On Democracy, and Leon Andrews for Ward 4 DC Council

Tomorrow, I’m voting for Leon Andrews for Ward 4 DC Council. There are plenty of good reasons why, and I’ll come back some of those.

The election comes down to two questions, one easy to answer, one more difficult.

The first question is whether you believe the Mayor is so consistently right on what is best for Ward 4, that she might as well be our Council member too. Electing Brandon Todd is essentially electing Muriel Bowser back into her old seat, as though she never left it to run for Mayor. Except she is Mayor.

Mayors will endorse candidates, even if I find that distasteful it is unavoidable. But this is different than in most cases, including in Ward 8, where LaRuby May appears to have a solid career and other qualifications on her resume. Todd’s answers to some basic questions from my fellow KSDA neighbors betrayed precious little knowledge of the job – he had no answer for how he would pay for his aging-in-place policy, or even why he was running for the office other than to win it. He has still yet to respond to a list of basic yes-or-no questions on his positions in a follow-up to that interview. When asked why he hadn’t been involved in Kennedy Street developments, he said he hadn’t gotten to it as he’d only been running for the office for 6 months, and had been working hard for Mayor Bowser’s election prior to that. I have a job too, and it has nothing to do with this, but I somehow find the time to try to help build my community.

Todd says he’ll ‘have the Mayor’s ear’ when in office, but isn’t it more likely to be the other way around? Won’t she be calling him to give marching orders, instead of him calling her to demand she deliver on our needs? We need our Council member to be independent of the Mayor, or we’ll never be fully guaranteed of having our interests defended.

The second question is more difficult. Who is the viable alternative? It took me until two hours before election day to decide who to vote for, and I’ve actually been paying a bit of attention. I can not imagine what the few percent of eligible votes who will show up tomorrow are going by. Leon Andrews has never run for office, so he is building his brand from scratch. Renee Bowser is further left than I am, but she’d certainly be a fighter for us. Dwayne Toliver is more centrist and has good ideas, but his campaign does not seem deep enough to have any chance.

These and especially the lesser known candidates did us no service either, putting their own unlikely ambitions before those of the Ward, refusing to coalesce around a unified opposition to surrendering Ward 4’s independence. With the exception of Doug Sloan, who withdrew to back Andrews, I don’t even know why most of this field is running. Many have run and lost handily several times already, and with little support from anyone but themselves. The few dozen or hundred votes they take from the other serious candidates prove nothing in our undemocratic plurality-takes-all system.

This election and the one in Ward 8 demonstrate how, now more than ever, we need instant runoff voting, so that the last choice candidate of the majority of voters doesn’t end up winning with 35% of the vote. I have followed ours closely enough to notice that the Washington Post and City Paper have published nothing other than empty, lazy praise (Post) and snide, nihilistic prose (City Paper) about only one candidate, the Mayor’s. They’re not helping either.

As such, my  best answer to the second question: Leon Andrews is the best alternative. Leon is a good family man, with three daughters and a smart and skilled wife (I only trust male politicians with such impressive spouses). Leon himself has a PhD in urban planning from University of Michigan, and he works at a respected institution on urban policy. He is smart, open minded, independent, and thus, qualified for the job. He has good ideas about smart growth and supports most of our priorities for Kennedy Street. He is opposed to the $140 million giveaway to DC United, and giving up the independence of the attorney general, two bad ideas that the Mayor hopes Brandon Todd will support her on. He cares about education because he has three daughters with no neighborhood middle school, which is an unacceptable legacy of the previous occupant of that seat.

My first choice for this job was AJ Cooper – I spoke at his campaign kick-off at an empty lot on Kennedy Street NW. He died unexpectedly shortly after announcing – we were supposed to have a campaign meeting at his house the night he died. AJ had the charisma and polish of a teen television star (he was one). I, as well as many of his other backers, were sent scattered by his death and never really recovered enough to find a successor to his cause. AJ was a natural in many ways, and probably had a great future in politics ahead of him. In failing to build a coalition for an independent voice, I feel like I’ve failed AJ’s legacy. I hope to do him better in the future.

But, late as it is, Leon Andrews deserves my support He is new to politics. He talks with the passion of a guy with a big heart and an open mind.He wants to bring to DC his experience from other cities – a novel position for any candidate for office in America. Leon came to a KSDA meeting after learning of the passing of an elderly neighbor, and was taking it hard but still thought it important to be there with us to talk about the future.

Most importantly, he’s just a normal, good, smart person. He doesn’t have the machine of anonymous donors backing him from PO Boxes in Pennsylvania and Florida. I am confident he would put our interests before those PO Boxes.