Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 05/12/10

Those aren't the items on a color chart, they're the key colors in the citywide elections that are shaping up for the Sept. 14 Democratic primary.

We've spent a couple of columns dissecting the mayoral race between challenger Vincent Gray and Mayor Adrian Fenty. (It's too bad Fenty's name is not a color, although he exclusively uses green on his campaign materials.)

Weeks into the campaign, Gray is still organizing and hiring staff and, we presume, working on position papers that he promised at the outset. There's a lot of anti-Fenty anger out there -- though it's not clear whether it's enough to topple Fenty. That is Gray's case to make.

So we turn our attention this week to the new race for Gray's replacement as D.C. Council chairman. Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans was the first in the race -- and the first out when he decided he probably couldn't win. He also would have had to forfeit a pretty hefty paycheck from his law practice since a sitting chairman may not hold an outside job.

It looked for a while as though at-large Council member Kwame Brown was going to get a free ride into the chairman's office. But former Council member Vincent Orange came out of retirement this week to enter the race. And it could be a spirited campaign between Orange and Brown. Orange recently resigned from his job as a Pepco executive (Didn't Sharon Pratt do that, too?). He is also the recently elected Democratic National Committeeman for the city's ruling party.

It will be up to Orange to demonstrate he's still got the election chops to make a strong campaign. He did poorly in the 2006 race for mayor, capturing less than 3 percent in the Fenty wipeout that year. But Orange, who served two terms on the council from Ward 5, is generally a well-liked individual who understands political give-and-take. He performs well at public forums. As a Pepco executive the past few years and he has made in roads into community and business interests that could help him.

But the race will be no cakewalk for either candidate. Even Brown's critics will tell you that he's a determined public official and won't slack off in his campaign. But like Orange, he could be rusty on the campaign trail. In 2004, Brown got 55 percent of the vote in defeating troubled incumbent Harold Brazil. That year, Brown got 32,522 votes. Four years later, in 2008, Brown ran for re-election virtually unopposed but still got only 35,384 votes. That's not a lot of growth for someone who was essentially unopposed.


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Both Orange and Brown are considered "business-friendly." Brown chairs the council's Economic Development Committee. It will be interesting to see if business interests fund Brown's campaign over Orange's. Incumbents in powerful positions tend to do far better in this area.

If campaign finance reports begin to show that Orange is matching or coming close to Brown in fund raising, that could spell trouble. This may be one race in which the campaign trail will make the difference. Brown will have to demonstrate that he can lead the council and manage its disparate 13 members amid the blizzard of public policy issues that flow through the chamber. Orange will have to lay out clearly how he can do all that better than Brown.

There's one more detail voters might take into consideration: If Fenty wins re-election, then who sits in the council chairman's seat will be very important. If you think Fenty and Gray don't get along -- well, the rift between Fenty and Brown is even bigger. And Fenty's city administrator, Neil Albert, probably has even a worse relationship with Kwame Brown than does Fenty. (Albert at least has a cordial, approachable relationship with Gray.)

  • Listen carefully.

First lady Michelle Obama is set to give a high-profile commencement address Sunday on the National Mall. It's the ceremony for seniors graduating from George Washington University. Will the first lady mention D.C. voting rights?

"Once again, we probably are just going to be a backdrop, [with] probably not a word on voting rights," said voting rights advocate and WTOP commentator Mark Plotkin. We're still waiting to see whether the mayor or any local organizations will urge Mrs. Obama to mention voting rights when she addresses the graduating class of Anacostia High School on June 11.

  • Law school kudos.

We're not sure how many people still read the weekly news magazines. We don't. But it was so cool to see that U.S. News & World Report recently ranked the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law as 10th in the nation for clinical legal education. (That's out of 188 American Bar Association-accredited schools.)

A school press release said the law school had ranked 25th the prior year. University officials like to point out that their law school requires more clinical legal work (700 hours) than any other school.

The University of the District of Columbia also is the least expensive.

Bottom line? It's a tribute to Dean Shelley Broderick and the faculty, staff and students who every day honor the late D.C. Council chairman for whom the school is named.

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