In Ward 4 and 7 Races, It’s Down to Fi­nal Blitz

The Washington Post Sunday - - Metro - By Nikita Ste­wart and Yolanda Woodlee

The spe­cial elec­tion for the D. C. Coun­cil on Tues­day will prob­a­bly an­swer some ba­sic ques­tions: How many knocks on the door, how many cam­paign phone calls and how many shut­tle van trips does it take to win a ward seat?

Races in Wards 4 and 7 have drawn so many long­time com­mu­nity ac­tivists and new- com­ers as can­di­dates, three dozen in all, that it has been dif­fi­cult for in­di­vid­u­als to stand out. In ad­di­tion, many of those run­ning ad­dress sim­i­lar is­sues: schools, crime and de­vel­op­ment.

As a re­sult, cam­paign or­ga­ni­za­tion and turnout will be key fac­tors that push a can­di­date out of the pack and into a seat on the coun­cil, po­lit­i­cal ob­servers say. But other fea­tures are af­fect­ing the race as well, in­clud­ing the roles of the top two gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in the Dis­trict, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty ( D) and coun­cil Chair­man Vin­cent C. Gray ( D).

In Ward 4, the com­mu­nity mostly in North­west that strad­dles Rock Creek Park, 19 can­di­dates are vy­ing to re­place Fenty, who left the coun­cil in the mid­dle of his sec­ond term. In Ward 7, east of the Ana­cos­tia River, 17 hope­fuls seek the post Gray va­cated af­ter two years as a coun­cil mem­ber.

“ The cam­paign that is best or­ga­nized and can bring their vot­ers to the polls gen­er­ally

wins th­ese things,” said Chuck Thies, a po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant.

Tony Towns, a for­mer ad­vi­sory neigh­bor­hood com­mis­sioner run­ning in Ward 4, said that there is a pay­off to meet­ing res­i­dents one- on- one.

“ By knock­ing on doors and talk­ing to peo­ple, you find they’re go­ing to make up their own minds,” Towns said. “ They want you to know what the is­sues are, and they ask, ‘ What do you bring to the ta­ble?’ ”

Many can­di­dates have been an­a­lyz­ing likely vot­ers and say they are find­ing many un­de­cided. No polls have been pub­lished in ei­ther con­test.

One of the main ques­tions in the cam­paign is whether Fenty and Gray’s en­dorse­ments will sway vot­ers. Es­pe­cially in the case of Fenty, some vot­ers worry that the can­di­date will fol­low in lock step be­hind him.

Fenty is back­ing Muriel Bowser, an ad­vi­sory neigh­bor­hood com­mis­sioner who lives in Riggs Park.

“ The big­gest prob­lem has been get­ting the mes­sage out. We’re run­ning against the mayor in a lot of ways. When you look at the cam­paign lit­er­a­ture, the mayor’s pic­ture is big­ger than the can­di­date,” Towns said.

In Ward 7, Gray is sup­port­ing for­mer in­sur­ance reg­u­la­tor Yvette M. Alexan­der, a na­tive of the ward.

When for­mer coun­cil chair­man Linda W. Cropp ( D) left her post in Jan­uary af­ter an un­suc­cess­ful bid for mayor, it was the first time the coun­cil has been with­out a black fe­male mem­ber since the first elected coun­cil in the 1970s. There are six women in the Ward 4 race and eight in Ward 7, all of whom are African Amer­i­can. If a black wo­man wins, it would help fill a gen­der gap on the 13- mem­ber coun­cil, which has two women.

“ We had de­cided a long time ago that we wanted a wo­man,” said for­mer Ward 7 coun­cil mem­ber H. R. Craw­ford, who has en­dorsed Alexan­der. “ We need to bal­ance the coun­cil.”

But Bowser and Alexan­der have strong chal­lenges from male can­di­dates in each con­test.

In Ward 4, Michael A. Brown has name recog­ni­tion af­ter run­ning un­suc­cess­fully for mayor last year.

Charles Gaither, a gov­ern­ment re­la­tions con­sul­tant, also poses a threat, Thies said. “ It may sound like a small thing, but he had a pa­per route there. He knows the neigh­bor­hood.”

Res­i­dents in Ward 4 ex­pressed con­cern about a wide range of is­sues, in­clud­ing de­vel­op­ment along the Ge­or­gia Av­enue com­mer­cial strip, re­cre­ation cen­ters, youth, pub­lic safety and af­ford­able hous­ing.

