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Politics


For DC Council at-large: Peter Shapiro

The DC Democratic primary for at-large councilmember will finally end a 17-month game of musical chairs between Sekou Biddle and Vincent Orange. When the tune stops on April 3, neither should take the seat. We endorse Peter Shapiro because we believe he is the best candidate.


Image from Peter Shapiro.

While the Washington Post and Washington City Paper were both far too quick to dismiss Shapiro's work in Prince George's County, he knows firsthand how to work for and with a diverse, and often vulnerable, constituency, and he can accomplish this without the pandering the current councilmember is known for.

After serving for two years on the Town Council in Brentwood, Maryland, constituents elected Shapiro to the Prince George's County Council from 1998 to 2004, and he served as council chair for two years. He also sat on the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, where he was chair in 2003.

Shapiro worked with community stakeholders to bring a grassroots vision to fruition along Route 1, which has culminated in the Gateway Arts District. Despite the economic downturn, revitalization continues along the corridor, stopping dead in its tracks at the District's doorstep on Eastern Avenue.

Shapiro is ready and committed to bridge the gaps along DC's gateway corridors, starting with Georgia Avenue, and his record more than suggests that he is fully capable of doing so. Additionally, his involvement on local boards, including the Latin American Youth Center, the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, and the Washington Area Housing Partnership, exemplifies his longstanding commitment to community development.

As executive director of the College Park City-University Partnership, Shapiro was a constructive voice in critical town-gown disputes, where he was able to win support from both sides. The Prince George's County Council elects their chair, and their choice of Shapiro strongly demonstrates his ability to work collegially with other councilmembers to work toward common goals. This skill is missing in many members of the current DC Council.

The District is a part of a diverse metropolitan region. Its issues affect communities hyper-locally and also cut across jurisdictional lines. A councilmember with a proven ability to think and work regionally will only benefit District residents in the long-term.

Incumbent Vincent Orange's record, particularly with regard to economic development, stands in stark, disappointing contrast to Shapiro's. Orange has long viewed the city's urbanity as something holding us back. He has exploited it, particularly in Ward 5, by touting a brand of economic development best defined by poorly-designed big-box stores and clear-cutting, greenfield development. Meanwhile, revitalization and small business development along Rhode Island Avenue, New York Avenue, and Bladensburg Road has floundered.

At the recent candidate forum, Orange repeatedly uttered Tommy Wells' catchphrase "livable, walkable." If he truly has come to believe in strengthening urban spaces as a top priority, he has not demonstrated that with more than words, at least not yet. Whether he wins re-election or remains in public life in other ways, he will have opportunities to actually walk the walkable walk, and hope he will avail himself of these.

Biddle's experience with education is impressive, but in both the past and current campaigns he has not been able to articulate a clear vision for how having him on the council will change education for the better. Nor has he made a compelling argument for electing him in other ways beyond simply not being Vincent Orange.

We do hope Biddle will continue to advocate around education policy, where DC's discourse still focuses too much on "horse race" issues such as how education news affects a mayor's political fortunes rather than what will best help DC's kids succeed.

Meanwhile, your vote on April 3 ought not to turn on vote-splitting game theory. Instead, vote for the best candidate for the job. That candidate is Peter Shapiro.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington, written by one or more contributors. Active contributors and editors voted on endorsements, and any endorsement reflects a strong majority or greater in favor of endorsing the candidate.

Government


With prodding, Pepco removes double utility poles

Pepco trucks recently invaded Glover Park to remove redundant utility poles that have been cluttering neighborhood streets for the past decade. Thanks to persistent community advocacy, these eyesores will soon disappear.


Photo by Brian Cohen

Around 2001, Pepco replaced its existing utility poles in Glover Park with new taller ones, as part of an effort to improve electrical reliability and increase pole capacity. Unfortunately, when the new poles went up, the old poles remained in place, often side by side, with the wires from other utility companies still attached.

Years later, it became clear that the double poles were here to stay.

With no automatic procedure in place for the city to push for removal of the old poles, it took a concerted, years-long effort by neighborhood residents to get them taken out.

