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