Sherwood's Notebook: Behind the Push to Move the Date of D.C.'s Mayoral Election

The next mayoral and D.C. Council primary had been set for Tuesday, April 1, 2014: April Fools’ Day.

It didn't take long for the snickering to start.

Bryan Weaver, an announced council candidate for Ward 1, laughed when we asked him about the date. “Hey, this April Fools’ thing could play to my advantage,” he said, thinking of ways he might lampoon opponents.

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But more seriously, your Notebook was hearing derisive comments from outside of our city about our entire city, not the candidates. Why would we give D.C. haters anything more to wield against us?

An early primary in April also would force candidates to start collecting ballot petition signatures around Thanksgiving, turn them in before a January deadline and then campaign through the winter.

“You can’t even stick your yard signs in the frozen ground,” another candidate groused.

Anyone who was to win in the April primary would not face the general election until seven months later, on Nov. 4. Then, victory in hand, the successful candidate would have to wait two more months before being sworn in on inaugural day, Jan. 2, 2015. That’s a total of nine months after the candidate was nominated and elected.

But now it seems next year’s mayoral and council elections might not be starting on the Fools’ foot after all. On Tuesday, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Ward 5 member Kenyan McDuffie introduced legislation pushing the April 1 primary back to a week in June.

It’s unclear how many votes McDuffie and Mendelson can get, but there are problems with moving the goal posts in the midst of an election season already underway.

One council veteran noted that it will be difficult to get legislation formally passed through the council before early fall. He said the legislation would require a hearing and two separate votes. The summer recess could interfere with the second vote. And then there’s the waiting period as the legislation passes through Congress on Capitol Hill.

Tom Lindenfeld, the chief campaign consultant for Muriel Bowser’s announced campaign for mayor, said he didn’t think the campaign extension to June would materially affect the Ward 4 council member’s mayoral campaign -- or that of any other candidate who gets into the race.

But he warned that changing the rules is dicey. “In order to protect our democracy, it’s a bad practice,” he told the Notebook.

Lindenfeld is a veteran of citywide campaigns. He said he thought the council races, which normally are less organized and planned, might be affected by the longer playing field.
“If you’re going to make a change in campaign finance [or] timing of an election,” he said, “do it for future elections.”

Jack Evans, the Ward 2 council member who also is preparing to get into the mayor’s race, said he would support a date change. “I’m open to moving it to June if it is not too late to do so,” he told us.
It’s unclear exactly how a change to June would affect Mayor Vincent Gray, if he runs for re-election, or Council member David Catania, an at-large independent. Catania is considering a run for mayor in the November general election.

Why April 1? The Notebook consulted with Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, who chaired the committee that passed legislation adjusting the D.C. election calendar in the first place.

The primary date had to change from September after new federal law required that D.C. give more time to vote absentee by military personnel serving overseas. That pushed the primary in late summer, a busy vacation time. So the April date was selected.

But Cheh says there was no intention to single out April Fools’ Day. She said elections normally are held “the first Tuesday after the first Monday.” But she said the drafted legislation that passed read simply “the first Tuesday” in April. This year, that’s April Fools’ Day.

Cheh, who also is up for re-election next year, said she was inclined to support moving the primary from April to June.


■ Anita Bonds wins. Veteran political operative Anita Bonds won last week’s special election for an at-large seat with just 32 percent of the vote.

First-time candidate Elissa Silverman scored a strong second place with about 28 percent of the vote. Many see Silverman’s narrow loss as a clear sign of future political possibilities for her.
While Silverman scored far better than some expected, the biggest defeat came for Patrick Mara, who was making his third bid for a council seat.

The Republican Mara and his campaign were supremely confident that they had identified approximately 17,000 certain voters who would carry him to victory. He might have won if just the city’s Republican voters actually turned out. But Mara polled a weak third with 23 percent of the vote. The actual vote totals dropped precipitously in many precincts.

■ The old red and gray. As the week was beginning, NBC4 reported that the D.C. Taxi Commission is proposing this week that all of the city’s 7,500 cabs be painted red with a gray streak on them. These are the same colors you see on the Circulator buses.

There’ll be a hearing on the plan in late May. If all goes well, the commission will mandate the change. All new taxicabs will have to comply with the color scheme, and older cabs will get the new colors if they’re repainted for any reason. The hope is to get most of the cabs using the same colors by 2018.

Ron Linton, the taxi chair, says the color scheme is just one part of fostering a “a modernized, comfortable system of transportation that offers a quality ride,” he said.

And here’s one other bit of taxicab news. Linton says all cabs in the city should be equipped to take credit cards by the end of June.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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