In some cases, new poles and old poles were attached to each other with odd collections of metal cables and brackets. Residents wondered whether there was any rhyme or reason to the seemingly random metal supports. W Street NW even had the distinction of a triple pole cluttering a tree box.

According to meeting minutes, ANC3B first attempted to hold Pepco accountable to a specific removal timeline at a November 2004 meeting.

Commissioner [Christopher] Lively reported that Pepco has been in the area and has almost completed removed [sic] their lines off the old poles on to the new poles. Verizon, Comcast, and Starpower, however, have not removed their lines so the poles still cannot be removed. Commissioner Lively will write a letter on behalf of ANC 3B to OCTT [Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications] to bring the issue to their attention.
Nearly a year later, at ANC3B's October 2005 meeting, Commissioner Melissa Lane brought up the issue again, to Pepco representative Roger Green. Green asked for a list of double pole locations in order to identify removal needs. The ANC complied and expected Pepco to deliver.

In June 2007, ANC3B invited Pepco to explain its plan to remove the double poles.

Pepco Regional Vice President, Vincent Orange, and Linda Jo Smith, Public Relations, reported on the status of the double utility poles that has been a problem throughout Glover Park for the past five years. Pepco replaced their poles but could not take all of them down because other service companies (Comsat, Verizon, etc.) and the district had their products on the original poles. Pepco is making a concerted effort to work with these other companies and get rid of the original poles. Ms. Smith committed to returning in September with a status report.
As a concerned resident, I corresponded with Councilmember Mary Cheh and DDOT in 2008 and 2009. Cheh's Director of Constituent Services stated, "Trust me, we have asked and mentioned it, and reminded Pepco. We will keep doing all of the above until we get responses/action."

Likewise, DDOT's Customer Service Officer assured me, "You will be happy to know that we are working with Pepco and other agencies to resolve the double pole issue. You're right, it isn't happening overnight, but we're getting there."

A few back and forth tweets with the @PepcoConnect Twitter account in June 2011 didn't help either, even after I offered to provide an inventory of locations.

Finally the long drawn out issue turned around in October 2011, when I asked my ANC3B single member district commissioner Brian Cohen to intervene. Cohen worked with Tom Smith, Ward 3 Liaison, Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Engagement, who immediately contacted Pepco's Public Affairs Public Affairs Manager for the DC Region, Chris Taylor. Smith also pulled DDOT and the city's cable office back into the issue.

Taylor provided a 521-page document called NJUNS covering the entire Pepco service area. His email walk-through of the pole removal process may be very useful to other neighborhoods trying to resolve this same issue.

To tell you more about the list, NJUNS stands for National Joint Use Notification System. Several states nation wide use this system. The basis of the system is that all utilities in a specific geographic region voluntarily participate in a program to help track progress in removing double poles. As was indicated earlier, equipment must be removed in sequential order from top to bottom. Pepco normally initiates the process when we first remove wires and equipment. Generally, the order is as follows:

1. Pepco
2. DDOT
3. RCN
4. Verizon
5. Pepco inspects to ensure pole is completely stripped
6. Contractor pulls the pole

The NJUNS sends an automated email each time a location is updated. If you look on the report, each page has various steps. At each step, NJUNS automatically sends an email to each utility notifying them of any action that is taken and needed next steps.

Pepco, while now apparently willing to coordinate wire transfers, didn't know where the poles were located. NJUNS listed only three or four double poles for Glover Park, but there were a lot more. Cohen and I counted 41 during our block-by-block survey, and provided a list to Pepco in January 2012.


Photo by MWander on Flickr.
But moving wires was only part of the problem. In some cases, other utility companies still had wires on the old poles.

Behind the scenes, Pepco lit a fire under the other utilities. Only 2 months after identifying all the pole locations, temporary no parking signs went up and convoys of utility trucks scattered around Glover Park to begin removing the redundant poles.

Over half of the excess poles have been removed already, though ironically 3 new double poles were recently installed.

10 years later, a final resolution is in sight. It took a long time, but Glover Park's double poles are nearly gone. There is hope for other neighborhoods willing to put in the work to identify pole locations and repeatedly follow up with Pepco.

