Jonetta Rose Barras: Election victory?

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Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras,D.C. Council

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the one that ran earlier this week on the front page of the Washington Post's Metro section is a book: There was D.C. Councilwoman Anita Bonds, followed by Marion Barry in a conga line. They were inside the Channel Inn.

That was a ferocious blast from the past.

The Channel Inn was the prime partying spot for Barry and others in his mayoral administration during the 1970s and 1980s. He could be found there many nights, flirting with the women and sipping cognac -- except when he wasn't in some hotel room smoking a pipe.

Bonds must remember those days. She was a key member of Barry's machine and helped him gain political prominence.

Now, both are on the council and back on their old stomping grounds. Is Barry's master machinist, Ivanhoe Donaldson, far behind?

"We have just entered the way, way back machine," said one longtime political insider during a conversation about the results of Tuesday's special election; according to unofficial results, Bonds received 32 percent (16,054) of the vote.

No one should start dancing in the streets: 90 percent of the city's 505,698 registered voters didn't bother to show up for Tuesday's election to fill the at-large seat left vacant when Phil Mendelson became chairman last fall. Of the 10 percent that actually submitted ballots, 68 percent voted against Bonds.

A victory is a victory, right?

"The big surprise is not that Anita won, but that Elissa [Silverman] did as well as she did," said Tom Lindenfeld, a political operative who was involved in Mayors Anthony A. Williams' and Adrian M. Fenty's elections.

Silverman is a Democrat and former reporter and public policy wonk on leave from the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. She won 28 percent (13,740) of the vote.

Republican Patrick Mara came in third with only 23 percent (11,367). When he ran for the at-large seat in the 2011 special election, he received 25 percent (11,851). That 2 percentage-point drop spells trouble for the D.C. Republican Party's future in the city.

Democrat Matthew Frumin won 11 percent (5,694). Democrat Paul Zukerberg, Statehood/Green Perry Redd and former Councilman Michael A. Brown, who dropped out of the race, shared the crumbs.

Bonds won't have much time to savor her victory. Election results suggest she remains vulnerable for the 2014 Democratic primary, which is less than 12 months away. Silverman's supporters became animated after groups of so-called progressives were contacted via specialized emails. These voters, who are multiracial and multiethnic, represent a new force that could begin to shift District politics. Bonds will have to assure them she isn't the unrehabilitated racialist she appeared when she played the race card during the special election. Equally important, she will have to present a substantial legislative record and offer a futuristic vision for the city.

That won't be easy.

Consider this: When the original site for her victory party was deemed too small, Bonds choose the Channel Inn as the alternative. Her default is late 20th century.

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

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