This special election threatens to send Vincent Orange back to were he was when he ran in 1993’s special election for D.C. Council Chair, and not just because Mayor Vincent Gray has delivered a “rousing endorsement” of the interim incumbent has vowed to go all out make sure DC voters confirm his appointment.
In the ‘93 special election, Orange’s petitions were rejected by the DCBOEE, but he refused to drop out and soldiered on as a write in candidate. The future PEPCO lobbyist probably had no idea back then that his association with public utility would go anywhere beyond hanging his campaign posters on its power line poles. Those placards were long and horizontal, depicting a much svelter Orange with his arms outstretched and a wide smile. He he seemed to be saying: “Vince Orange? Why not?” Orange came across as a gadfly, and his vote total barely registered.
Orange’s disastrous 2006 bid for mayor reinforced that perception. In that year’s primary, he ran hard, but attracted less than 3% of D.C. Democrats. Arguably, Orange finally won a crowded Ward 5 primary, and a seat on the D.C. Council, thanks to vague name recognition built up over repeated runs for office.
Now, after a tough fight over multiple ballots, in which he ultimately came up short, Orange has vowed to WaPo’s Tim Craig that “it's full speed ahead” in April’s special election. Craig avers that Orange still poses “perhaps the biggest obstacle” for Sekou Biddle - the man who bested him for the DC Democratic State Committee’s interim appointment to the at-large D.C. Council seat Kwame Brown vacated when he ascended to the the chair - in his bid to secure the full term in April.
A flame out on special electionday could finally send Orange back to gadfly status for good, and risk his perch in the D.C. Democratic party that he nearly leveraged to gain the appointment.
Electorally, Orange has an erratic track record. Notably, Orange had trouble rousing his ward base when he has run citywide. For mayor, less than 8% of Ward 5 Democrats stayed with Orange. In last September’s primary for council chair, Orange lost his home ward by 10 points to now-incumbent, Kwame Brown. He can’t count on a big Ward 5 vote in April, especially when that ward’s incumbent council member - seemingly secure after an unexpectedly solid win in his contest re-nomination fight in September - Harry Thomas, Jr., will work for Biddle.
It may have been his role as party loyalist as D.C.’s Democratic National Committeeman that made Orange so competitive in the Democratic State Committee vote, but he may be risking its goodwill by mouthing off to the Washington Post that "A lot of people are still upset by what happened at the D.C. Democratic State Committee," an organ that many D.C. Democrats consider to be unfair in its criticism of their process.
Orange seems to be banking on another endorsement - like the one he received in September against Kwame Brown - from the Washington Post editorial board, which he’s probably correct in saying, as he spun Craig, “boosted his campaign in parts of the city,” and which “he expects many of those...supporters from the chairman's race to also line up behind him for the spring campaign.”
A WaPo endorsement can help sway a potentially decisive voting bloc in low turnout special elections, even if its larger influence remains debatable. (The late David A. Clarke - who went onto to win the 1993 special election, returning to the council chair - dismissed then at-large Council Member Linda Cropp’s endorsement saying voters wanted an experienced chairman and the result would not be swayed by “not another Washington Post experiment”) But faced with multiple other candidates in this race who are poised to capture the attention of the Washington Post editorial board, Orange’s chances of capturing that nod look slim.
Here’s a rundown of special election candidates more likely to win WaPo’s tap:
* Josh Lopez is young and Hispanic. He was fmr. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s Ward 4 coordinator, then kept up the fight by helping organize the write in Fenty effort in the general election. He even earned the enmity of Vince Gray’s mayoral campaign, which, of course, WaPo’s ed board was less than a fan of.
* Jacque Patterson has two huge pluses in the WaPo editorial board’s eyes: he works for their fave organization, the Federal City Council and he lives in Ward 8.
* Logan Circle community activist Wayne Dickson has forsaken the Republican Party, but still brands himself as “pro-business, low-tax.”
* Ward One school board member Patrick Mara was enthusiastically endorsed by the Post in his 2008 at-large council bid, and favors the education reform program that it touts.
* And, even Sekou Biddle himself, seems more likely than Orange to gain the Post’s nod. Biddle has already proven his appeal to special electorates in Wards 3 and 4. The head of an attractive multi-racial family is the image of a new D.C. that the Post likes to project. And he won the Post’s endorsement in his first election to the council.
In retrospect, Orange probably won an endorsement in the council chair race because the WaPo editorial board has problems with Kwame Brown. No longer in that particular head to head match-up, Orange’s appeal to WaPo editorial writers vanishes.
Ironically, by bashing the DC Democratic State Committee to curry favor with the Washington Post editorial board he risks losing that position, a position that is deemed distinctly unimpressive by his target audience.
Orange has an easy out.
The qualifying process is still in the petition circulating phase. If he wanted to withdraw, all Orange needs to do is never get around to submitting his petitions to DCBOEE; no messy request to be removed before the ballot goes to print, or urging voters to ignore his name in the polling place. Orange may choose to save some face by taking that route, but that would make the race less interesting for political junkies, and the diminish democratic debate that DC’s voting rights-starved electorate seems be craving by subtracting another option to choose from.