Politics


At-large candidates talk about "livable, walkable" visions

The Democratic at-large candidates for DC Council, incumbent Vincent Orange, and challengers Sekou Biddle, E. Gail Anderson Holness, and Peter Shapiro, talked about transportation, housing, land use and some social issues at last night's forum at the Black Cat on 14th Street.

Here is the full video from the event:

Small business: As in many forums, most candidates gave few specifics, and in most cases didn't sharply disagree with one another. For example, I asked all candidates to talk about a time they'd helped a local business directly. I asked this first of Vincent Orange, who often touts his work bringing Home Depot to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro area but when talking about small business, speaks much more in generalities.

Orange and the other candidates launched into generic, prepared statements about the value of small business. Sekou Biddle's answer, that he helps them most of all by patronizing them, was the most responsive. Orange was, however, able to name a lot of local businesses once pressed.

Affordable housing: Peter Shapiro had thoughtful recommendations for how to promote housing affordability, drawing on his experience with Arts District Hyattsville when he served in Prince George's County. Perhaps because of his experience as an elected official in the past, Shapiro gave more specifics about actions he has taken or policies he would implement on this and some other issues.

All candidates raised their hands when asked if they would restore the Housing Production Trust Fund; hopefully Orange, in this budget cycle, and whoever wins the race, in the future, follows through on that promise.

Ethics: Shapiro went the furthest on campaign finance reform, criticizing the current council for not taking stronger steps and arguing it should pursue a public financing system for elections. Biddle called for reforms to money order contributions, the source of the latest scandal.

Orange, as he has in the past, emphasized his advocacy for banning outside employment for councilmembers, but hasn't agreed to support limits on corporate contributions. He defended his decision not to cosponsor Mary Cheh's recent campaign finance bill as "self-serving," since Cheh holds other jobs as a law professor at GW and teaching bar review courses. (Tommy Wells, the one co-sponsor, does not have any outside employment).

Transportation: During a section on transportation, it came out that of the candidates, only Sekou Biddle is a member of Capital Bikeshare, and only he and Peter Shapiro subscribe to Zipcar. Biddle even pulled out his CaBi key, on his keychain, and his Zipcar membership card right on the stage.

I asked candidates about how we could help cyclists and drivers better understand each other's needs and concerns. Without being "gotcha" about it, I wanted to give Vincent Orange a chance to speak to what he had learned from the January 1st episode where he parked in the 15th Street bike lane, was called out on Twitter, and apologized. Orange said that he hadn't realized on which side of the white stanchions he should park, and that now he does.

Biddle proposed having driver education include information on how to deal with bicycle infrastructure and people riding bikes. This would only be a small start, since many DC drivers move in from other states, but it was a thoughtful response on the topic.

Biddle was also most able to talk about the role of buses in helping connect communities. I asked candidates to name a bus line that they feel works well in DC, partly to see how many could name a bus line at all. Orange gave an example of a bus line, the X2, but couldn't name it without help from a staffer who shouted it out unprompted.

Holness, marriage, and the Redskins: Dr. E. Gail Anderson Holness, generally considered a long-shot candidate, gave some reasons to appreciate her candidacy, but also some reasons for concern. As a resident of Ward 1, she lives in the most urban neighborhood among the candidates, and says she rides a bicycle and takes many forms of transit regularly. She was able to name many bus lines and talk about them in depth.

However, Holness was the only candidate of the four not to encourage Maryland residents to vote to keep the new same-sex marriage law. She also said on last week's WPFW debate that she supports giving land to the Redskins for a practice facility, on the theory that the master plan calls for recreational space.

The plan does ask for recreation space, but intended to serve local residents, not to be a fenced-off facility that only serves a professional team. I pushed on this issue, asking her why she would fulfill a neighborhood request in this way. She didn't have a good answer and seemed confused by the policy details.

The other candidates all reaffirmed their opposition to the practice facility. Orange said he would support bringing the actual team back and potentially using public funds, if it were part of a plan to create a "livable, walkable" community around the stadium as the District is doing at the ballpark.

