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April 27, 2011

Election Lessons

Dear Electors:

I tried hard to make a narrative out of yesterday’s election and to learn a lesson from it. What does it mean, and what does it portend? Does it forecast an impending racial turnover in DC’s elections, with white candidates defeating blacks and taking over DC’s politics as soon as (as one web site commentator put it with triumphant, cold satisfaction) “the old blacks die off.” Does it signal, as the Republican Party contends, a “near miss” that Republicans can build on in the next city council elections, and a new openness of DC voters to the Republican Party? Does it show the old generation is losing its grasp on DC politics, and that the generation of twenty-somethings is taking over?

None of the above. It shows that a political platitude is true — that in a special election, in which there is a splintered field and low turnout, the candidate with the best organization and a dedicated core of supporters who will work hard is the candidate who will win. That’s what Vincent Orange had, and it’s no surprise that he won the election, although it was a surprise that three other candidates (Patrick Mara, Sekou Biddle, and Bryan Weaver — with Weaver’s strength particularly in Ward One) had enough support to get vote percentages in double digits.

Perhaps the best way to understand this special election is to compare it with the December 2, 1997, special election to fill an at-large council seat. In 1997, 7.5 percent of the voters turned out; this year, 9.48 percent voted. In 1997, there were only four candidates; this year nine candidates made it to the ballot. In 1997, the presumptive Democratic candidate was the person who had been appointed by the Democratic State Committee to fill the vacant seat temporarily, Arrington Dixon. He won 38 percent of the vote. This year, the presumptive Democratic candidate was the person who had been appointed by the Democratic State Committee to fill the vacant seat temporarily, Sekou Biddle. He won 20.46 percent of the vote. In 1997, the Republican candidate won more than double the percentage of voters who were registered as Republicans; David Catania got 43 percent of the vote, and won the election. This year, the Republican candidate won almost three times the percentage of voters who were registered as Republican; Patrick Mara got 25.68 percent of the vote, although only 8.71 percent of DC voters are registered as Republican. But Mara didn’t win. Orange did, with 28.27 percent of the vote.

So here are the lessons of this election. 1) The racial divide in politics in this city is exaggerated, and not as great as some voters fear and others hope. Inevitably, in every election, some blacks and some whites will say stupid, insulting things, and most voters will ignore them. 2) The Republicans will occasionally have a chance to win some elections when everything breaks their way and they have attractive candidates. A good portion of the press will be willing to ignore a Republican candidate’s faults, as they did with Mara this time around. 3) The twenty-something voters are well on their way to taking over District politics, and will do so inevitably — in twenty or thirty years, when they’re in their forties to sixties.


Paul Bakery ( is opening May 2 at 801 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, across from the Navy War Memorial. It is going to open a second branch in Georgetown soon,,, Paul began as a single bakery near Lille, and over the past few decades has spread like McDonalds or Starbucks in France and England. Its emphasis on quality control means that its bread, croissants, and macaroons are still, even in DC, “to die for,” as Dorothy said after she attended their ceremonial opening. Better yet, its experience at running a middle-class chain in France means it has kept its prices reasonably affordable; it’s not trying to enhance its reputation by charging the highest prices in town.


Speaking of affordable, lets start a movement to save DC’s soul food holes-in-the-wall by patronizing them. I’ll mention three leading exemplars; please add to the list if I don’t mention your favorite. The best known is Horace and Dickies (, a carryout at 809 12th Street, NE. There’s no need to explore the menu beyond the fried fish sandwiches, but there’s also no need to go anywhere else to get a fried fish sandwich. A second carryout is Sugar (, 1803 West Virginia Avenue, NE, which is hidden behind a gas station in a small strip mall. We haven’t found a bad side dish on the menu, and there are a few tasty Caribbean dishes on the menu aside from the soul food regulars. Third, a place with counter seating on the first floor and a few tables on the second floor is Oohhs and Aahhs (, 1005 U Street, NW. Like at Sugar, one dinner is enough to serve two people, unless you want leftovers the next day.

Gary Imhoff


Election Results
Toni Ritzenberg,

Am I losing it, or, except for a picture of a person voting, there was no information in today’s, April 27, Washington Post newspaper of the results of the election held yesterday for an At-Large-Delegate and representatives to the School Board. There was an instruction below the picture that one could go online for further information. If I had wanted to be online all the time I wouldn’t be subscribing to the Post in its paper form. Aside from the fact that they never appear to have gotten over the loss of Mr. Fenty or Ms. Rhee, isn’t it time that the Washington Post moved on?


Ward 3 Turning Republican? Blame Ginko Trees
Frank Winstead, Ward 3 Democrat,

Tuesday, Mary “Biddle Backer” Cheh was seen personally campaigning for her candidate at Precinct 138, where Cheh-crat Biddle lost to Republican Patrick Mara: 231 to 127. Even adding up all the Democratic votes in Cheh’s home precinct, Mara beat a composite Democrat: 231 to 226. Mara took Cheh’s Ward 3 with 49.22 percent to Biddle’s 24.71 percent of the vote. That’s almost two to one. Mara beat Biddle in sixteen of seventeen Ward 3 precincts. Biddle lost to Mara by double-digit percentage point spreads in fifteen of these precincts. In two precincts the lone Republican took over 70 percent of the total vote!