Other com­mu­nity ac­tivists who grew up in the ward, in­clud­ing Towns, Dou­glass Ned Sloan and Dwight E. Singleton, also could draw a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of votes. Singleton and Robert G. Childs, both for­mer school board mem­bers, have name recog­ni­tion.

A tour of the ward turns up sev­eral yards dis­play­ing the cam­paign signs of more than one can­di­date — ev­i­dence that vot­ers are torn be­tween friends.

Un­de­cided vot­ers will be re­ceiv­ing last- minute phone calls in the days be­fore the elec­tion re­mind­ing them to cast their bal­lots and ask­ing for sup­port, said Mar­shall Brown, a vet­eran of Dis­trict cam­paigns. Poll work­ers pass­ing out lit­er­a­ture Tues­day are also es­sen­tial, he said.

Brown, who is not re­lated to Michael Brown but is the fa­ther of coun­cil mem­ber Kwame R. Brown ( DAt Large), said the large pool of can­di­dates is puz­zling. “ Nine­teen peo­ple still ran any­way de­spite the fact that the mayor en­dorsed some­body. Nor­mally, peo­ple drop out. Can the mayor bring home Muriel Bowser?” he asked.

Leona John­son, a re­tired pub­lic school teacher, said she is un­de­cided be­cause “ I feel all the can­di­dates have their agenda, and it’s very sim­i­lar.”

“ I can’t ac­tu­ally say who is go­ing to do the best job, but a whole lot of peo­ple came out of the wood­work,” John­son said, adding that she is in­flu­enced by Fenty’s en­dorse­ment.

In Ward 7, as in Ward 4, the con­test is filled with com­mu­nity ac­tivists, such as Sam Jor­dan, Greg Rhett, John­nie Scott Rice and Emily Y. Wash­ing­ton.

Res­i­dents say they are look­ing for a coun­cil mem- ber who can pull the neigh­bor­hoods to­gether — a mis­sion suc­cess­fully started by Gray — and who can draw de­vel­op­ers.

Ward 7 has no hospi­tal, one pub­lic high school and one sit- down restau­rant de­spite a di­verse mix of in­comes that could sup­port ba­sic ameni­ties.

Can­di­date Ed­die Rhodes, an as­sis­tant com­mu­nity court co­or­di­na­tor, has protested the clos­ing of D. C. Gen­eral Hospi­tal as a fo­cus of his cam­paign. The hospi­tal, which was fre­quented by Ward 7 res­i­dents, closed in 2001, and a re­place­ment has not been built, leav­ing the ward with­out con­ve­nient med­i­cal care.

“ Peo­ple may think this is an is­sue for Ward 7, but this is an is­sue for the whole city. The other hos­pi­tals have to ab­sorb th­ese peo­ple,” Rhodes said.

Al­though Gray said Alexan­der is his choice to ad­dress the neigh­bor­hoods, he did not en­dorse her un­til mid- Fe­bru­ary. Sev­eral other can­di­dates, par­tic­u­larly chemist Vic­tor Van­dell and com­mu­ni­ca­tions strate­gist Cleve Mesi­dor, be­gan knock­ing on doors and putting up signs sev­eral months ago.

An en­dorse­ment of Alexan­der from Kwame Brown fol­lowed, but “ I won­der if they en­dorsed too late,” Mar­shall Brown said.

Al­though Van­dell, Ward 7 co­or­di­na­tor for Fenty’s cam­paign, was an early starter, he ran into some trou­bles last month. His cam­paign man­ager, Jerome Brocks, abruptly re­signed, say­ing that two of Fenty’s top cam­paign aides had es­sen­tially taken over Van­dell’s cam­paign op­er­a­tions.

But the im­pact of sup­port by Fenty or Gray is a mat­ter of de­bate.

One Ward 4 voter, Richard Holzsager of Takoma, said he thinks Fenty made a big mis­take by en­dors­ing a can­di­date so early.

“ Be­fore the seat was ac­tu­ally empty and be­fore can­di­dates had an­nounced, he had al­ready cho­sen,” said Holzsager, who is un­de­cided. “ How do you do that?”

COUR­TESY OF MICHAEL A. BROWN

Michael A. Brown, who ran un­suc­cess­fully for mayor last year, has name recog­ni­tion in a crowded field of can­di­dates seek­ing to rep­re­sent Ward 4 on the D.C. Coun­cil.

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