getting locally political

I was once a more active political creature in DC. These days, I pick my battles a bit more judiciously, preferring to expend my energy toward things that keep me interested, where the frustrations can lead to progress.

But this current Democratic primary season (yes, I’m a Democrat, though one who’s seldom in lock-step with the local or national party systems), I’ve heard a lot of people try and bend ears with their endorsements. And now, it’s my time to do the same.

(For those looking for #projectfemur updates, more are forthcoming.)

For Mayor: Tommy Wells

This should come as no surprise to those who know me. I’ve been a supporter of Tommy Wells for many years. He is principled – sometimes to a fault – and promotes smart growth and complete streets, two things that I believe will help bridge the disparities between northwest and southeast DC. His history within the education and social welfare sectors leave him uniquely qualified to hit the ground running as mayor, and not with volumes of knowledge left to learn.

Wells surrounds himself with well qualified staff and advisers – to me, the mark of a sound politician who wants to put his best foot forward in every situation. That said, he has ruffled feathers within the ranks of his DC Council colleagues by not rolling over to “traditions,” most of which are rooted in glad-handing, corruption, and hoping that the spoils of special favor will “trickle down” to the underserved and poor of DC.

That leaves Wells in a unique position with regard to cleaning up DC’s entrenched political culture of corruption. Multiple members of the DC council have been indicted and convicted of criminal offenses in the past four years. Laundered money has found its way into DC campaigns via bundled donations that have been aimed at kingmakers, spoilers, and long-term politicos, alike. The sitting mayor, Vince Gray, is implicated in a shadow campaign scandal that, let’s face it, there is no possible way he could not have known of its existence. And if he truly didn’t know, it speaks volumes of his inattention to details within his own circles – DC is not so big a city that these things shouldn’t become evident.

Is Wells perfect? Not in the least. He can be dismissive at times, and sometimes a bit obtuse when explaining his sometimes “WTF?” votes on progressive pet issues. His public persona in a group setting can seem a bit “space cadet,” though in close quarters he is very clear, personable, and direct. His campaign, in taking only individual, non-bundled, non-corporate, non-PAC donations, has hobbled itself from the get-go, especially in the area of capitalizing on multiple earned media opportunities. The result is a campaign that has most closely connected with social-media-aware citizens, at the expense of less Internet savvy, more traditional media connected District residents. And the mailers from the Fraternal Order of Police did no service to Wells’ campaign.

Still, he’s the man I’m supporting on Tuesday, and I urge my readers to vote for him.

That leads to the other question that my handful of readers will have: why not the other candidates?

Mayor Vince Gray‘s connections to the shadow campaign notwithstanding, his handling of the office of Mayor of DC has been, at best, so-so. Yes, he’s done well in certain measures, but his purposeful slowing down of improvements started by his predecessor has not served the city’s benefit. He put in place completely ineffective (and borderline incompetent) members of his cabinet.

An example of this is Terry Bellamy, the current director of the District Department of Transportation. Bellamy’s predecessor in the Fenty administration, Gabe Klein, fast-tracked complete streetscape initiatives to better connect neighborhoods and make the District less beholden to private vehicles. Bellamy has either ignored, stymied, or paid little attention to expanding these programs, to the detriment of all street users in DC. Complete streets are safe streets, and promote safe and vibrant neighborhoods. Yes, stonewalling programs that change things greatly placates the fans of keeping DC in the 1990s, but it handicaps the District’s moving on from a less-than-stellar past.

I liked Vince Gray as Council Chair, where his slow, deliberate style acted as an effective “whip” when his colleagues went overboard. But my experience with him on the DC Democratic State Committee (DCDSC) soured me to him, and I did not vote for him in the 2010 Mayoral primary, suspecting shady dealings then – suspicions that were, in the end, validated.

