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The Ward 4 council race is crowded. Will it be competitive?

The race to represent Ward 4 on the DC Council is shaping up to be a crowded one. Whether or not it will also be competitive remains to be seen. At least 7 candidates are vying to unseat councilmember Muriel Bowser, who is running for her second full term.


Photo by Wayan Vota on Flickr.

Bowser was first voted onto the council in a 2007 special election to fill the seat vacated by Adrian Fenty when he was elected Mayor. She secured Fenty's endorsement and beat out 18 other candidates with 40% of the vote. Ward 4 voters then elected her to a full term in 2008 with 75% of the Democratic primary and 97% of the general election vote.

Bowser currently chairs the Council's Committee on Government Operations as well as the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. She also recently took over as the DC Council's representative on the WMATA Board of Directors.

On her website, which has not been updated to reflect her current committee chairmanship, She highlights her work on Pepco oversight, healthcare, and foreclosure reform.

If fundraising is any indicator, Bowser will have a distinct advantage. She raised over $63,000 in advance of the October 10 filing deadline and has $140,000 on hand. She will face two challengers who have shown fundraising prowess, or the willingness to fund themselves, and several more who have run for the DC Council in the past.

Max Skolnik, a relative newcomer to Ward 4, has been active in local issues for some time. He represented the Southwest Waterfront as an ANC commissioner from 2004-2008 and runs Kid Power Inc., which operates academic, nutritional, and service learning programs around the city. His campaign is based on three E's: Education, Economic Development, and Ethics.

Skolnik is a first-time council candidate, but has shown some fundraising and organizing skill. He raised over $26,000 before October 10, recently testified in front of Bowser's committee hearing on ethics reform, and has hit the streets of Ward 4 to spread his message. The question is, will he have the energy and talent to present a robust challenge to the incumbent?

Renee Bowser (no relation to Muriel) first ran for the Ward 4 seat as a member of the Statehood Green Party in the 2007 special election. She registered as a Democrat this time around and has jump started her campaign by taking out significant loans, totaling more than $26,000.

Bowser has a long resume. She works as a union lawyer and served 3 terms as an ANC commissioner including a stint as the chair of ANC 4D. Her platform is based around economic development, education, constituent service, and statehood. She has proved willing to commit financially and gotten some press. Her challenge will be translating these efforts to support at the polls.

Another two-time candidate, Baruti Jahi, came in a distant second to Bowser in 2008. He is focused on seniors, public safety, education, economic development, and reigning in waste in city government. Jahi has struggled to raise money this cycle and may find it difficult to make his voice heard in a crowded race.

Several other candidates have declared their intentions to run. Judi Jones ran against Bowser as an independent in 2007, Keith Jarrell is just getting his campaign started, and perpetual candidate Calvin Gurley appears to be taking a non-traditional route to spread his message.

The major storylines in this race are beginning to emerge, as Muriel Bowser attempts to tackle the task of ethics reform, which has been the hot button issue this year. Her post as chair of the Government Operations Committee gives her the opportunity to make sense of the mess of bills introduced by other council members and propose comprehensive ethics legislation.

If she is able to pass an ethics reform bill, Bowser will blunt a major line of criticism as well as tout a signature piece of legislation. Her opponents have begun to position themselves as good government reformers, but will have to find another angle if Bowser herself becomes one before the election.

Bowser's opponents haven't focused all of their efforts on ethics. Other major issues at play appear to be education, economic development, and constituent service. But, Bowser is a proven politician with all the advantages of incumbency. If one of her opponents hopes to stand out they are going to have to work tirelessly, communicate effectively, and, probably, get lucky.

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