"Livable, walkable" actually is a phrase Orange spoke at least 5 times over the course of the debate. It's a testament to the phrase Tommy Wells coined for his campaign slogan, and the policies behind it, that Orange has latched on. Hopefully this means he genuinely supports the principles of "livable, walkable" communities; either way, he clearly believes it's a growing political force.

Kwame's revenge: Speaking of Mr. "Livable, Walkable" Wells, the forum's most dramatic moment came near the end, when Orange suggested that Wells should have at least toned down his criticism of Kwame Brown's Lincoln Navigator scandal, to avoid losing his committee and his opportunity to advance his agenda. Shapiro quickly disagreed, arguing that Wells was right to speak up and that it shows the "dysfunction" in the current council that others did not come to his defense.

Did the forum help you make up your mind? What stuck out as most meaningful to you?

Government


Most sitting councilmembers absent on campaign finance

Campaign finance violations in DC have triggered numerous federal investigations and corrupted DC's political process, but the vast majority of sitting DC councilmembers still seem unwilling to risk cutting off their own sources of money to fix a serious problem.


Photo by athrasher on Flickr.

Amendments from Tommy Wells (Ward 6) on last year's ethics bill to ban "bundling" and corporate contributions failed on a 12-1 vote. Yesterday, Mary Cheh (Ward 3) introduced a bill to tackle these issues, with Wells co-introducing, but no other councilmembers agreed to co-sponsor.

None of the sitting councilmembers up for reelection signed onto a pledge by at-large candidate David Grosso to increase transparency in donations, and only Wells and Cheh have expressed support for a ballot initiative to ban corporate contributions. Having 11 of 13 councilmembers disinterested in campaign finance reform is unacceptable.

Serious flaws create serious scandals

Some of the biggest flaws in DC campaign finance involve corporate contributions. Corporate entities are allowed to directly give money to candidates in DC, unlike under federal campaign finance law. Worse, many corporate entities have multiple subsidiaries, such as developers who create a separate LLC for each project, and are allowed to donate up to the maximum from each of them separately.

This is very common in DC campaigns. The fact that so many incumbents garner much of their campaign cash this way may be why not a single other councilmember voted for Wells' amendments to ban the practice.

That's not the only problem with campaign finance, though perhaps the biggest legal loophole. There are also ongoing federal investigations into the campaigns of Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chairman Kwame Brown. Prosecutors are reportedly looking into whether the Gray campaign accepted numerous money orders that weren't really from separate individuals.

The District was reminded of those investigations in dramatic fashion this weekend when the FBI raided the offices of Jeffrey Thompson, who owns Chartered Health Plans, the District's largest contractor. He is also one of the most significant donors to district politicians.

Thompson and related entities have given more than $700,000 to various campaigns over the years, including massive sums to Gray, former mayor Adrian Fenty, and at-large councilmember Vincent Orange. The raids also targeted a public relations consultant to the Gray campaign.

Proposals seek to mend the system

Several reformists have emerged with concrete proposals to make campaign finance in the district more transparent and effective.

When Tommy Wells introduced his doomed campaign finance amendments to last year's ethics bill it seemed like his might be the lone voice for reform on the council. But today he joined Mary Cheh as the only cosponsor on her "Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act of 2012."

According to a statement by Cheh's office, the bill would "prohibit pay-to-play, require disclosure of external fundraising activities, and... ban corporate contributions."

Meanwhile, the DC Committee to Restore Public Trust, led by activist and former council candidate Bryan Weaver and Ward 7 ANC commissioner Sylvia Brown, is pushing a ballot initiative that would ban direct corporate contributions to DC campaigns.

Organizers must collect over 22,000 signatures from registered DC voters to place the initiative on the November ballot. Volunteers plan to gather signatures at every polling place during the April 3 primary.

The initiative has garnered some high-profile backers. Councilmember Wells is providing organizational support and, while announcing her legislation, Councilmember Cheh said that she "wholeheartedly support the efforts of the District residents working on" the initiative. At-large candidates Peter Shapiro, Sekou Biddle, and David Grosso, as well as Ward 8 candidate Jacque Patterson, also have voiced support.

