The big news in the At-Large D.C. Council special election this weekend came in the form of an assessment by Freeman Klopott in the Washington Examiner, boldly stating that “Mayor Vince Gray’s endorsement of Sekou Biddle in the race to permanently fill an at-large D.C. Council seat has effectively narrowed the field to two main candidates,” with Patrick Mara, the only Republican in the crowded field the other.
The assertion sparked a heated online debate between Klopott and other local political writers and activists, with Washington City Paper’s Jason Cherkis the most critical. They said Klopott is rushing to call an election that is still three months away, and that at last count has at least 15 contenders.
Of course, not all of them will be real players by April, and Biddle and Mara are certainly among the frontrunners. But ex-Councilmember Vincent Orange has name recognition, progressive favorite Bryan Weaver has grassroots enthusiasm, and former Adrian Fenty campaign aide Joshua Lopez is running an energetic effort. Ward 1’s Stanley Mayes showed unexpected strength in the balloting for the interim seat, and Ward 8’s Jacque Patterson has a solid base. So this thing is far from over.
D.C. for Democracy, the D.C. Environmental Network, and Greater Greater Washington are hosting a two-hour candidates forum on Wednesday evening. And in an editorial, the Washington Post says the District should not change the rules on where voting will take place so close to the election.
Elsewhere in the DMV:
* Washington Business Journal reports “Gray’s budget team has revised the District’s projected revenue gap for fiscal 2012 to about $600 million.” The last “formal, publicly released estimate of the 2012 shortfall was $450 million. It actually grew to $545 million after the D.C. Council closed the fiscal 2011 gap, sources say, in part because several of the one-time fixes used to balance the budget will not carry over to the next fiscal year.”
* City Paper’s Alan Suderman says Gray told him “that he doesn’t know the whole story” of Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr.’s Team Thomas nonprofit “and it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to comment.” But, Suderman writes, “these are Gray’s issues now. Gray’s new attorney general inherited an investigation into Team Thomas, and Gray’s position at the top of municipal food chain makes him by default the government’s moral authority. There’s also the fact that Gray ran on a platform of an open and transparent government, and it’s become increasingly clear that Team Thomas is neither open or transparent.”
* In her Examiner column, Jonetta Rose Barras asks, “Has a rubber stamp factory opened in the D.C. Council quarters in city hall? That’s the question some folks are asking after observing several actions by the legislature last week.” She says Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry acted “like a guard, protecting Mayor Vincent Gray’s prerogatives,” during a hearing on HIV/AIDS policy last week, just days after the Council “confirmed through emergency legislation -- without benefit of any public discussion -- Gray’s nomination of Thomas Downs” to the Metro board.
* DCist writes that Gray’s pick to head the D.C. GLBT Affairs office, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club President Jeffrey Richardson, has clashed with Barry in the past: “In his role as Stein Club president, Richardson called out Barry after he appeared at a rally with same-sex marriage opponent Bishop Harry Jackson in 2009.” At the time, Richardson said the Stein Club had “a long history of support for Councilmember Barry going back to his first mayoral campaign, ‘but that ended today.’”
* The Georgetown Dish is not impressed with interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s handling of “previously high-performing Hardy Middle School,” which “has been in turmoil over changes imposed on the school, students and parents.” In an editorial, the Dish says so far, “Henderson’s actions are highly reminiscent” of Michelle Rhee’s “communication gaffes with their heavy toll on credibility and public support.”
* As widely expected, George Allen will try to reclaim his U.S. Senate seat from Sen. Jim Webb in 2012. But will Webb take up the challenge? There has been a lot of speculation that Webb, who does not enjoy politicking, may retire after one term -- especially since 2012 is shaping up as a Republican year in Virginia.
Common Sense blogger Brian Schoeneman reports the intriguing rumor, which he has heard “from multiple people over the last two weeks,” that Webb could be named defense secretary when Robert Gates retires this year. “If that happens,” Schoeneman writes, “the 2012 Senate race in Virginia is going to explode.”
* The Baltimore Sun reports that “the sentiment that ran through the State House” in Annapolis on Friday was that Gov. Martin O’Malley's budget proposal “could have been much, much worse. … As promised, the plan would not raise taxes. Rather, it seeks to spread spending reductions across a wide range of groups and interests -- but it doesn’t include any of the headline-grabbing cuts that states such as Illinois and California have sustained to keep government operating.” Senate President Mike Miller said, “I think most of the members will be on board. It’s a comprehensive solution to a huge problem.”
But the Examiner says the governor’s budget “relies on borrowing and shifting money to help close more than a quarter of Maryland’s $1.4 billion budget gap.” House of Delegates Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell said, “This place is devoid of fiscal discipline. Eventually there’s only so many pots of money to raid, and the stimulus money is gone.”
* The Baltimore Sun reports Republicans in the Maryland Senate “chose Sen. Nancy Jacobs as minority leader on Friday -- just weeks after voting her out of the minority whip position,” and making her the state’s first female Senate minority leader. (In fact, she is the only woman in the GOP caucus.) Sen. E.J. Pipkin was elected minority whip. Jacobs “said she would continue to fight against new taxes and to make the state more hospitable to private businesses.”
* The Post writes that in “a symbolic move meant to underscore the momentum behind the legislation,” the majority leaders in both the Maryland Senate and House “are acting as lead sponsors of bills this session allowing same-sex marriage.”
* The Examiner reports Prince George’s County Council Chairwoman Ingrid Turner is being sued “for $2.2 million over two unpaid loans taken out by her brother’s development company.” Turner was one of the signatories on the loans, according to the paper.
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC