"When are we going to go and take the mantle from the men?" That question anchors at-large D.C. Councilwoman Anita Bonds' campaign to win a more permanent post in the legislature.
"Women are really stuck at the very bottom," she told me in a recent interview. Bonds is one of seven candidates, along with Matthew Frumin, Elissa Silverman, Paul Zukerberg, Perry Redd, Patrick Mara and Michael A. Brown, running in the April 23 special election. "This position has to go to a woman."
Maybe she has been listening to that 1972 Helen Reddy tune, "I Am Woman."
No newcomer to District politics, Bonds was a key player in Marion Barry's rise to political prominence. She is a former four-term chairwoman of her Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commission and has been involved in some major projects including the District's New Communities Initiative and development of McMillan Reservoir. She used her post as chairwoman of the DC Democratic State Committee to leverage her council appointment. By law the Democratic Party has authority to replace at-large vacancies until a special election is held.
"People know me to be a fair and competent person who cares about this city deeply," said Bonds, defending herself.
Since joining the council she has supported a variety of initiatives including campaign finance reform, changes in the city's small and certified business laws, and the council's recent reprimand of Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham.
On the campaign trail, Bonds has advocated elimination of tax liability for residents 80 and older. She has argued for HIV testing for existing prison inmates, declared the need for a full department of planning, and favored elimination of the 2011 tax rate hike on residents with annual incomes of $350,000 or more.
Her strong presentation of herself has been surprising and has won support from Council members Jack Evans, Muriel Bowser and Tommy Wells. "Tommy and I met during the Walter Mondale campaign in Arkansas. I told him if he needed to come to D.C. look me up."
Recently she was endorsed by Sharon Pratt -- arguably the city's worst mayor. But Bonds didn't win the endorsement of Ward 8 Democrats, fueling speculation she and Brown could split the black vote east of the Anacostia River.
"I feel confident I will get the lion's share of the African-American vote," said Bonds, adding that she expects strong support from "new neighbors" in the city, many of whom are white.
Her greatest obstacles could be her association with Barry and Fort Myer Construction Corp., where she has worked for six years. Bonds said she's on leave and, if elected, may not return. Still, she defended Fort Myer, asserting that "every contract has had to be bid on and was a sealed bid." She noted the company has "competed for work in Maryland, Virginia and with the federal government. Some of them we win, some we lose."
As for Barry: "I am different from Marion. My background is different. But my orientation to the community is somewhat similar."
Will that thin distinction be sufficient for voters, particularly those women she hopes to attract?
Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at email@example.com.