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Sherwood's Notebook: Special Election Limps and Looms

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Tuesday's special election for an at-large D.C. Council seat is limping into view.

The six candidates are exhausted from the myriad forums they feel they must attend.

Even the Board of Elections had to spend thousands of dollars to send out clarifying postcards on when polling places would be open.

And fear not, other elections are looming, some sooner than you may think. (More in just a moment.)

The stubbed toe of racial politics struck again this past weekend. Veteran Washington Post columnist Colby King acknowledged he had misstated Republican candidate Patrick Mara's worry over split votes, giving it a racial connotation that Mara had disavowed before the column ran.

King penned an apology online, and Mara's supporters await something more in the Post's print edition.

The candidates on Tuesday also include former journalist and current activist Elissa Silverman, the Statehood Green Party's Perry Redd, lawyer Paul Zukerberg and community leader Matthew Frumin. The sixth is Anita Bonds, chair of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, who temporarily holds the council seat by appointment.

Each is rallying voters to turn out Tuesday.

Racial concerns, always at least a subtext in politics here and elsewhere, were jolted when the Bonds campaign bluntly acknowledged she intended to maximize African-American turnout as her path to winning. Bonds is a veteran of city politics and campaigns, across racial and ethnic lines, but she never has been an out-front candidate like this. It's been a dizzying experience.

If you already haven't voted early, put Tuesday's Election Day on your calendar. These special elections often are decided by narrow margins. Use your voice and ballot.

Voters are deciding which candidate will complete the at-large term of now-Chairman Phil Mendelson. The winner (there's no runoff) will have to begin immediately preparing for next year's April 2014 primaries for a full term.

And some of the candidates -- if unsuccessful Tuesday -- appear ready to run again in ward-level contests during next year's regular elections.

D.C. officials have moved up the District's customary September primary in part to accommodate federal requirements that overseas voters be given more time to cast ballots for the general election in November. City leaders didn't want a mid-summer primary, so April was chosen. (It's a coincidence that this year's special election is also taking place in April.)

Steel yourself. Next year's election is on April 1, April Fool's Day. Let the derisive comments begin.

If it seems like we are having perpetual campaigns, we are.

The resignations of disgraced Ward 5 member Harry Thomas and Chairman Kwame Brown prompted special elections. And now we're replacing Mendelson upon his move to chairman.

The federal probe into Mayor Vincent Gray still holds the potential of a special mayoral election later this year, should Gray -- who denies personal wrongdoing -- step down. If any legal action against Gray were to come late this year, a replacement election could be melded into next April's primaries.

The drip-drip-drip unfolding of the Gray saga continued this week. The Post reported that minor mayoral candidate Leo Alexander (not to be confused with minor candidate Sulaimon Brown that year) now says he met privately with Gray in 2010 at a suburban home, where Gray urged Alexander to get out of the race.

The main significance appears to be that Gray encouraged Alexander to speak with Jeannie Clark Harris, a Gray operative who has since pleaded guilty to helping conduct the"shadow campaign" that helped elect Gray.

Alexander was never a factor in the polls, so it is unclear what benefit would have gone Gray's way. But there is a lot about the 2010 Gray campaign that, for now, only U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen knows.

■ Who cares? Some might be expressing that sentiment about the council election, but we are referring to Donald Trump. The brash developer breezed into town last week to promote himself and his hotel plan for the Old Post Office Building at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

He -- along with Ivanka Trump, his daughter and development partner -- talked and answered questions for more than hour at a Washington Post forum.

Donald Trump was superlatives on steroids. Everything that he said he's involved with was described as the best, the greatest, the smartest, the most important, yada yada yada. Both Trumps disparaged all other luxury hotels in the Washington area. Ivanka said they would be building maybe the best hotel on the world. The world!

The Washington Business Journal ran an online poll asking about Trump's notion that the region lacks world-class hotels. Of the 544 respondents when we last looked, 22 percent said Trump "nailed it," another 25 percent said he was wrong, and 53 percent checked off "Who cares what Trump thinks?"

■ The view. The Trumps also promised that not only would the building's observation tower remain open to the public, but they also would create a better ceremonial entrance to heighten the experience and improve the glass-enclosed elevator now used.

The Trumps aren't being magnanimous. The National Park Service operates the observation tower and will continue to do so, not because the Trumps liked the idea but because the General Services Administration made it part of the deal.

The agency has gotten a lot of bad publicity over staff trips to Las Vegas, but it has done a huge favor to millions of tourists (including me) who enjoy the 270-foot-high views. That's especially important because the Washington Monument is closed indefinitely.

If you have never been up in the Post Office tower, go soon before it is closed for renovations.

■ To summarize. In this column we've told you to pay attention to the final days of the council campaign, to vote, to visit the Old Post Office tower and not to pay too much attention to Trump.

Next week, we won't be so bossy.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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