case to the people of Ward 7, facing off against whichever Democrat emerges from the 6-way primary scrum.
If media savviness and attention alone would dictate the winner of the Republican race, Ron Moten seems well-placed to win. Moten, one of the founders of Peaceaholics, a non-profit that worked with at-risk youth in the city, has been in the news since the organization came to prominence during the Fenty administration.
Moten's decision to run as a "Civil Rights Republican" appears to some as a way of simply avoiding the Democratic primary to live another day. While that may play into the political calculus, individuals I have spoken to in Ward 7 believe that Moten would have a good chance in the general election against any of the Democrats.
Last week, Ward 7 resident Dawn Matthews challenged Alexander's ballot petitions. Whether this will keep her off the ballot in April remains to be seen, but other incumbents have been able to survive being knocked off the ballot in the past and still win reelection via write-in (see Anthony Williams in 2002).
The main theme of the race seems to be the perception, fair or not, that Alexander has not done much for Ward 7. Economic development, and the related topic of employment, appear to be first on the mind of many voters. A splintered field works in the incumbent's favor, but the addition of a strong Republican challenger will make this a race worth watching, regardless of who emerges from the primary election on April 3.
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