Sekou Bid­dle’s ugly vic­tory

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS -

Just as they say that wit­ness­ing laws­be­ing­madewil­l­make any­one lose faith in the leg­isla­tive process, watch­ing theD.C. Demo­cratic State Com­mit­teemake an­in­terim choice to fill the seat va­cated byD.C. Coun­cilChair­manKwameBrown­was enough tomake any­one aban­don hope in democ­racy.

Fine, that­may be a lit­tle dra­matic. In­ter­nally, the process was demo­cratic enough. Of the 82mem­ber­swhomake up the core ofD.C.’s pre­em­i­nent po­lit­i­cal party, 74 came out to cast bal­lots in a hotly con­tested bat­tle mainly be­tweenWard 4 State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion­mem­berSekou Bid­dle and for­merWard 5 coun­cilmem­berVin­cent Orange.

Bid­dle­won­the first round, 35-31, again­stOrange, but long-shot chal­lenger Stan­leyMays’s 8 votes de­nied­hi­man out­right ma­jor­ity. In the sec­ond round, fu­ri­ous cau­cus­ing by both sides ended in a 37-37 split. It was only in the third and fi­nal round— by which pointBrown had ap­peared to press the flesh on be­half of his anointed suc­ces­sor— that Bid­dle claimed vic­tory, 40-31.

The process was about as in­side base­ball as you can get. Only the mem­ber­ship of the com­mit­tee could vote— and­whether the bal­lot­ing was se­cret or not re­mains un­clear. Adi­tion­ally, thanks to odd pro­vi­sions of theHomeRuleChar­ter, Bid­dle will have lit­tle time to get com­fort­able in his new­po­si­tion— he still has to con­test anApril 26 spe­cial elec­tion thatOrange and a mélange of other can­di­dates have al­ready vowed to par­tic­i­pate in.

The en­tire process should be scrapped. Un­like at-large seats, ward­based posts re­main un­filled un­til a spe­cial elec­tion is held. This­makes both more and less sense. More, be­cause by not hav­ing an in­terim se­lec­tion process limited to party in­sid­ers, ward seats can’t be handed out as vir­tual forms of pa­tron­age. Less, be­cause ward seats are more im­por­tant and should thus be filled more quickly.

Inan ideal world, any va­cancy onthe coun­cil would be filled through a spe­cial elec­tion held in a timely fashion. But mak­ing that hap­pen would re­quire ei­ther an act of Congress or a city­wide ref­er­en­dum. Leg­is­la­tion is cur­rently be­fore Congress to re­duce the wait be­tween a va­cancy and a spe­cial elec­tion, but there’s nomoveyet to scrap the in­ter­nal ap­point­ment process that Bid­dle ben­e­fited from.

Be­yond that, theD.C. Demo­cratic StateCom­mit­tee needs to catch up with the fast-chang­ing city around it. Yes, most District vot­ers are reg­is­tered Democrats, but there’s a grow­ing con­tin­gent of in­de­pen­dents— 72,000 and count­ing. Ad­di­tion­ally, for all its lack of elec­toral suc­cesses, the lo­cal Repub­li­canParty is widely seen as more pro­fes­sional and dy­namic than its Demo­cratic coun­ter­part. There have even been pro­pos­als to scrap the party sys­tem al­to­gether— af­ter all, in a city as broadly lib­eral-minded as the District is, be­ing a Demo­crat, In­de­pen­dent or Repub­li­can doesn’t re­ally mat­ter all that much.

As Bid­dle and Orange bat­tled, BryanWeaver, who­launched a strong and cre­ative chal­lenge to Coun­cilmem­berJimGra­ham for his Ward 1 seat last year, watched from the back. Weaver is the sub­ject of a nascent ef­fort to drafthim­into April’s spe­cial elec­tion. Also in the crowd was JoshLopez, a young Fenty fire­brand­who­co­or­di­nated the gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign to write in the­mayor’s name. Lopez has al­ready col­lected the sig­na­tures he needs to get onthe April bal­lot.

Weaver andLopez, and­many oth­ers like them, are sym­bols of a cross­roads forD.C. pol­i­tics. They’re all prod­ucts of party pol­i­tics in one way or an­other, but they also seem to see the value in find­ing newways to reach out to vot­ers— many ofwhom­may be­newto the city, oth­ers whomay­have soured on the city’s long­stand­ing sin­gle-party rule. Nei­ther of them­may suc­ceed this time, but the spirit of their cam­paigns could even­tu­ally be­come more the rule than the ex­cep­tion.

None of this is to be­lit­tle Bid­dle, who­came across as sin­cere and ready for the chal­lenge ahead. He can right­fully take credit for a hard­won­vic­tory— though onewon­through a closed and dated process.

Martin Auster­muhle, DCist

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