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Opinion

Op-Ed: No room for 'race' in D.C. Council election but there is lots for 'reform'

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Opinion,Op-Eds

Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King won a Pulitzer "for his against-the-grain columns that speak to people in power with ferocity and wisdom." Throughout 1990's, as Marion Barry fanned the flames of racial resentment, King consistently, and often eloquently, called him out.

So when King addresses the matter of race in D.C. politics, people pay attention. In his April 13, 2013, column, King addressed the issue of racial politics in D.C. head on again, but this time he misfired.

"Race doesn't belong in D.C. Council election" proclaimed the headline of the column, which lamented that some candidates are "resorting to both veiled and undisguised racial appeals."

First, King took to task Anita Bonds, D, the interim at-large D.C. Council member who's defending her seat in April 23rd's special election.

The week before, former Councilman Michael A. Brown pulled a shocker and dropped out of the race. With Brown out, Bonds remained the only viable African-American candidate in the race.

So, Bonds, sensing an opening, cited the "fear" of many black District residents of "The Politics of a Transforming City," the Kojo Nnamdi Show's roundtable topic -- to make a play for black voters to back her.

"People want to have their leadership reflect who they are ... The majority of the District of Columbia is African-American .?.?. There is a natural tendency to want your own."

Bonds line came off more "veiled" than "undisguised," but it was clearly a appeal to black voters to vote for her because she's the "black" candidate. If Bonds is defeated, the D.C. Council would have an 8-5 majority of white members for the first time.

But Bonds isn't the only offender, King contended.

"Not to be outdone ... candidate Patrick Mara ... urged ... the audience at a recent candidate forum in the Chevy Chase neighborhood to vote as a bloc. 'Please don't split the vote,' Mara said. Hmm," King wrote.

King's implication is clear. Patrick Mara, the only Republican in this race, was making a "veiled" appeal to the lily-white residents of Chevy Chase to vote as a "bloc" -- to keep the only viable black candidate out of office. (King has since posted Mara's response and apologized for omitting it but has not altered his column.)

But Mara never used the word "bloc." It was employed by Post reporter Tim Craig to describe Mara's remark. King, steeped in the history of civil rights struggles knows the ugly history of that word.

Segregationist Gov. George Wallace of Alabama invoked the word with sly elision in the 1970s to warn whites of the "bloc vote." He knew that they knew exactly what he meant.

Instead Mara -- who won a seat on the school board from demographically diverse Ward 1 -- was urging Chevy Chase voters to rally behind him as the "reform" candidate best able to beat Bonds.

Bonds, Mara points out, is the D.C. Democratic Party boss who engineered her own council appointment, works for city contractor Fort Myer construction and is a Marion Barry loyalist during his troubled terms as mayor.

In 2011's at-large special election, Mara narrowly lost to incumbent Democrat Vincent Orange, and that "reform" vote was split among four candidates, including an African-American and a Latino. In the precincts immediately surrounding the forum venue, Sekou Biddle, who is black, was Mara's closest competitor.

It was to Biddle's voters, who clearly don't vote as a white "bloc," that Mara was appealing. (Mara endorsed Biddle when he challenged Orange in 2012's Democratic primary as the strongest reformer.)

King only needed to dig a little deeper into election returns to find that out.

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