DMV Daily: Another Election Already?

April special election campaign under way

By P.J. Orvetti
|  Tuesday, Jan 11, 2011  |  Updated 6:45 AM EDT
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DMV Daily: Another Election Already?

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OAK PARK, IL - NOVEMBER 4: A voter casts her ballot at a polling station November 4, 2008 in Oak Park, Illinois. After nearly two years of presidential campaigning, U.S. citizens go to the polls today to vote in the election between Democratic presidential nominee U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Republican nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). (Photo by Michal Czerwonka/Getty Images)

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Last week’s D.C. Democratic State Committee vote that made Sekou Biddle an At-Large councilmember, and the April 26 special election that will determine if he keeps the job, continue to make news.

Though national Democratic rules say the vote was meant to be public, the head of the committee is refusing to reveal her choice. Anita Bonds tells the Washington Post that “an ‘open ballot’ doesn’t mean individual committee members should have to go public with their votes.” She said, “My vote is private.”

But Democrats were less shy about using a meeting meant to elect a government official to raise funds for the party. As DCist writes, “one of the most comical elements” of last Thursday’s vote “was how party officials collected donations -- with a glass bowl and paper bag.” Any contribution of less than $25 is legal through such a method. How does the party know if someone put in more than $25? It doesn’t. (The D.C. Republican Party says it does not collect donations in this way.)

Bonds says the party collected only about $200. Perhaps they should have passed the hat (or bag) around again to help finance the April vote. While most D.C. elections take place at 143 voting stations around the city, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics may open just 16 polling places -- two in each ward -- in April because of funding issues. A full-scale election would cost $829,000, while the trimmed-down plan would cost about $624,000. Right now, BOEE has just $590,000 budgeted for the election.

While the second option is cheaper, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who heads the committee on government and the environment, has scheduled a public roundtable for Jan. 19 to discuss the BOEE plans. Cheh is concerned about the effect of limiting voting options.

It’s a reasonable concern. Turnout in special elections is already low, and limiting polling places would probably make it even lower. Republicans are salivating at the thought of electing one of their own in a low-turnout election -- then-Republican David Catania was elected to his At-Large Council seat in a special election -- though party favorite Carol Schwartz will not run, and new Ward 1 school board member Patrick Mara seems hesitant to run another campaign so soon after winning one.

But there could be an upside -- or an upset -- in low turnout. Though Biddle and former Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent Orange are the big names in the special election, a small voter pool could let a dark horse candidate surge.

Joshua Lopez, 26, an Adrian Fenty campaign coordinator best known for disrupting a Vincent Gray rally with a megaphone and later leading the “Write In Fenty” push, has already submitted more than 3,000 signatures and won the endorsement of former school board member Robert Childs, according to the Post. Ward 8’s Jacque Patterson, and possible candidate Bryan Weaver from Ward 1, also have strong followings. In a contest with more than a dozen candidates but just a couple thousand voters, who knows what will happen?

Elsewhere in the DMV:
* The Post reports U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan “said Monday that he hopes interim D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson stays in the position ‘for the long haul,’ endorsing her strongly” while Gray “deliberates on his permanent choice for a new schools leader.” Duncan told the Post, “I think Kaya’s the right leader, and I hope she sticks with it for the next 10 years.”

* “I believe in open government. Now get out.” That wasn’t exactly what Gray said at his first full Cabinet meeting Monday, but it was close. The Examiner’s Freeman Klopott reports Gray invited reporters to the meeting, “handed out a copy of his open government memo, and then kicked reporters out.”

* The District, Maryland, and Virginia transportation departments are working together on enacting proposed Metro governance reforms. Greater Greater Washington’s David Alpert says their plan “highlights a good set of proposals for immediate action, but cuts out Northern Virginia governments in a way that could hurt the region and Metro.” The Examiner says most of the proposed changes “would require passing matching legislation in each jurisdiction, a task that state officials acknowledge could take time.”

* Rep. Steny Hoyer, who went from majority leader to minority whip last week, has introduced a largely symbolic resolution that “would amend the House rules to allow Delegates and the Resident Commissioner to vote in the Committee of the Whole House,” his office announced. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and others were stripped of the vote by the new Republican House majority. Norton said, “We are cheered by the leadership of Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and the solid support the delegates received in the first recorded House vote of the new Congress, recognizing our rights to represent our citizens with a court-sanctioned vote on the House floor.”

* Gov. Martin O’Malley, whose star is on the rise and who is more and more frequently mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential or vice presidential prospect, will deliver the keynote address at the Virginia Democratic Party’s Jefferson Jackson Dinner next month. The Post says a Virginia Democratic official said the Maryland governor got the invitation “both because of his decisive reelection in a tough year for Democrats and his recent ascendancy to the chairmanship of the Democratic Governors Association.”

* The Baltimore Sun reports O’Malley and the Maryland legislature “will spend much of the 90-day session that begins Wednesday in Annapolis grappling with the $13 billion state operating budget -- and the $1.6 billion gap in it.” In one good bit of budget-cutting news, the Examiner reports “nearly 1,400 Maryland state employees offered to quit their jobs in exchange for a $15,000-plus severance package designed to save the state money,” according to O’Malley’s office.

* The Examiner reports Gov. Bob McDonnell “announced the creation of an independent bipartisan redistricting commission to guide the process that will take place later this year.” The commission, made up of “11 members drawn from the fields of business, government service, and academia,” will create redistricting recommendations for consideration by the legislature. McDonnell said, “As Virginia redraws its legislative districts later this year, the process should take place in a manner that is fair and open. Legislative districts should be drawn in a way that reflects commonsense geographic boundaries and communities of interests as required by law.”

In an editorial, the Post says, “Don’t hold your breath that the governor’s new commission -- which lacks its own staff, budget and basis in legislation -- will have much clout with the 140 lawmakers in Virginia’s General Assembly.” The Post urges reform-minded legislators to push legislation “that would achieve what the governor promised but did not deliver: real reform in the way Virginia votes.”

* Blue Virginia writes that Alexandria Councilman Rob Krupicka is the third Democrat to express interest in running to succeed Democratic state senator Patsy Ticer, who is expected to retire after 16 years in office. Del. Adam Ebbin and Arlington School Board member Libby Garvey are also expected to run for the nomination if Ticer does not.

Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC

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