My theory about Cheh’s failure to deliver for her party is based on the Ginko tree effect. I think the smell of the Ginkos reminded voters too much of the aroma of Bull-Cheh associated with their political polluter, Councilmember Cheh. The acid rain of her true politics has finally eroded the thin veneer of her say-anything but do-nothing populism. Thus, Ward 3 was looking for some fresh air and found it by voting Republican.


Election Sign Shenanigans
Peter J. Orvetti,

We had a sign for the candidate of our choice in Tuesday’s special election posted on our own property. Since a lot of folks may not have been aware the vote was Tuesday, I stuck a message on it that morning that said the election was today. Someone came onto our property and yanked this note off our sign. Jerk.


DC Teachers Union Protest Against the Post
Robert Marshall,

There is no mention of this on MSNBC or anywhere on the Internet either. Is there a conspiracy of silence by the major media outlets?


DC Democracy Mural Completed on U Street, NW
Leah Ramsay,

Artists Aniekan Oudofia and Liz Brown of Midnight Raven Design have completed a mural depicting George Washington gagged on the U Street face of 1502 U Street, NW (corner of 15th and U Streets). DC Vote sponsored the mural and has used the image in the past.

“The movement for DC democracy is changing, and it’s very important for the arts to have a role in the District’s protest,” said Daniel Solomon, owner of the building on which the mural is painted and founder of the advocacy group DC Vote. “This mural expresses in one image the injustice Washingtonians suffer, even though our founding fathers fought to end taxation without representation. DC residents are still fighting to have their voices heard today.” The mural is uncovered and viewable.


Statehood in Court
Art Spitzer,

Regarding congressional representation for DC, Michael Bindner wrote [themail, April 23] that the “lawsuit approach . . . has still not been exhausted on the Senate side. The Court ruled that the question of senatorial representation is not ripe because Senators have not yet presented credentials and been denied — and really cannot because the DC Code does not designate our shadow Senators as Senators in waiting, but only as lobbyists. A quick change to the law is needed to amend this, so that they can present credentials and reopen the Adams v. Obama case (which is in hiatus because of the death of counsel without replacement). Electing a Republican to that office, with the understanding that this Republican would serve in the event of statehood, would satisfy the nonpartisan imperative. I suggest Carol Schwartz.”

It’s true that an appeal in the Adams case was still pending on some issues when George LaRoche, who was the plaintiffs’ lawyer, passed away. But his clients then voluntarily dismissed their appeal, and that case has been closed (not “in hiatus”) since 2002. If someone thinks litigation is a worthwhile course of action (a view I do not share), they would have to file a new lawsuit.


Racism and DC Statehood — Not a Real Barrier
Johnny Barnes,

I come late to this argument, but not unprepared. Having been in the belly of the beast when the DC Voting Rights Amendment passed with supermajorities in the House and Senate, I believe I have a credible view of the role of racism in our quest for equal footing. While it may have been an historical impediment — I find the work of Professor Kate Masur to be scholarly, well researched, and soundly argued — I do not believe it to be a real barrier today. Senator Ted Kennedy coined the phrase the “Four Toos” in his analysis of the hurdles we had to overcome. The District, he said is too Democratic, so Republicans will oppose us; too urban, resulting in resistance from rural Members of Congress; too liberal, causing conservatives to oppose us; and too black, giving quiet fodder to those who continue to fight the Civil War. Mind you, there are some. I have a letter, written at that time by a Representative to the League of Women Voters, of all groups, wherein he proclaims his opposition to the Amendment because of the composition of Washington, DC. Nonetheless, my experience, during that effort and during the quarter of a century I spent as a staff person in Congress, suggests to me that most members of the House and Senate, an overwhelming majority, will rise above the narrow, special interests articulated by Senator Kennedy and ignore party, region, politics, and race. Those interests did not deter Senators Strom Thurmond, Bob Dole, Howard Baker, and Barry Goldwater, all Republicans, to vote in favor of our Amendment. We voted against Goldwater in 1964 — our first opportunity to vote in a Presidential election since 1800. Yet Goldwater voted with us in 1978. Bob Dole paused in his busy schedule, as a Presidential candidate, and went to the Washington Monument to proclaim his support for us. And, Howard Baker, who later became Ronald Reagan’s White House Chief of Staff, organized a meeting of Republican senators to press for support. And, the fact that Strom Thurmond voted with us needs nothing further said. Politicians respond to two inquiries and only two. Can you help me or can you hurt me? It is far better to help, lest you make a wounded adversary far more dangerous than he might be. But, if because of reasons not related to the substance of our cause — a cause that is compelling and in the American tradition — some Members of Congress oppose us, we have no choice except to oppose them. I applaud Mayor Gray for the courage he has exhibited in wading into waters that are muddied and treacherous. That one act, I believe, has unleashed a furor that will not be calmed. DC Statehood is our Egypt. Our Libya. Our Syria. And, those few who put partisanship, province, policy, and the hue of people above all else merit our attention. We cannot, however, be strong enough to sustain the battle ahead, unless more of us are willing to join the mayor and step out of the shadows. That is the price of freedom.


