Biddle's next challenge: Showing independence
It's good news that Sekou Biddle won the Democratic State Committee's nod last night, as it's very likely he'll be a good Councilmember. However, he would be wise to start branding himself as an independent person and distancing himself from the distasteful process he had to participate in to get the appointment.
Just a month or two ago, Sekou Biddle was just a smart guy few had heard of outside Ward 4 and upper Northwest, with a number of good ideas. Now, his most prominent supporters include Kwame Brown, Harry Thomas, Jr. and Marion Barry, all of whom whipped State Committee votes for him in a kitchenette last night, leading Martin Austermuhle to dub Biddle the "kitchenette Councilmember".
None of that means his good ideas have gone away, of course. He has hired some great staff with an unquestionable commitment to many of the issues we believe in. He also had the support of fantastic councilmember Mary Cheh.
His recent Ben's fundraiser includes such excellent host committee members as former HPRB member Andrew Aurbach, who consistently pushed for good urbanism and voted to allow a little more change in some controversial cases, and David Bowers, who inspired the crowd at the recent CSG forum on housing.
Also, the DC Young Democrats, with 6 votes on the State Committee, endorsed Biddle well before Kwame Brown or any Councilmembers did, though Brown and his family as well as other insiders had been privately helping him for some time.
We also know that a number of people support Biddle just because they hate Vincent Orange. Thomas said his main reason for supporting Biddle was to support Brown.
As Alan Suderman asks, "How beholden will Biddle be to the [Councilmembers] who got him his gig?" This fear likely underlies some of the nervous reactions from folks like Dave Stroup, who has been pushing for Bryan Weaver to enter the race:
Between each round of voting, you could literally watch the dealmaking. Or at least you could watch the back room used for the dealmaking. Those on the fence, or who controlled blocks of votes were taken into a back kitchenette by various players who traded God only knows for votes. It was a very visible reminder that yes, this is how politics operates. ...I hope Dave Stroup meets with Sekou Biddle, because I suspect he'd be impressed. I also hope most voters let the quality of the candidates outweigh the process by which they got into office. I like the idea of having more points of view in the campaign, but am skeptical that drafting Bryan Weaver into this particular race is the answer, now that Biddle has the interim appointment and a head start in the election.
Sekou Biddle might very well do a fine job on the Council. But, if you ask me, I cannot support anyone who won in this fashion. I cannot support someone who was anointed through a supposedly "transparent" process that was sausage-making at its worst.
A year from now, all that will matter is who has an office in the Wilson Building and how they behave. If the slimy process that got Biddle in office leads him to be an unquestioning puppet of other members, then it is a problem. If he develops his own agenda and his own ideas once he doesn't need the others' support quite as much, he could be a great Councilmember.
From talking to Biddle, I have reason to believe that he'll be making his own decisions, at least most of the time. Now that he has to face the voters in what's likely to be a crowded field, he'd be well served to prominently show his independence. He should staff up his new Council office with some legislative people with serious policy chops who aren't all former staffers for members who endorsed him. He should also demonstrate that he's not afraid to vote against his colleagues or even his chairman.
Biddle could also make a huge statement by sponsoring a bill to end the ridiculous practice of having the state committee choose interim appointments, but only for partisan at-large seats. A real election is the way to go. If people are concerned about 5 Democrats splitting the vote and electing 1 Republican who doesn't really have the support of most residents, introduce instant runoff voting or a similar system.
Let's make Sekou Biddle the last Councilmember chosen through this archaic, backroom practice which leaves a stink of corruption on even good candidates.
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