Several candidates running for DC Council in the April 3rd primary, May 5th special, and November 6th general elections are taking an additional step to show their commitment to campaign finance reform. Grosso, who is running for the independent at-large seat up for election in November and currently held by Councilmember Michael A. Brown, has proposed a "transparency challenge" to all council candidates.

The challenge asks candidates to proactively embrace campaign finance reform ideals by pledging to post information on their websites about the directors, managers, shareholders, and corporate structures of any companies that they receive donations from. Additionally, the challenge requires candidates to disclose the names of people who collect multiple donations for them as well as information on each individual donor.

So far, candidates Max Skolnik (Ward 4), Jacque Patterson (Ward 8), and Peter Shapiro (at-large) have pledged to join the challenge. Although, as of March 6, only Grosso has posted his information online. All participants are challenging sitting incumbents. So far, no incumbents have joined the challenge.

Incumbents fail to speak up or act

Unfortunately, aside from Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells, most members of the DC Council seemed unconcerned with campaign finance issues and unlikely to act on reform before the upcoming elections.

Muriel Bowser, primary author of last years ethics bill and chair of the council's Committee on Government Operations, stated that she intended to take action on campaign finance. However, she has since defended herself for accepting corporate donations and argued against banning corporate money outright, making it unlikely that she will support Cheh's bill.

It seems even more unlikely that a majority of councilmembers will act on any sort of campaign finance reform. Several have spoken out against reform. Notably, yesterday morning Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) joked about his dislike of Cheh's legislation.

The rest of the council should work with Cheh and Wells to craft a bill that will reform the campaign finance system while still allowing participation from all engaged parties. DC should ban corporate bundling and strengthen disclosure rules, to make it more apparent who is donating and ensure that corporations do not skirt contribution limits. Contractors and other corporations that do business with the city should face even further restricted in order to avoid obvious conflicts of interest.

DC's politicians have proven all too willing to take advantage of weak campaign finance regulations. But it seems as though the city is becoming sick of it. The DC council should step up, fight against this culture of corruption, and bring corporate influence over elections back from the stratosphere and down to the height of individual influence.

Politics


What would you ask the at-large DC Council candidates?

I'm moderating a forum with the at-large Democratic candidates for DC Council on Tuesday, March 13, organized by the Urban Neighborhood Alliance. What questions would you like them to answer?


Photo by Andreanna Moya Photography on Flickr.

The forum is at the Black Cat, 1811 14th Street, NW. Doors open at 6:30, and the forum will run from 7 to 8. All 4 candidates for the Democratic primary, Sekou Biddle, E. Gail Anderson Holness, Vincent Orange, and Peter Shapiro are attending.

The last go-around, at least several candidates made it difficult for voters to really pin down how they differed on important issues, and avoided taking stands on some of the tough controversies of the day. Knowing what the candidates believe is vital to making an informed decision, so I'm looking for questions that really probe into these key issues.

Please suggest your questions in the comments, and if you really like another one, submit a comment saying so. Please think about how a candidate might answer or how they might avoid answering a given item, and see if you can design your question to push them to give a good answer. I'll pick some of the best ones for the forum.

Plus, I hope you can attend the forum on Tuesday! It's free and open to the public. It's mostly standing room, with some limited seating for senior citizens and persons with disabilities. An informal reception afterward with complimentary appetizers and a cash bar will follow at the nearby Café Saint-Ex, 1847 14th Street, NW.

The forum is cosponsored by Borderstan, the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, the Dupont Circle Merchants and Professionals Association, Dupont Circle Village, Dupont Festival, Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets, the Logan Circle Community Association, the Meridian Hill Association, and the U Street Neighborhood Association.

Politics


Sekou Biddle should withdraw and support Peter Shapiro

Yesterday, DC candidates filed their latest campaign finance reports. In the race to unseat at-large councilmember Vincent Orange, Peter Shapiro raised more than double the amount as his rival Sekou Biddle. To maximize the chances of beating Orange, Biddle should withdraw from the race and throw his support behind Shapiro.


Peter Shapiro and his wife, Julia Wright.

