D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells launched an exploratory campaign for mayor a little more than a month ago.
Yesterday, that fledging effort was dealt a body blow.
The D.C. Board of Elections rejected an activist-led ballot initiative that sought to ban corporations from donating directly to campaigns in the District. Organizers failed to collect the required number of signatures.
Wells is closely associated with the effort, dubbed D.C. Public Trust. He was the only Council member to appear at its unveiling and his top aide was instrumental to the signature-gathering effort. Wells has also advocated for and defended the initiative in media appearances.
A victory for the initiative would have been a major boost for Wells. It would have demonstrated that his supporters are numerous, organized and effective; a message that would not be lost on the media and could have had the potential to attract broader support.
Also, Wells is not known for fundraising prowess. A ban on corporate money would have impacted the war chests of potential opponents much more so than his own.
Organizers needed to collect 23,298 signatures from registered voters in order to put the initiative on the November ballot. They came up 1,726 shy of the qualifying threshold.
Gathering signatures is laborious drudgery, but it is not rocket science. It is a matter of planning, recruiting and repetition.
Successful petition drives require determined foot soldiers. Candidates for citywide office need foot soldiers, too. And if you do not have an army, you need money. Wells appears to have neither.
He also lacks name recognition. A recent Washington Post poll found 27 percent of District residents with a favorable view of Wells. Another 10 percent view him unfavorably.
Given that Wells represents one of the District’s eight wards, it is fair to assume that most of the people who recognize his name also reside in his ward. In other words, he is a virtual unknown in other parts of the city.
Being the top politician associated with a failed initiative is not the way to build a positive citywide reputation. It also raises legitimate questions about leadership skills and viability.
Plenty of legislators look in he mirror and see a future president, governor or mayor. Many put a toe into the pond. Some end up drowning.
Wells might want to consider a safe retreat to the beach.
Chuck Thies is a political analyst and consultant. His columns appear every Tuesday and Thursday on First Read DMV. He co-hosts "DC Politics" on WPFW, 89.3 FM. Since 1991, Chuck has lived in either D.C., Maryland or Virginia. Email your tips and complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at @chuckthies.