A somewhat overlooked race for D.C. Council At-Large offers one of the starkest candidate contrasts on this September’s primary ballot.
Incumbent Phil Mendelson, seeking a fourth term, is a decent and amiable fellow. He stands for the things his constituents want him to stand for, and votes the way they want him to vote. But he is a nearly invisible presence in the District, and has left few footprints.
Taking on Silent Phil is Clark Ray, an Arkansas native and veteran of the Bill Clinton and Al Gore presidential campaigns. He turned an acquaintance with Anthony Williams into a stint as neighborhood services director when Williams was mayor.
That job put Ray in close touch with neighborhood activists and community leaders across the District, and gave him a quick but thorough education about his adopted city. He headed the District Parks and Recreation Department early in Mayor Adrian Fenty’s term. While his performance was generally praised, Fenty pushed Ray out of the job.
Ray told Colbert King of the Washington Post that while Fenty has never explained the firing, he thinks it might have been because Fenty wanted to put childcare responsibilities under DPR, which Ray opposed. After a brief stint with the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, Ray left the Fenty Administration altogether.
He is now putting his neighborhood knowledge to use in a grassroots campaign against Mendelson. If dogs could vote, Ray would be a lock -- he was behind D.C.’s first official dog park, which, oddly enough, helped Ray win the endorsement of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, whose sister was a major advocate of the project.
As he knocks on doors, Ray carries a photo of the 12-year incumbent, and asks residents if they “have ever seen this man in the neighborhood.” Ray says many do not recognize Mendelson -- they know the name, but not the face.
Mendelson replies that he has been busy doing the job he has been given -- and to which he was re-elected by a wide margin four years ago.
“Re-elections are about records, and I am proud of my record,” Mendelson told the Post last fall. “In 2006, I carried every ward of the city. You don't do that by being a stranger.”