Campaign finance reports demonstrate each campaign's organization and fundraising ability. According to the latest reports, as of yesterday Biddle had $31,615.78 on hand, Shapiro $73,652.94, and Orange $108.705.88. Shapiro more than doubled Biddle's take, in a race that will most certainly come down to money.

It is foolhardy for Biddle to continue his campaign, when staying in the race will most certainly assure that Orange cruises to re-election.

Over the course of the last two months, I have had the opportunity to sit down with both Biddle and Shapiro to discuss their respective campaigns. Biddle, who briefly held the at-large seat before losing in last April's special election, has simply not been able to put together a persuasive campaign.

During Biddle's last attempt, he proved unable to articulate a clear vision for DC and energize voters around his ideas. His campaign was also dragged down by endorsements from most of the DC political establishment at the same time the Sulaimon Brown and Navigator-gate scandals were breaking.

Biddle, to his credit, holds positions that are favorable to most progressives. He would be a solid vote in favor of many things we'd like to see, including stronger ethics and campaign finance rules. Unfortunately for Biddle, his campaign is mired with low fundraising numbers and internal problems. Recently, Biddle announced via email that his campaign managerthe former leader of the DC Republican Partyhad departed.

He also still has not demonstrated a clear vision or solid positions, leaving potential supporters concerned he would repeat the mistakes of the last campaign. These factors, plus his tepid third place finish last April, show that he simply isn't positioned to defeat Orange.

Thankfully, Peter Shapiro provides an equally strong progressive candidacy, combined with fundraising and organizational prowess. Shapiro, who grew up in the District, served on the Prince George's County Council in Maryland before moving back to the District with his wife. Shapiro brings to this race years of experience both as a legislator, but also as an environmental activist and organizer.

Shapiro was tapped to join an ethics task force in Prince George's County, created in the wake of former county executive Jack Johnson's arrest on corruption charges. This experience gives Shapiro credentials for helping restore trust in the DC Council. Presently, Shapiro lives in Ward 4 and runs the Chesapeake Center for Public Leadership.

In a three-way race with 2 progressive candidates, Orange would very likely cruise to victory. While I don't doubt Biddle's commitment to improving the District, he has been unable to build a campaign that can win. It's time for Biddle to put the good of DC ahead of his own ambition, withdraw from the race, and support his fellow progressive.

Note: This is not an official endorsement in this race. Greater Greater Washington is an opinion site, and unless specifically designated as an endorsement, opinions posted here are the opinions of their individual authors and not necessarily of the site's editors or other contributors. We will likely post an official endorsement at a later point in the campaign.

Politics


Ward 5 progressives must unite behind one candidate

In early- to mid-May, DC will hold a special election to fill the seat vacated by Harry Thomas Jr. Many potential candidates have already emerged. The time is right to elect a councilmember focused on ethical and effective representation for the people of Ward 5, but to do so, progressives must unite to support a single candidate.


Photo by FredoAlvarez on Flickr.

If the race is as crowded as current speculation and past experience lead us to believe, any contender that can secure the support of a strong, passionate, and unified constituency will be well positioned to win the seat.

A compelling, good government candidate will be able to fuel a campaign with local activists, progressives from across the city, and voter anger at corrupt and entrenched political interests. However, if progressive energies are split, a candidate still loyal to Thomas, or hand-picked by the political establishment, will easily rise to the top instead.

Current at-large, and former Ward 5, councilmember Vincent Orange has already called a meeting of the "Ward 5 leadership" for 7 pm tonight at Israel Baptist Church. He is likely attempting to anoint an establishment-backed candidate, someone with deep ties to current political leadership in the ward. If a consensus is reached, that candidate will become the immediate frontrunner.

This is not acceptable. Ward 5 has been poorly represented for too long. For every passionate and effective ANC commissioner or civic association officer, there are many more simply interested in lining their pockets, amassing personal power, or advancing a selfish agenda. Now is not the time for the past political reality, it is the time for leadership that stands up, stops the culture of corruption, and makes Ward 5 proud.

