City on a Hill: New candidates, new laughs

April 21, 2010

This year, the big show in Washington local politics will be the mayoral primary race between incumbent Adrian Fenty (D) and D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray (D). But even with Fenty’s obsession with working out and Gray’s resemblance to actor Vincent Price, the most entertaining competition may be the race to fill the chairman’s seat that Gray is vacating.

We absolutely need more entertainment in Washington politics. With rascal-for-life Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) hamstrung with restrictions imposed by Council colleagues after his latest scandal, hopeful citizens turned to mayoral frat buddy and city contracts grubber Sinclair Skinner for scofflaw silliness. But Skinner, under investigation for receiving contracts his firm seems unable to fulfill, has failed to be the comedy gold mine he could have been. The guy investigating him is named Trout, for goodness sake!

So we’ll have to turn to the race for Council Chair, and we won’t be disappointed. The race, between Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Councilmember Kwame Brown (D-At Large) has the potential to be the biggest, most entertaining spectacle this September.

Consider Brown, who has a penchant for dressing down and testing out city services. Like the prince who swims across the castle moat to see how his people live, Brown has been testing whether taxicabs will stop for him if he’s not wearing a suit and how hard it is to get help at a career service center.

Here’s a representative tweet on his adventuring: “Ok I’ve been in here for 25 minutes and have been sent to 3 different people.” Imagine the fun he’ll get up to, trying to go undercover as a candidate—perhaps running a false flag operation in an Evans for Chair shirt.

For his part, Evans’s race will be characterized by an inability to realize that running as a white guy in a majority minority town is hard. Evans certainly didn’t seem cognizant of this in his 1998 run for mayor against Anthony A. Williams, which he lost by 40 percentage points. Instead of focusing on issues important to voters across the city, Evans has palled around with developers since his last run for citywide office. Good for raising money, not so much for winning a citywide race.

The race between the undercover councilmember and the developers’ best friend could be further enlivened by the entrance of Phil Mendelson (D-At Large). But Mendelson, who looks like a handsome Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), is too sober and knowledgeable to run. No, for the entertainment of Washington’s politics watchers (and this columnist), this race belongs to Brown and Evans.

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