Sherwood's Notebook: Bullets and Ballots in 2012

Tom Sherwood’s Notebook: 01/04/12

If the D.C. homicide rate continues to go down each year, do you think the woefully named Washington Wizards might change their name back to the Washington Bullets?

We were never offended by the name “Bullets,” and we have never warmed up to “Wizards.” But late team owner Abe Pollin didn’t like the association of “Bullets” in a city that some called the murder capital of the nation.

New crime statistics show the ugly moniker is a thing of the past.

In all of 2011, there were 108 murders in the District. (There was one on New Year’s Eve, but it’s counted officially as the first homicide of 2012.)

That 2011 total is the lowest number in almost half a century. In 2010, there were 131 homicides.

Both years are a far cry from the murder rate that was in the low- to mid-400s in the early 1990s.

“While a single murder is one too many, this figure shows our city is on the right track,” Mayor Vincent Gray said in a prepared statement. “The days when the District was known as the nation’s ‘Murder Capital’ are long behind us ….”

Gray also said he hopes a realignment of the city’s police service areas will make for even more effective use of police resources. There are now 56 patrol areas within the city’s seven police districts.

It’s not clear how much credit you can give to police and the policies of politicians -- but we all know they certainly get the blame if crime goes up.

Last May, The New York Times reported that violent crime in the United States was at a 40-year low even though experts normally expect increases in crime during tough recessions.

The newspaper said that, last spring, the odds of being murdered in the United States were about half of what they were in the early 1990s.

“Remarkable,” Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox told The Times.

“Striking,” echoed Carnegie Mellon criminologist Alfred Blumstein.

Whatever the cause, whatever the effect, let’s hope 2012 returns equally encouraging numbers.

• Solving murders?

While the number of murders has gone down, the case closure rate has gone up. Police officials say the closure rate for homicides in 2010 was 79 percent. Last year, that figure rose to 94 percent.

• A ballot deadline.

Today is the deadline for candidates trying to get on the April 3 primary ballot. Petition forms have been available since Nov. 14.

The challenge period for any petitions expires Jan. 17. By then, we should have a clear picture of the candidates.

Over the weekend, we were asked what would happen in case of a sudden vacancy on the D.C. Council (say, for example, in Ward 5). Election veterans say that if a vacancy occurs soon, the D.C. Board of Elections could schedule a special election to coincide with the April 3 primary.

And a group that hopes to recall Ward 5’s Harry Thomas Jr., Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chairman Kwame Brown says it will be filing soon to start the recall process.

Any person or group that files for a recall election has six months to get the required number of signatures, and then the election would be scheduled. In a citywide race, it’s 10 percent of the voters, or about 45,000 names. Any recall election would likely not be held until November.

Collecting that many signatures is a tough order. But it could all be short-circuited if U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen takes action to remove any elected officials. Then the recall would be moot, and we could move on directly to elections.

• The ballot quirk.

Independents who want to run in city elections this fall have a longer window to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot.

Blank nominating petitions will become available on June 15, and the deadline to submit them is Aug. 8.

The dates are important this year because for the first time, the schedule allows a candidate who loses in the April 3 primary to run as an independent.

In the past, the deadline to file as an independent conflicted with the party primaries that were held in September. You had to choose whether to run in the primary or the general election.

But now, with the earlier primary, a candidate could have two bites at the ballot apple. The primary was moved up from September to April in part to satisfy a federal law requiring municipalities to give armed forces personnel serving overseas more time to obtain ballots and vote in elections back home.

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