Several talented progressive individuals have announced an interest in running for the seat. They include Kenyan McDuffie, who ran against Thomas in the last race, and John Salatti, an ANC commissioner in Bloomingdale. Jaime has pledged her support to McDuffie, Nolan stands squarely behind Salatti, and Matt is undecided. But we all agree that everyone must work together to put forward the single most qualified and electable candidate, for the good of both Ward 5 and the District of Columbia.

Progressives in the ward must now come together to have an open, honest discussion to achieve consensus on a single candidate. Rather than letting personal relationships or friction between individual camps dominate, progressives must focus on what is best for the ward and quickly translate that into a winning campaign.

This campaign cycle is condensed, and may be even more so if the Ward 5 special election is moved up to coincide with the primary on April 3. Either way, there is no time to waste on duplicative efforts in gathering signatures, attending community forums, and get-out-the-vote activities.

A strong, progressive candidate can truly move Ward 5 forward. But a contentious fight will set us back.

Politics


Crowded at-large Council race could help Orange win

Last April, Vincent Orange beat a crowded field of candidates to fill Kwame Brown's at-large seat on the DC Council. Facing reelection less than a year later, Orange could be running against 4 other candidates, which could benefit him as the incumbent.


Photo by Phil Romans on Flickr.

5 candidates have picked up petitions for the Democratic at-large nomination. In addition to Orange, Sekou Biddle, E. Gail Anderson Holness, Peter Shapiro, and Edward Wolterbeek have declared their candidacies for the seat.

With a crowded field, it could be difficult for the other candidates to distinguish themselves, particularly as many point to ethics reform as a key issue.

However, tonight is the deadline to file petitions to appear on the ballot, and only 2 Orange challengers have filed so far. If no others do, the race will be significantly different from last spring's.

Although Orange has been in office less than a year, he has name recognition from his previous 2 terms on the Council representing Ward 5 and from city-wide elections for Council Chairman and Mayor.

Biddle has strong name recognition too, however. He won the temporary appointment to Brown's seat last year and spent 4 months on the Council. He also ran in the city-wide special election to finish the term and placed third. Voters know his name, and he is likely the most credible challenger to Orange.

Peter Shapiro served on the Prince George's county council for 6 years, but has not run for elected office in DC. E. Gail Anderson Holness is currently an ANC-1B commissioner, representing ANC-1B11 near Howard University.

Edward Wolterbeek has run in several previous elections without much success, including as a Republican for Ward 5 Representative to the DC State Board of Education, Ward 5 Councilmember, Delegate to the US House of Representatives, and ANC-5A12 commissioner.

Last spring, Orange won 4 of the city's 8 wards, with the other 4 split between Bryan Weaver, Sekou Biddle, and Patrick Mara. If the race continues with 5 candidates, Orange could again benefit from a split vote.

However, today is the final day for candidates to file petitions and only Biddle, Orange, and Holness have done so. Shapiro is the only other candidate with a website, so he likely has a more organized campaign than Wolterbeek, who is a perennial candidate.

If none of the other candidates file by today's deadline, Biddle and Holness would be the only challengers. There is a chance that Biddle and Holness could split votes, but it's unclear how Holness could challenge Orange.

Biddle and Orange know each other from last year's election, which became heated at times. In his campaign announcement in November, Biddle attacked Orange for accepting out-of-state campaign donations and for trying to increase Council salaries.

If either Biddle or Holness can tie Orange to bad leadership, the anti-incumbent vote could propel them to victory. If Shapiro and Wolterbeek file in time, the field of challengers will double.

Part of the reason Orange won last April was that Weaver, Biddle, and Mara split the progressive vote, which may not happen this year. But Orange's competitors may split another constituency this year, the anti-incumbent vote.

Biddle has been strong on education, while Shapiro gained a reputation for economic development in Prince George's, although ethics is sure to play a major role. Once the filing deadline passes, we'll explore where the remaining candidates stand on the issues.

Bicycling


Vincent Orange kicks off new year by parking in cycle track

Nicole "@nikki_d" took a ride this morning on the 15th Street cycle track, but found 3 cars parked in the lane. One is the white Cadillac belonging to at-large councilmember Vincent Orange.


Image by @nikki_d.