Simply put: Muriel Bowser is not a leader. Yes, she is personable, but I don’t sense a lot of substance or deep knowledge of DC’s most pressing issues. Her style on the DC Council has been one of blowing with the political wind, only taking a public position on things when she is in a majority (or has a majority in the Council backing her position). She championed an ethics reform bill, which passed Council (only after being essentially neutered), but as said bill isn’t yet in effect for the current primary election, she’s not living by its constructs – a mark of hypocrisy.

And a look into her policy plans as mayor leaves me awash in platitudes, but lacking in any real substance. Her one-size-fits-all education plan lacks any depth of knowledge of the actual issues surrounding the DC education system, and her flimsy transportation and employment platforms are the mark of somebody who is waiting for a person to tell her what to say.

Jack Evans is my current Councilman in Ward 2. While he occasionally has flashes of brilliance, I find that most of his policies benefit the wealthy residents of his Ward, as well as the mega-developers that have transformed Georgetown, Downtown, and Dupont Circle into posh, outdoor malls that lack any local flavor. This has happened at the expense of the middle and lower classes that used to live somewhat harmoniously in Ward 2, but have now been forced to other areas of the city due to increased rents and decreased affordability of local services.

Evans subscribes, in many respects, to a modified “trickle-down economics” system, and as was the case in the 1980s, the benefits seldom make their way beyond the upper-middle classes. And the majority of his donors are developers, law firms, and other businesses whose money drowns out that of ordinary citizens – these interests want to gain influence. With Evans, money does, indeed, talk. Sadly, this is often at the expense of the people he wishes to represent.

(Of note: I’ve not voted for Evans over the past three primary – and past two general – elections. I’ve either supported his opponent, or have written in an alternate candidate, so much is my overall dislike of his performance as my Councilman.)

Andy Shallal seems, on the surface, to be the ultimate progressive in the race. But he really doesn’t bring any true substance to the game. Sure, he’s a successful businessman who employs many people who have had a hard turn in life. But he has very little to say of any substance – sound bites and platitudes over actual plans that acknowledge the political and social realities of DC. Why Shallal didn’t run as an independent candidate is beyond me, as his approach to this race would likely resonate more without being bogged down as a minor spoiler in a large Democratic field.

As for Vincent Orange, Reta Jo Lewis, and Carlos Allen: they are non-players who really have no business continuing to run in this primary, other than to see their names on signs and on the ballot.

For At-Large Council: Nate Bennett-Fleming

Nate is an energetic, smart guy who will bring youth and new blood to a Council which is in desperate need of both. Sure, he’s not always the most politically shrewd guy – he once turned me off to one of his previous campaigns by placing his literature atop a worksheet that I was actively working on at a candidate forum – but he learns from his mistakes. He just served a term as “Shadow Representative” for the District (i.e. elected, unpaid lobbyist), and now wants to do more. His stances on complete streets, homelessness, and education are sound and fresh.

I came very close to supporting John Settles, who is a daily bicycle commuter and quite smart, as well. He also has some great ideas focused on educating a new, DC-based workforce. But I find the idea of having a younger member of DC’s political scene involved in Council a lot more attractive than having Settles, who has run for citywide office before, move into the office. If he won, I’d be happy, but I’d prefer Nate.

As for the incumbent, Anita Bonds, she’s been an ineffective member of Council, representing the do-nothing DCDSC and old-school Democratic inertia peddlers who are in their death throes. Her one bit of legislation benefits seniors, it’s true – but only those who have been in the District for more than 20 years, not more recent arrivals. Otherwise, she plays the role of a kind grandmother, but don’t let that fool you, the voter, for one second. She’s politically cunning, and willing to go to great, unattractive lengths to get her way.

Bonds was appointed to her current Council seat by the DCDSC, when she was the body’s Chair. She remains in office due to a split of the progressive vote in a special election in 2011 2013. This year, I hope she is shown the door.

For Council Chair: Phil Mendelson

Yes, he’s boring, and I don’t always agree with his stances. But he’s an effective whip to the Council, and deserves another term.

