Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lots of Talk, Few Surprises at Council Candidate's Forum

Those who attended this evening's DC Council candidate's forum in Dupont were treated to some candid discussions from eight candidates, but little in the way of differentiation between them.

(Apologies for the poltergeist appearing next to Alan Page--blame the lighting, not the old church.)

The candidates in attendance were all vying for the open at-large seat on the City Council left vacant by Kwame Brown when he assumed the Council chairmanship. At-large special elections tend to present very low voter turnout, meaning that darkhorse candidates, or candidates with particularly diligent supporters, have a much better chance of winning than they might otherwise in a general election.

The event, which was moderated by Tom Hay of Borderstan, took a bit of time to get going, as several of the candidates were late in arriving (both Tom Brown and Vincent Orange arrived nearly 45 minutes into the event, excuses in tow). And while the forum did witness a few standout moments, for the most part the candidates spent time hashing over the key issues (education, small businesses) and struggling to differentiate themselves from each other.

Some, notably Republican candidate Patrick Mara and Statehood Green candidate Alan Page, attempted to portray themselves as outsiders to the DC political establishment and capable of addressing issues in ways the other candidates could not. Former two-term councilmember Vincent Orange played up his previous tenure on the Council, and his strong showing for Council Chairman in the recent general elections. Sekou Biddle has the advantage of being the "incumbent" in this race, since he was selected by the DC Democratic Party to temporarily fill the vacant seat, but it's clear that his name does not resonate as strongly as Orange's.

Below are some of the highlights from this evening's forum:

Most Successful in Differentiating Oneself From Other Candidates

Patrick Mara reminded the crowd approximately 257 times that he is a Republican running in a town where Democrats essentially enjoy one-party rule. Stating that he was a socially progressive, fiscally responsible Republican, Mara stated that he wouldn't be beholden to special interests if elected to office. "What would they do, threaten to not endorse me?" he asked rhetorically. "Because they aren't endorsing me now."

Alan Page took a similar tact in playing up the fact that as a member of the Statehood Greens, he too wouldn't have to play the Party game.

Line of the Night

This one came from Vincent Orange, who took a jab at Kwame Brown while summarizing his qualifications for the seat: "50,000 people in the last election thought I should have been the Council Chairman. Turns out they were right." (Ouch.)

Runner-up goes to Patrick Mara: "The District looks at businesses as piggy banks."

Most in Need of a Speechwriter

By all rights, Dorothy Douglas seems like a lovely woman, but her answers were difficult to follow and lacking coherency. I had a difficult time determining her platform, other than that she wants to serve DC residents.

Most Contentious Issue

Everyone seemed to agree that Crime Is A Problem, Small Businesses Need to Be Helped, and the Deficit Must Be Addressed Fairly. One of the few items to draw sharp distinctions among the candidates was the issue of school vouchers, particularly when they are applied to private or parochial school that violate the city's anti-discrimination laws. Bryan Weaver, Joshua Lopez and Page are opposed to them, while Biddle, Douglas and Mara support them. (Brown and Orange had not yet arrived when this issue was raised.)

Alan Page also wins for having the most honest answer to a question, when addressing the issue of school vouchers. After listing several reasons why he opposes them, he paused and said "I just hate this program." Can't get much clearer than that.

Overall Impressions

While the differences between the candidates may not be great, this is a field with several competent canditates who could fill the role very well--which is a nice problem to have. Of all of them, my personal feelings were that Weaver, Biddle, Mara and Orange were the strongest candidates. Weaver's focus on corruption and accountability rings true in light of the current Council and mayoral scandals, while Orange's reminders of his past experience lend credibility and security to his campaign--even if those factors work against him as well. Biddle came off as a knowledgeable and polished candidate who has the support of the DC Democratic Party--another helps him/hurts him attribute--while Mara made a convincing case for being a legitimate outsider who would be free to pursue his own agenda (it's no coincidence that he conjured up David Catania's name during his remarks).

Tom Hay mentioned that all Ward 2 polling stations would be open for the election (as opposed to the idea of opening a mere handful, as had been bandied about earlier), so please make sure you vote in the April 26 election.


Anonymous said...

I like Weaver. Passionate and not a career politician. I think we need more of that here in DC. I also like Josh Lopez too for that reason.

Anonymous said...

I want someone down at the Wilson building who understands an operating budget and economic development. Vincent Orange is the most knowledgeable and educated of the bunch with a good track record.

Anonymous said...

Page is the one for me.

Weaver is also strong.

I think that if people take a bit of time to check out our respective websites, they'll see who has the widest range of policy proposals that can positively impact our city. Every candidate is not on same footing, policy-wise.

Orange and Mara are the most conservative. Lopez and Brown are moderate. Weaver and Page are left.

Douglas is hard for me to classify, I need to hear more policy from her.

Haile hasn't been to any of the campaign forums I have attended.

I think a better way to distinguish the candidates is to review our candidate questionnaires.

Alan Page said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Page said...

I find the process of candidates leaving anonymous comments on blogs pretty humorous, so I decided to give it a run and failed miserably. Shout out to the five people on Earth who couldn't figure out that was me. LMAO.

Seriously though, you can distinguish us better if you check out the questionnaires.

ps: last comment deleted due to horrible grammatical error. ha.

Anonymous said...

Tom Brown comes accross as the most genuine leader of the group. I would much prefer a candidate with strong integrity and a long track record of community activism. Say what you want, but Tom Brown sttood out most to me.