The District's Rookie Reformer Seeks Re-election

D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie is set to announce his 2014 re-election bid. Within the next few days he will unveil a campaign and do so with little fanfare.

Pomp and circumstance is not McDuffie's style.

The rookie Councilmember arrived to the job in tumultuous times. In May 2012, he won a special election to fill the Ward 5 seat vacated by convicted felon Harry Thomas, Jr.

McDuffie ran in a crowded field of candidates and won by a landslide.

He has wasted no time in establishing himself on the Council, albeit quietly. After a series of reorganizations, McDuffie landed the chairmanship of the Committee on Government Operations.

McDuffie is using that perch to reform campaigns and address "pay to play" politics in the District. Getting the Council out of the business of approving and disapproving government contracts is one of the key measures McDuffie supports.

McDuffie told me that he wants to "eliminate the motivation for giving money to Council members from people who get city contracts."

That is his polite way of saying that some contractors -- and he made a point to say "not all," -- seek to buy influence with campaign contributions.

McDuffie is right.

Unfortunately, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson used his weight to strip the contracting reform measure from a package of proposed laws making its way through McDuffie's committee.

Mendelson told the Washington Post, "Eliminating council approval of contracts will not eliminate opportunities for pay to play. The focus has to be on contractor contributions if we want to affect pay to play."


While he may be progressive on many issues, Mendelson has not been forward leaning on ethics reform measures. He is an old hand with over two decades of City Hall experience, first as a staffer and for the past 15 years as an elected official soon to seek a fifth term.

Even if it is a positive step in the direction of reform, contracting authority is not something Mendelson is going to relinquish. That is way too much political (and financial) power to give away.

But back to McDuffie, the rookie reformer.

You might expect a greenhorn to be challenged at the ballot box. McDuffie has only been on the job for a year and a half. First-term elected officials seeking re-election often face stiff competition.

Not McDuffie.

No one has stepped up to challenge him.

McDuffie has galvanized his base and earned support from most of the old guard players who opposed his election.

In addition to ably tending to his City Hall duties, McDuffie is steeped in neighborhood issues. His evening and weekend schedule is packed with community meetings.

Perhaps most significantly, McDuffie is adept at addressing the concerns of long-time residents in a ward that is seeing an influx of new folks. At the same time, he is well received by his newest constituents.

Would-be opponents have no room in which to operate or outflank McDuffie. There is no doubt in my mind that he will breeze to re-election.

In fact, the next time you hear these words -- maybe 2018? -- remember that you heard them here first:

Mayor McDuffie.

Chuck Thies is a political, communications and advocacy consultant. From 1998 to 2010 his professional portfolio included District of Columbia politics. Chuck has worked on national projects and internationally in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, China and Mexico. If you are daring, follow him on twitter: @ChuckThies.

Contact Us