For Ward 1 Council: Brianne Nadeau

I was hoping to say “Bryan Weaver” in this case, but he dropped out to avoid a progressive vote split. And Brianne is decent, and a far cry better than the incumbent, Jim Graham. She believes in complete streets, better schools, and keeping Ward 1 a multi-class, vibrant place to live and work.

Graham is running on achievements from many years ago. Of late, he’s been accused of corruption, and has used his office to try and strong-arm his opponents – in some cases, coming precariously close to Hatch Act violations. He’s so entrenched that he’s removed himself from any meaningful connections with the residents of Ward 1, his only links being in some parts of the business community (ones he often has to bully into continued support). Sorry, Jim, time to go.

For Ward 6 Council: Charles Allen

I’ll admit: Charles is a good friend of mine, one of my oldest friends in DC. Over the 11 years I’ve known him, he’s deftly built a strong curriculum vitae for what an effective and ethical politician should be. And now he’s running for Council. As Tommy Wells’ Chief-of-Staff, he had to be in the political trenches in Ward 6 for many years, establishing meaningful connections with the residents and businesses of his Ward.

Charles knows the minute details of what is and isn’t working for residents, for the schools, for the business districts, and for the Wards that surround his area. He is articulate, personable, and effective at building trust that isn’t just lip service. If anything, I think Charles will be more effective than his former boss and mentor, as he has an incredible ability to connect with people, even when he is in disagreement with them on an issue.

His opponent, Darrell Thompson, has most of his political experience on Capitol Hill, in the halls of the U.S. Congress. He hasn’t voted in most DC elections over the past decade, even as a resident of DC. To me, that shows a lack of commitment to the District and to the people of Ward 6. His connection to the community is one that isn’t nearly as broad or intimate as that of Charles Allen.

But Thompson has intimate knowledge of The Hill. Thus, I’d encourage people to do this…

For U.S. Delegate: Darrell Thompson

It was a close call between Thompson and Ward 6 political commentator and all-around snarkmaster, Tim Krepp.

Not really.

In all seriousness, I think it’s time for the incumbent, Eleanor Holmes Norton, to hand over the reins of her office to somebody new. Eleanor has fought some good battles for DC, but still hasn’t been able to get herself a vote in the full body of the House of Representatives. She has been DC’s only Delegate to the House since the position was first created, and I believe that she needs to move on.

Her constant response to challengers is that they “don’t know much about how to get things done on Capitol Hill.” Conveniently, Thompson would have an extremely small learning curve in terms of navigating the halls of Congress, given his experience working for the likes of Sen. Harry Reid. He has the right stuff to begin making his mark for DC – just not as a Councilman.

So write in Darrell Thompson and send a (trivially small) message to Eleanor that she isn’t automatically entitled to her current seat.

For “Shadow” Senator: Tim Krepp

I’m writing in Tim Krepp because, let’s face it: he’d probably do a better job than the incumbent (all hat, no cattle) or his official challenger (all money, no funny).

For “Shadow” Representative: Franklin Garcia

He’s a nice guy and might be good at this job. I’ll give him a pass on his entrenchment with the establishment DCDSC lot.

For DC Democratic State Committee: “The Rent is Too Darn High” slate

I know quite a few of these people, and most of them are new to the DC political landscape. They come from all walks of life and all parts of the District, and hopefully will have enough allies in the DCDSC to bring some much-needed change and refocusing to what amounts to a “mutual-pat-yourself-on-the-back club.”

One of the highlights: my best friend’s wife is running in Ward 1!

Another highlight: one of the Ward 4 candidates bakes good cakes!

A third highlight: their name is not a ball full of irony, like the establishment DCDSC oafs calling their slate “Democrats Moving Forward.” Trust me: if the DCDSC actually moved forward, it would send most of the entrenched members to a hasty exit.

So that’s my $1.14 on Tuesday’s primary. Above all else: get out there and VOTE!

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