D.C. local ballot fizzles way before Election Day

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Photo - At-large Councilman Phil Mendelson said Monday that he has the votes to become the interim chairman of the D.C. Council. "I believe the council will select me," Mendelson said. At-large Councilman Vincent Orange, Mendelson's rival for the post, said he was continuing to lobby members for support.
At-large Councilman Phil Mendelson said Monday that he has the votes to become the interim chairman of the D.C. Council. "I believe the council will select me," Mendelson said. At-large Councilman Vincent Orange, Mendelson's rival for the post, said he was continuing to lobby members for support.
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

For a brief turn earlier this summer, the District appeared poised for an invigorating fall campaign: A special election for D.C. Council chairman threatened to divide the city along racial and socioeconomic lines, and an effort to ban corporate contributions to the city's political campaigns was gaining traction.

But the hype was fleeting, and the autumn is shaping up to be an electoral dud for the District's local political scene.

"I don't see really anything unless the U.S. attorney comes out of left field with something," said Chuck Thies, a political commentator. "I don't see anything adding drama to the November election."

What seemed set to be the local marquee race -- the contest to finish out ousted D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown's term -- has become a forgettable one.

Soon after Brown's seat opened up on June 6, members of the District's political hierarchy braced for a contest that might pit Phil Mendelson, a self-described "nitpicker" of a legislator, against at-large Councilman Vincent Orange, long one of the city's most ambitious politicians.

After days of giving reporters different answers about his intentions, Orange chose not to mount a campaign, leaving Mendelson, whom lawmakers elected to the council's top job after Brown's demise, to face off against two candidates with little name recognition.

The other potential attraction for voters was Initiative 70, a proposal to ban corporate contributions to campaigns, transition and inauguration committees, legal defense groups and programs that handle constituent requests.

But the D.C. Board of Elections last week rejected a stack of petitions designed to place the initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot because supporters hadn't gathered enough valid signatures.

The group behind the petition drive, the D.C. Committee to Restore Public Trust, is considering an appeal in a last-ditch bid to give voters a chance to weigh the initiative. The deadline to file an appeal is Aug. 20.

Terry Lynch, the executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, said the quieter-than-expected cycle might prove a good antidote for a frustrated city.

"The D.C. electorate is both fed up and tired out," Lynch said. "We need to get back to normalcy, and until this federal investigation (into corruption) plays out, people are looking for the path of least controversy. I think that's why you're not seeing any serious challenges."

Political strategist Tom Lindenfeld predicted that D.C. voters will still be energized, though, to head to the polls because President Obama is seeking a second term.

"By the time you get to the end of the election, especially since we're in the shadow of Virginia, there's not going to be a person who doesn't know that it's Election Day," Lindenfeld said. "I think they're going to be totally jazzed to vote for Barack Obama."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner