The fast approaching April 26 race for the at-large D.C. Council seat left empty by newly-elected Chairman Kwame Brown is, for many voters, largely a contest between Councilmember Sekou Biddle and longtime D.C. politico Vincent Orange.

But, as with many elections, it’s also a showdown between unions. Each candidate is backed by a major labor organization: Biddle by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) MD/DC State Council; Orange by the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO.

Speaking in an August 2010 AFRO article about the impact of unions on elections, David Madland, director of the American Worker Project at the D.C.-based Center for American Progress, said it’s all about strength in numbers. “The members of the union don’t always share the same politics, but what all the studies show is when the union endorses a candidate, members are much more likely to vote for the union’s preferred candidate,” he said.

And unions often put the strength of their membership behind a candidate’s campaign—manning phone banks, passing out flyers and agitating voters to go to the polls.

The SEIU MD/DC State Council said the organization sent mail to 33,000 likely voters on April 5 as part of the union’s $65,000 independent expenditure to supper Biddle’s campaign, according to a statement. More letters will be dispatched April 17, and members will conduct door-to-door canvassing as the election nears.

“The mailing touts Biddle’s independence in putting working families above political insiders and cronies, to protect workers’ rights and ensure every resident gets fair treatment from the city government,” the union stated.

Not to be outdone, Orange has also picked up the endorsement of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the local AFL-CIO.

The Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO works with nearly 200 affiliated local union and activist groups and “supports activities on behalf of political candidates who support workers’ issues,” according to dclabor.org, the Council’s website.

With an estimated 150,000 members in the area, the union’s endorsement could further propel Orange’s accelerating campaign, which reported an enviable $191,000 in campaign funds.

The boost to both campaigns may prove critical among an electorate that has grown more leery and that may prove even more reluctant to vote given the scandals enveloping the city’s political leadership.

But both candidates say residents can trust them as leaders, and they have the record to prove it.

“I’ve never been involved in any type of issues,” Orange said. “I have proven experience with accountability and integrity.”

Biddle added, “I want to set an example as a leader the community wants.”

In addition to integrity, the candidates touted other characteristics that would make them the best choice on April 26.

Biddle, a Washingtonian, prides himself on being a graduate of D.C. public schools. The interim council member said he has a “unique skill set” that sets him apart from other candidates.

“I’ve spent the last two decades in education,” he said. “My career is not in politics, it’s to serve.”

Biddle served as the executive director for Jumpstart for Young Children, is a former director of Community Outreach for KIPP DC and was elected to the board of education in 2007.

Vincent Orange says his lengthy list of accomplishments make him a better fit for the spot.

“Biddle is just getting started,” he said.

With a two-term stint in the council as the representative for Ward 5, and his help with the reopening of McKinley Tech High School among other accomplishments, Orange said, he is the more qualified candidate. “We need the proof and experience in a candidate,” he said.

As the mayor submitted his budget proposal last week with proposed tax hikes, both candidates agree that balancing the budget would be priority if elected. Biddle places more emphasis on education while ensuring job security for residents, whereas Orange is more focused on fixing the budget deficit along with the creation of jobs.

“We want to improve schools in every neighborhood,” Biddle said. “I’m someone who supports ongoing education reform…. We should protect our investment in education.”

“My main goal is to balance the budget and create jobs,” Orange said and later added in reference to the proposed budget, “We have marketing initiatives that can generate revenue.”

Other candidates in the race include: Bryan Weaver, Patrick Mara, Alan Page, Josh Lopez, Tom Brown, Dorothy Douglas and Arkan Haile.

 

Erica Butler

AFRO Staff Writer