City Council Races Gearing Up

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Except for the highly anticipated contention for the mayor’s seat and City Council chairmanship, the upcoming City Council elections probably won’t stir much excitement, a political analyst said.

Ron Walters, retired University of Maryland political science professor, added that at this point, both races appear to be a toss-up.

“As far as I’m concerned, [City Council Chairman Vincent] Gray is leading slightly against [Mayor Adrian] Fenty,” Walters said. “I haven’t seen [At-large Councilman] Kwame Brown [who’s running for Council chairman] in any polls, but I would imagine that he probably leads,” Walters continued. “He’s got some opposition with Vincent Orange, which I feel will also be an interesting race.”

And so the contestants gear up.

Council seats for wards 1, 3, 5, and 6 are up for grabs in the Sept. 14 primaries and Nov. 2 general election.

According to Allison McLaughlin, spokeswoman for the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics, candidates started picking up petition forms on May 14 and have until July 7 to return them. However, she could not say how many people, as of this week, had declared their candidacies.

“We have this statutory window in which candidates generally pick their petitions at the beginning of the process, and then tend to turn them in at the end of the process,” McLaughlin said.

Meanwhile, on May 17 the Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO announced its endorsement of Gray for mayor.

Spokesman Rick Powell told the AFRO that the organization, which in the past has stood steadfast behind Fenty, has essentially lost confidence in him.

He said that with the exception of the 2006 mayoral race – in which they supported former Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp during the primaries – Fenty had the overwhelming endorsement of local labor unions in every election he ran.

“The years that Fenty was on the Council, he was considered a friend of labor and he was one of our go-to guys,” Powell said. “He was one of a few people on the Council that we could count on.”

But, according to Powell, Fenty’s January 2006 swearing-in was the last time they met with him. Since that time, Powell continued, they’ve become disillusioned with the mayor’s decision earlier this year not to fund the labor liaison position on the Public Employees Relations Board. “Which every mayor has had going back to Marion Barry.”Powell said.

He said MWC has switched over to Gray largely because of the manner in which he’s worked and kept the lines of communication open among his Council peers.

“After only two years on the Council, Vincent Gray not only became the chairman, but he brought the Council together during some of the toughest issues it has had to face,” Powell said. “We looked at the way Fenty has treated people who work for him and people who disagreed with him, who have now been treated like traitors in the District. They’ve been cut off and isolated.”

Orange, who served two terms on the council representing Ward 5 from 1998 to 2007, said he decided to take another swipe at running city business because he could bring leadership, maturity and accountability.

“A good friend of mine was going to run, so I was kind of monitoring the race with the feeling that he was going to back out,” Orange said. “He eventually backed out, and to me, there appeared to be a void in leadership.”

Orange said that at the end of the day, when the mayor and chief financial officer have to go to Wall Street or to Capitol Hill, he could go along as an attorney and certified public accountant.

But as for what’s really wrong with the District: “Education,” Orange said, because it can be connected to economic development, which helps to create jobs.

“We have huge unemployment, and then the employers continue to use the excuse that we don’t have qualified individuals for jobs,” he said. “We have to make sure that we are producing high school graduates that have a diploma of value and that our students are either ready for college or the workforce.”