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Politics


Finding good candidates shouldn't be waiting for Superman

Reacting to Fiona Grieg's dropping out of the Ward 2 DC Council race this morning, many of you said things like, "Politics isn't for faint of heart," or "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."


Photo by n0nick on Flickr.

Those people are absolutely correct; that's how politics works. Greig should have known that. In fact, she did; I talked to some of her supporters who said they warned her about this very eventuality. The fact that she still wasn't prepared is indeed disappointing.

It's easy to blame Greig. She certainly made mistakes. Or people can blame Jack Evans for running a rough campaign. But we should do neither. The problem is that voters, especially Democratic voters, expect the moon from candidates who can never live up to expectations.

A good candidate must have all of these qualities at the same time:

  • Ability to talk like a think tank expert about any policy issue;
  • The right positions as viewed by every different issue group they court;
  • Charisma so that voters "want to have a beer with" the candidate;
  • Stamina to talk to voters nonstop, all day, every day for months, and politely listen to everyone no matter how crazy;
  • Toughness to endure all manner of nasty treatment from opponents and voters;
  • Willingness to ask for money, which if you've never done you can't possibly realize how hard it is;
  • Expert management skills to hire a terrific team cheaply in just a few months;
  • An absolutely squeaky-clean background;
  • And much more.
If a candidate doesn't have one of these, we blame the candidate. They ran a lousy campaign. We just didn't like them personally. They don't know enough about the issues. Every candidate has a thousand ways to be a doofus.

With this set of expectations, it should come as no surprise that we get a fair number of candidates with particularly strong personal desire to acquire power. Those with ambition but who don't care so much about making the world better can survive this process and learn to sound caring enough about issues to get by on the issues, while most of those more motivated by love of their city find another career.

If winning is about being a good candidate, then the leaders we get are good candidates rather than good leaders. Wouldn't it be nice if, instead of a system that rewards the toughest and most ambitious, rewards those who actually have the best visions for the future? But that's a pipe dream.

It's important to be tough, not just to win office but to pass important legislation once in power. The attacks won't stop with the campaign, but continue into the policy debates. And leaders who take poor positions absolutely need to face criticism for those actions.

The campaign filing dustup only told us what we already knew about Greig, that she was a fairly inexperienced newcomer facing a seasoned veteran. Her dropping out did tell us something new, that she lacked at least one of the qualities we expect in a great candidate, the toughness.

We learned in this spring's special election that Sekou Biddle lacked the management component, at least at the time; Bryan Weaver lacked the fundraising capacity, Joshua Lopez lacked the policy expertise, and so on.

But ask yourself: Do you have all of these qualities? Do you have even half of them? And how many people have them all? Maybe Vincent Orange did; all he lacked was an interest in helping anyone but himself.

I think that a lot of the incumbents on today's DC Council ought to be replaced. A lot of people think that. This past summer, many people said to me, individually or in groups, that they were looking around for people to run for various offices. I've heard secondhand about many others searching for the same thing.

And in most cases, they came up short. Many names that had been thrown around as fantastic potential candidates didn't run. Some did, and as we get to know the candidates, we'll find out if any of them are really exciting, or all fall victim to one of the many pitfalls of a campaign, or get written off too early by the horse-race press coverage.

This is the reality of politics. Everyone knows it, and those that don't quickly learn. It's often a choice between the lesser of two evils. Often, if there's someone you're extremely excited about, they're a long-shot candidate because they don't excel in every one of the necessary criteria.

The main reason I'm particularly a fan of Tommy Wells is that he actually does have most of these qualities, at least in moderate measure. He's extremely good on policy, but also able to go to a community meeting or church or block party and mingle with everyone without quickly getting sick of it. He's pretty likable, but also fairly tough. He has hired some great staff. And so on.

He represents one of the best opportunities to get a politician who really cares about making better communities in DC, and can actually win elections as necessary to accomplish important things.

How many people can do that, and want to? We need more of them. At least 14: one per ward, 4 at-large, one chairman, and one mayor. Not to mention 436 representatives, 100 senators, 1 vice-president, 1 president, and countless state and local legislators all across the country. Where are they?

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