Rumors are flying among District residents about the absence of campaign posters in the local political races.
Some believe that current office holders assume that once the primary elections settle who is going to represent each party in the November general election, posters are not needed.
After all, in a town that is dominated by Democratic voters, political operatives said, once the primary is won, why bother? However, others believe the absence of posters signals something more sinister.
Debbie Smith-Steiner, a Ward 5 activist, said the reason for the limited display of re-election posters from incumbents—and newcomers, too-- is related to the recent troubles of Mayor Vincent Gray.
“It seems that after the mayor was exposed for having an underground campaign, funded by a well-known contractor, it sent a message to many other local political figures,” Smith-Steiner said. “With the donor being the subject of a FBI investigation, no politician in their right mind wants to be seen with a well-financed campaign they can’t explain.”
Smith-Steiner said this practice of fueling campaigns with underground, undisclosed money conduits has been going on for years. If silent contributors are forced out of the campaign finance mix, she said, there would more visible campaigning “and voter outreach from incumbents, in particular, and their opponents.”
A.J. Cooper is challenging Councilman Michael Brown (I-at-Large), who is currently the target of scrutiny over missing or misappropriated campaign funds. Cooper said that outcome is highly possible.
“As a casual observer, I wouldn’t be surprised. So many things have been going wild this campaign season,” said Cooper. “Never before in the history of D.C. politics have so many elected officials faced personal issues. Everyone is waiting for the next shoe to drop.”
Ron Moten, who is running in Ward 7as a Republican, thinks incumbents are cautiously smug. “I guess they are hoping that name recognition will get them over,” Moten said, insisting deep-pocket political contributors “are afraid to establish underground campaigns for fear of being investigated.”
The change has deeply affected the city’s printers. Anthony Shepherd, owner of Quality Printers on Kennedy Street NW, said that business has almost come to a halt for local printers.
He remembered when unions and special donors coordinated the printing of posters and other literature for incumbents and hopefuls. “Mysteriously, a check would appear and pay for everything,” he said. “There have been considerable changes in the last three election cycles.”
Although still under a cloud, Brown said the absence of campaign posters is related to other factors.
“Many voters just don’t trust politicians right now,” he said. “Plus, it’s hard to get people to give to political campaigns when the economy is so bad. My poster campaign is limited to yard signs this election.”