Special Election Raises Concerns About Racial Balance in D.C. Politics

Former D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown’s surprising decision to drop out of the special election for an at-large D.C. Council seat raised some concerns about racial balance in D.C. politics.

The city's population is changing, and race is a factor in elections.

Brown ran and lost the election for mayor in 2006. He won an at-large seat on the D.C. Council, but he was defeated last November in an upset by newcomer David Grosso.

Brown trailed in fundraising and endorsements when he suddenly withdrew from the April 23 special election late Tuesday, citing "personal and family matters."

That leaves veteran political adviser Anita Bonds and minor candidate Perry Redd of the Statehood Green party as the only African-Americans in the now six-person field. If they lose, the city's African-Americans would hold only five of 13 council seats in a city that’s black population has dropped from 70 percent to 50 percent in recent decades.

Mayor Vincent Gray said he could work with anyone elected but acknowledged racial concerns would play a role in African-American votes.

“There's no doubt that people will talk about that,” he said. “The issue of race has been a subject in the city forever.”

Moderate Republican Pat Mara, a member of the city school board and one of the leading candidates for the at-large seat, said race shouldn't be a factor but could be.

Two African-American council members and Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans, a potential candidate for mayor, endorsed Bonds. Evans acknowledged race is an issue.

“One can say we’ve changed, we’re not that city anymore, but I think it is something that people are worried about and concerned about.”

Bonds, who was appointed to the seat temporarily until the election, said she's just looking for votes city wide.

Only about 50,000 of the city's 350,000 voters are expected to cast ballots in the election.

The other candidates are activist Elissa Silverman and Democrats Matthew Frumin and Paul Zukerberg.

Early voting begins Monday.

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