Eight of the 15 or so candidates in the At-Large D.C. Council special election race -- Sekou Biddle, Joshua Lopez, Patrick Mara, Stanley Mayes, Vincent Orange, Alan Page, Jacque Patterson, and Bryan Weaver -- last night answered questions posed by the D.C. Environmental Network, D.C. for Democracy, and Greater Greater Washington during a forum at One Judiciary Square.
At least two other contenders, Dorothy Douglas and Arkan Haile, looked on from the crowd.
The event was respectful to the point of somnolence, with candidates offering one-minute answers to moderators’ questions and not engaging one another. The questioners were criticized for focusing on issues like statehood and smart growth, and very general and vague queries about the budget, rather than on immediate problems confronting the District. At one point, candidates were asked to describe D.C. from the vantage point of 2020, after they had served nine years on the Council.
But each of the candidates did get a chance to make an impression:
- Biddle, the appointed incumbent, came off as cool and confident. He had every reason to be, since Democratic activists around the room were wearing Biddle stickers. He left soon after the event. Elsewhere in the city, the D.C. Democratic State Committee was voting to contribute $1,000 to his campaign.
- Lopez, a former Adrian Fenty campaign aide, offered a strong defense of Fenty’s record. He seemed tripped up by an early question about how he would react as a councilmember if a citywide referendum on same-sex marriage came out against it, saying only that he would campaign to change people’s minds.
- Mara, the only Republican in the race, stuck to his moderate libertarian message, highlighting his advocacy for same-sex marriage while insisting that the District must cut spending. He talked up small businesses and said he would have voted against the budget passed by the Council in December.
- Mayes stressed that he is a native of the District, and said only those who have spent an entire lifetime in the city, from childhood on up, can really understand its issues. When candidates were asked to name the best mayor in D.C. history, Mayes said Marion Barry.
- Orange, a political veteran, often ran over his time limit with wordy answers. He erred on the amount of money raised by the plastic bag tax and on whether the Council diverted the proceeds away from Anacostia River cleanup. Orange also seemed confused about the IMPACT teacher assessment system, to the visible annoyance of former school board member Biddle.
- Page, a Statehood Green and political newcomer, seemed to be having a good time but also complained more than once about the difficulty of answering in just 60 seconds. Some in the crowd were unimpressed by his comparison of D.C.’s lack of congressional representation to the situation in Egypt.
- Patterson came off as unprepared. Early on, he said that he was unfamiliar with the concept of progressive tax rates. Later, when asked to name a recent Council vote with which he disagreed, he instead named one he agreed with. He frequently mentioned his military service.
- Weaver said the Council is controlled by business interests and the wealthy, and said the lack of transparency breeds corruption. He said politics is not about money or power but about making people’s lives better.
Elsewhere in the DMV:
* Weaver announced Thursday that Minyon Moore, who served as Director of White House Political Affairs for President Clinton during his second term, will chair his campaign. Moore said, “I am pleased to do what I can to help my friend Bryan Weaver. He cut his teeth working for progressive legends such as Paul Wellstone and Ron Brown. He has been a truly progressive leader in D.C.”
* The Washington Examiner’s Harry Jaffe writes, “D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown wants to get a couple things straight: he’s all about openness and transparency.” Though “Brown’s campaigns are under audit by the Office of Campaign Finance; two that should have been closed are still open, and his 2010 campaign is in hock for $14,000,” Brown told Jaffe, “There is no debt. This is normal when you close out a campaign.” However, Jaffe writes, “Brown’s council colleagues say they normally close out and reconcile campaigns within six months, not six years.”
* The Georgetown Dish reports Mayor Vincent Gray “was clearly in the honeymoon phase Tuesday night at the monthly meeting of the Palisades Citizens Association. At ease and enjoying himself, Gray joked about what’s it’s like to be mayor,” and reaffirmed “his strong support for Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh.”
* The Washington Times reports D.C.’s “top security chiefs are planning to expand their use of electronic surveillance by issuing tickets for more traffic offenses, integrating thousands of private and public cameras into a single feed and adding portable cameras that can be positioned to peek into any neighborhood.”
* The Examiner reports Gov. Martin O’Malley “lauded his investments in education, renewable energy and biotech startups as a path for the state to ‘win the future,’ in his State of the State address Thursday.” But as the Maryland Reporter writes, a “pledge to crack down on new septic systems was about the only real news” in the 28-minute speech.
The Washington Post said the address, the shortest of O’Malley’s five, lacked “any mention of several issues expected to generate intense debate during the 90-day session. O’Malley said nothing about a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, for example, nor did he acknowledge efforts to raise the state’s gas tax to fund transportation projects.”
The Baltimore Sun was not impressed, writing in an editorial, “A State of the State speech can either delve deeply into the issues the legislature is grappling with or seek to chart a new direction.” O’Malley “attempted both and accomplished neither, substituting mindless repetition of the word ‘jobs’ -- 29 times in the prepared text -- for anything resembling a cohesive vision.” The governor “didn’t even offer a hint as to what values he considers important enough to spend some political capital for.”
* O’Malley also took a hit from a neighbor to the north. In a possible preview of the 2016 presidential race (though probably not), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took a swing at O’Malley on Fox News. Earlier this week, O’Malley said on WTOP that his Trenton colleague “delights in being abusive towards public employees.” Talking with Fox’s Neil Cavuto, Christie responded, “I heard that pabulum Gov. O’Malley was spewing down in Maryland. He doesn’t know what he is talking about. Come to New Jersey and listen to what I am saying rather than listening to his Democratic consultants.”
* In an editorial, the Post says, “It’s hard to think of a locality more ripe for ethical reform than Prince George’s County.” The county’s “recent ethics record is so horrendous -- and the resulting failures of economic development have inflicted such long-term damage -- that radical surgery is required.”
* Virginia Republican Senate hopeful Jamie Radtke reported raising $100,165 in the last three weeks of 2010. So far, just Radtke and ex-senator George Allen are in the race.
* The Examiner reports the House of Delegates “cleared the way on Thursday for a final vote on Gov. Bob McDonnell’s plan to infuse the state’s transportation system with $4 billion over the next three years.” The 62-35 vote “clears the way for a final vote” today, which could be closer.
* The Examiner reports that the Virginia Senate “approved legislation that would rein in the power” of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli “to issue civil investigative demands, akin to subpoenas,” but the bill “is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House.”
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC