CITY COUNCIL PRIMARY RACES DESERVE ATTENTION
[from August 2006 issue]

PRIOR EDITORIALS ARCHIVED HERE


As readers of this newspaper know, we do not cover the news of all of DC; our primary focus is on those neighborhoods in Wards 1 and 2 that lie between Rock Creek and North Capitol Street and north of downtown. And, since the Ward 2 City Council seat is not up for grabs this year, only Ward 1 requires our main focus, although we will have something to say about the important at-large seat being contested as well as the Ward 3 race that calls for our comment also.

First off we should note that we are great believers in the view, shared we have discovered by many experienced political campaign consultants, that one way to judge the potential effectiveness of a candidate should he or she get elected is to watch how the campaigns are run, especially to observe if the candidates themselves and the people they bring on board to manage those campaigns have any smarts; after all, a successful candidate’s inner circle of policy and operations staff will most likely be drawn from the loyalists who helped get him or her elected.

With this in mind we always find it most telling if candidates’ campaigns don’t even bother to reach out to the newspapers that serve the very constituencies they hope will jump on their bandwagons. There can be only two possible explanations for the seeming lack of awareness of our existence: either those campaigns are being managed by total incompetents on behalf of a candidate who lacks awareness of the institutions in the community where they are campaigning or both campaign staff and the candidate are simply arrogant and are taking the voters for granted. Either way, it is a sad reflection on the lack of commitment to fully reach out and make certain that their positions on issues are fully revealed to as many voters as possible.

In Ward 1, for example, the incumbent, Jim Graham, has proven that even though he appears to be the favorite he does not take his constituents for granted. His continual outreach not only to the local press but to his constituents has been legendary; he understands the importance of communicating (and not just to make himself look good; he is truly committed to keeping his flock informed).

It has been the responsiveness by him and his dynamic staff to inquiries from us and his constituents and his pro-active nature to take hold to solve problems, not only with respect to the delivery of services, but also wrestling with difficult policy questions and working to craft sensible solutions and programs that have a chance for success, that has impressed us so greatly. And it is not just with his “down in the trenches” constituent services about which we hear many glowing reports that we admire. We have been enormously impressed with his performance on the Council itself, both through his trenchant questioning of witnesses and his overall contributions to the debates among the members.

Probably where he has contributed the most has been with his stewardship of the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The oversight by that committee over an executive department that impacts so directly on our daily lives has been stellar. In addition to seriously insisting on his committee vigorously carrying out its legislative oversight role over that department’s actual operations -- a critical role by the legislative branch -- the council member has earned our plaudits for a number of significant legislative achievements thanks to his leadership and persistence, particularly with matters affecting the rights of tenants and with crafting initiatives that give us optimism that the important goal of retaining as much as possible true economic and social diversity though affordable housing will ensure that Washington not evolve into an enclave only for the rich and famous to the exclusion of the rest of us.

If, by our comments above it isn’t already clear that we support Councilmember Graham for re-election, we so state now loud and clear.

The importance of the role of the four at-large members of the Council cannot be underestimated since they are supposed to represent all voters city-wide no matter where they reside in the city, like Phil Mendelson who comes out of Ward 3 and is in a tough battle with well-known political operative Scott Bolden, who hails from East of the Park. Bolden has been unrelenting in his attacks on Mendelson’s handling of his Judiciary Committee chairmanship, denouncing him for stretching out consideration of legislative proposals dealing with crime and police resources.

Yet, that bothers us less simply for the reason that when considering enactment of new laws that can impact so directly on Constitutional rights a legislature must be especially careful in crafting solutions that will not be later likely to be overturned causing the possibility of opening up all sorts of old cases that could lead to overturning convictions. Furthermore, simply rushing in to enact new laws to “do something” about crime does seem to lead to the kind of mish-mash we recently have achieved. (The only good thing about that new crime bill is the prospect that there will be increased actual street officers truly assigned to the streets.)

We concede that the council member is a very deliberative sort, yet from our direct experience with him from his council staff days and our observing him while serving at-large, we appreciate his very deliberative approach to complex issues. And, while we have not necessarily agreed with his positions or approaches on all issues, we believe he brings an important sense of balance to the Council’s debates and thus is truly a stabilizing influence. While some members want to just plunge right in and “do something” for the sake of doing, this council member understands the importance of stepping back and imposing some analysis and discipline before proceeding.

So, we urge Councilmember Mendelson’s re-election not only for these reasons but also because he has proven himself to be fair and equally caring of the concerns of all citizens across the city no matter where they live or their economic or social status. What a perfect quality for a legislator who must represent everyone! One thing we do urge, however, is that if he is re-elected he be assigned to chair the Committee on Government Operations; the mandate of that committee is such that he would make an absolutely ideal chairman to conduct the kind of oversight necessary when confronted with the highly technical aspects of overseeing the government’s management affairs.

Finally, a few comments about the Ward 3 race. Bill Rice is presumed to be the odds-on favorite; certainly he has received lots of good press, no doubt from having developed some close relationships with certain members of the press who have extolled his apparent (to them) responsiveness when he served as the DDOT spokesperson. Our experience, however, does run counter to what we have heard said by others. We have found that his attention span is short, frequently not even evident, that he has -- again, in our experience -- demonstrated a lack of follow-through or even a true get-up-and-go approach. He’s a nice guy, but we don’t think there’s a lot there.

One thing we will say about Bill Rice is that if he is elected his personality is not such that he would be a destabilizing force. We cannot say the same about the most vocal and in-your-face angry candidate, Jonathan Rees. He has so absolutely polarized everyone he has come into contact with, has become infamous for his over-the-top rants, his personal character attacks on individuals who disagree with him, and worse that we fear his presence on the Council could completely destroy any hope for continued collegiality which is essential if it is to function effectively.

But there is one candidate that we believe would be able to make a significant contribution not only to the work of the Council but also on behalf of his constituents. We refer to Eric Goulet, possibly not a household name, but a candidate who the voters should take a serious look at. First off, he has the kind of personality and genuine intellect that will contribute greatly to the work of the Council; he is not only collegial, but he is patient and communicates well and is a true breath of fresh creativity. But beyond that, he knows his stuff.

One of his major strengths is his impressive knowledge and understanding of the complexities of DC finance, and has served admirably as clerk of the Committee on Finance and Revenue. He would bring another crucial voice of fiscal rationality that continues to be so desperately needed. In addition, thanks to his years of service as legislative counsel for health and aging issues when serving as a member of former Councilmember Sandy Allen’s Committee on Health, he was immersed in a range of critical issues that require the attention of council members who truly understand the heath crisis affecting such a large portion of our citizens; he would bring to the table much needed insight and ideas. All we ask is that voters make an effort to learn more about him; they will be very impressed indeed.

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