THE "OBVIOUS" DOES NOT GET OUR NOD FOR AT-LARGE
[from September 1998 issue]




We've been bombarded with questions from people for many weeks about which one of the "obvious" candidates in the Democratic primary for the city council's at-large seat we would be endorsing. Of course, one person's "obvious" front-runner is another's "n ever heard of `em." In the part of the city served by this newspaper, certain candidates are more "obvious" than others, largely because folks over here never venture to the other side of town and get to know the neighborhoods outside of Northwest DC. Als o, some candidates seem to be more "obvious" because their names keep popping up in certain political columns or on certain websites which, for the most part, are seen only by politics mavens like us--sort of the equivalent to computer geeks.

Just because a name or two is recognizable, either because of a profusion of signs (with or without pretty photos) or because the name simply gets mentioned by those with the most resources to spread the name, doesn't necessarily mean that those candidate s would be the best persons to have on our city council at this time in our precarious history. Admittedly, some of those "obvious" candidates represent "new blood"--and we think the council needs an infusion of new blood--but there's new and there's new. Unfortunately, some of those who would have us believe they are really "new" are actually some pretty old stuff and have been, as it were, putative kitchen cabinet wannabees waiting in the wings.

Bill Rice is one of those. He's been a political reporter with a penchant for tweaking everything for a hint of scandal. (We sometimes can be accused of doing the same; but then, we wouldn't endorse this publisher either--not even for dog catcher!). Rice' s campaign press kit was replete with copies of stories and commentaries he's written over the years. But his press kit--which we had to almost wrestle out of his campaign office--contained no position papers outlining a program or putting forth new ideas .

We have seen a few scattered fliers around in which he suggests that he would carry on the legacy of Dave Clarke. That, in itself, is frightening for two reasons: First, the Dave Clarke theories of government are passe and largely discredited, and, second , we'd hate to see another snarling, intemperate personality like Dave Clarke on our city council once again. He created an awful lot of unnecessary angst during his tenure; we need people who will engage in debate thoughtfully and respectfully so that we may finally have a legislative body worth respecting. (This doesn't mean we abhor "junkyard dogs," just that we don't want them screaming from the dais.) Curiously, he seems to have enthusiastically embraced the endorsements of a number of civic activist s who have been strident in their opposition to certain aspects of neighborhood life in a way that has created battle lines among neighbors. While activists can have the luxury of being strident, it concerns us when politicians get too cozy with them.

Other problems with Rice range from his over-emphasis on solving problems that have now been solved by competent administrators or are on their way to final solution. Examples include the city's formerly bizarre parking enforcement policies which Camille Barnett seems to have solved or the late opening of the schools and problems with maintenance and supplies which the new superintendent appears to have solved (did the schools open late this fall, have any been denied opening because they are fire hazards ?). This sounds like a candidate desperately looking for the right buttons to push to stir up the voters. But it does not sound like a candidate who has anything new to say.

But who should the Democrats favor? There really are many good people out there, like Ward 3's Phil Mendelson who has much experience and is a thoughtful and highly knowledgeable person (and the only candidate west of North Capitol Street who seems to hav e taken the trouble to prepare thoughtful positions on the myriad issues) to Ward 7's up-and-comer Gregg Rhett, a 40-year-old Duke University product who is a highly respected figure in the Marshall Heights community and who will bring enormous talent to the city in years to come.

And then there's someone most our readers may not know, but ought to: Kathryn Pearson-West, a Washingtonian and long-time North Michigan Park resident. We had the privilege in previous years of serving with her on the Bell Atlantic Consumer Advisory Counc il and came to appreciate her thoughtfulness and intelligence and the superb manner in which she can guide deliberations with a respect for all opinions. She understands economic development and the problems of business, but also the needs of homeowners a nd tenants. She serves her community as ANC chair and as an activist in the best sense of the word, but always with clarity and understanding.

So, while we do not totally agree with all of her economic development proposals, we know that she is not a pawn of big business, nor is she a knee-jerk apologist for every neighborhood splinter group with an axe to grind. She would offer intellectual acu men to the council's deliberations and she would also help the council maintain an important element of outer neighborhoods representation, something that might be lost in the event that incumbent Statehood party at-large member Hilda Mason is defeated fo r re-election in November (which we will discuss in this space next month).

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Our Contributing Editor Michael Romanello's August "op-ed" commentary addresses a disturbing aspect about the Ward 1 city council primary campaign that is much too important to merely pass off as "just politics." For this reason, we are including his piece so as to provide visitors to our website with some "food for thought" that we hope will cause citizens to take stock of a nasty trend that should be stopped in its tracks before unnecessary harm is done to candidates as well as to the electoral process.

WARD 1 TREATED TO A DAISY CHAIN OF DIRTY TRICKS

In the four weeks since this paper broke the news that Councilman Frank Smith's claimed B.S. degree from Morehouse College is, well, B-S, the Ward 1 primary campaigns of the three leading Democratic candidates have all apparently devolved into textbook ca ses of dirty tricks and win at any cost tactics. There has been so much misrepresentation, obfuscation and outright lying going on in the Ward 1 race over the past month, that a casual observer could get the impression that at least some key players in th e Smith, Graham, and Mosley campaigns have been taking night courses at the Bill Clinton School of Political Advancement.

The month began with the arrival at The InTowner office of an envelope showing no return address and bearing a typed mailing label addressed to the editor. Envelopes prepared in this fashion almost invariably mean that editors at more than one publication received similar packages. The envelope contained what the sender no doubt hoped would be startling information about Democratic candidate Jim Graham's background.

In his September 5, 1998 column, Washington Post writer Colbert I. King mentioned receiving similar documents. King described the contents as ``excerpts [from a 1992 Post Magazine feature on Graham] that, taken alone, cast Graham in the worst light while playing to homophobic fears. His odyssey from student-body president to director of Whitman-Walker--his success in building the clinic to a national model for people suffering and dying from AIDS--is conveniently ignored." King was right on the money.

Coming so quickly on the heels of The InTowner's story about Frank Smith's years-long and until recently successful effort to dupe the public about his academic credentials, the scurrilous attack on Graham is being widely perceived as a pay-back to Graham by the Smith campaign. The problem for Smith, as King pointed out at the end of his column, is that whatever the Graham campaign's behind-the-scenes involvement in getting out information about lies in Smith's resume may or may not have been, the lies ex isted and Smith was responsible for them. In the 1992 Post Magazine story, Graham told the truth about his struggle to overcome alcohol-related problems and to accept his sexuality. I will leave it to you to decide whether Smith or Graham is the better man.


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