A Partial Rebuttal
Harold Foster, Ward 4, Petworth,

As a third-generation Washingtonian, African-American and, above all, as a “convicted” history junkie, I have to take exception to at least part of what Gary recently recommended here as to what we intowners should be doing to achieve statehood, as opposed to what we have, until now, actually been (rather unspectacularly) doing to achieve statehood. First and foremost, I do not agree that all federal territories made nice with Congress before being granted statehood. That was especially true from the founding of the republic in 1787 through 1861 and for what, to me as a Black man, are rather obvious reasons. Every state admitted during the ante-bellum period raised the contentious issue of what that state’s admission did to the balance of power between slave and “less slave” states, particularly in the House of Representatives.

For example, a nasty outright civil war raged in Kansas for almost as long (1854-1858) as the national civil war would go on before that state was admitted. Furthermore, the Compromise of 1820, the 1850 Compromise and the subsequent Kansas and Nebraska Act were all just that — compromises — precisely because the slave and “less slave” states seeking admission at those particular junctures refused to change their state constitutions to either prohibit or permit chattel slavery. (The debate over whether they would prohibit or permit chattel slavery almost led to the creation of two Indianas, for example, because the issue almost literally divided that then-territory right down the middle, geographically and demographically.) Later, Congress refused to admit what is now Oklahoma as the all (well mostly) Native American state of Sequoia despite the feverish (and fevered) attempts of almost one hundred Native American Nations to curry favor with Congress. (And, by the way, after several major treaties with a number of Plains Nations strongly implied that, eventually, there would be just such a majority-Native American state admitted to the Union.)

And, closer to our own times, the admission of Alaska (and, to some extent Hawaii) occurred over a range of objections from the Hill that neither territory was “viable” as a self-governing, stand-alone state. In Alaska’s case, the population was too small (and, frankly, not white enough). In Hawaii’s case, a string of islands sitting out in the middle of the central Pacific did not fit anyone’s idea at the time of a sovereign, fiftieth state of this Union. (And that territory’s population definitely was neither large or white enough, if what dominated the mainstream US press editorial pages at the time is to be believed.) I could go on, but I hope my core point’s of rebuttal has been made. In none of these admission debates did the states involved do any (or much) of the things Gary recommends that we intowners do now to try to curry favor with the congressional powers that be who ultimately will dispose of the city’s fate. In any case, they did not do enough of “being good future neighbors,” as Gary puts it, that that behavior, in and of itself, was persuasive enough to put that territory over the top when it came to the admission votes in Congress. 

Tennessee even threatened to petition first Spain and then Great Britain for “admission” as a self-governing province of one of those two empires if it was not admitted to the Union on more or less its own terms. And, when some border state politicians (especially the Maryland delegation) balked at admitting what would become West Virginia after it seceded from Virginia (who, in turn, had just seceded from the US), West Virginia threatened to declare independence and neutrality in the impending Civil War, prompting General Winfield Scott to press Congress to admit West Virginia as a state for strategic military reasons if nothing else.

Now, by saying this I do not recommend that we keep engaging in the same useless token protests we have wasted so much (jail) time on up until now. Statehood, if it is ever to be a realistic prospect for us here in this City will be as much as matter of timing and exploiting the political and electoral exigencies of the moment as it is a matter of turning the National Mall into our own little Ta’hrir Square until Congress acquiesces. To kick things off, we could start with a major effort to redefine “the Federal City” as only the immediate vicinity of the so-called Federal Interests Area, which, according to the Census and contrary to what Gary said, does not have an official recorded resident population at all. That effort alone will probably run through the next majority-Democratic Congress and probably through the two terms of the first post-Obama Democratic president. But it would be a more constructive, “institutionalist” start. And it would concentrate our energies on a long-term objective that is both more important and a more productive use of our time than getting arrested in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue.



Woman’s National Democratic Club Reception, May 5
Tonya Butler-Truesdale,

Democratic Campaign 2012, with Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Elected in January 2005 to the US House of Representatives from Florida’s 20th Congressional District, Ms. Shultz has also been a Representative and a Senator in the Florida State Legislature. Her committee assignments include the House Committee on the Budget and the House Committee on the Judiciary. Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz also serves as a member of the Democratic House Leadership. She has served as a Vice Chair of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee and has also served as a Chief Deputy Whip where she works to help advance legislation important to the Democratic caucus. In March 2009, after announcing her own battle with breast cancer, she introduced the Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act, or EARLY Act (H.R. 1740), a bill that became law as part of the Affordable Health Care Act in March, 2010. In 2011 she became the Democratic Vice Chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues.

Born in 1966 on Long Island, NY, she attended the University of Florida and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science in 1988 and with a Master’s Degree in 1990. She has been married to Steve Schultz for twenty years, and together they have three children. Reception between 4:00-5:00 p.m.; presentation and question and answer session, 5:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m. $30 members; $35 non-members. At the Woman’s National Democratic Club, 1526 New Hampshire Avenue, NW. Register at


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