D.C.'s Elections Get Even Crazier

Brown could give up seat -- to run for another one

By P.J. Orvetti
|  Thursday, Dec 23, 2010  |  Updated 8:45 AM EDT
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D.C.'s Elections Get Even Crazier

D.C. Councilman Michael A. Brown

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An At-Large D.C. Council member is considering running in a special election for a vacant At-Large D.C. Council seat, which would create the need for still another special election for a vacant At-Large D.C. Council seat -- at a cost to taxpayers of about a half-million dollars.

Welcome to the absurdity of District of Columbia election law.

Michael Brown, son of the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, ran for mayor as a Democrat in 2006. He’s about as Democratic as one can get. But in 2008, he was elected to the D.C. Council… as an independent.

The law requires at least two seats on the Council to be held by individuals who are not members of the Council’s majority party -- which in practice always means two non-Democrats. This used to mean genuine non-Democrats, like Republican Carol Schwartz and Statehood Green Hilda Mason, had a seat. One of the seats is currently held by a genuine independent, David Catania -- he was first elected as a Republican, a tough feat in D.C., before leaving the GOP over the gay rights issue.

But in 2008, Brown decided he really wanted a Council seat, so he dropped his party label and ran as an independent, trouncing the actual non-Democrats in the race. Everyone knew Brown was really still a Democrat, and Brown -- who continues to have mayoral aspirations, despite an insubstantial record on the Council -- has been looking for a way to stick that “D” next to his name ever since.

Current At-Large member Kwame Brown, a Democrat, is resigning to become Chair, which means a Democrat is eligible to take the seat in the Apr. 26 special election. So Michael Brown may run for one At-Large Council seat as a Democrat while holding another as an independent -- which would either force the city to hold another special election, or require the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to give Brown permission to hold onto his current seat if he loses the election for the other one.

If that’s not crazy enough, Kwame Brown’s seat will be temporarily filled by a vote of members of the local Democratic Party’s governing committee, with actual voters getting no say. The 81 members of the D.C. Democratic State Committee are empowered by law to directly elect a government official, who will hold a full voting Council seat for about four months. (They will make their choice in early January, with Sekou Biddle and Vincent Orange the frontrunners in a field of eight.)

There’s an easy solution for all of this: Get political parties out of the official rules of D.C. elections and governance. Let voters choose whomever they like for Council, even if that means 13 Democrats, and take away the Democratic Party’s power to directly elect officials in special situations.

Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC

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