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Taking note . . .

Observations about public affairs in the nation’s capital
by the editor of The Common Denominator

MAJOR CHANGES AHEAD: While news coverage has largely focused on the early start of this year's campaign to replace retiring Mayor Anthony A. Williams, this fall's city elections will bring marked changes to the D.C. City Council as well.

Voters in Wards 3, 5 and 6 will be electing brand new council members, as incumbents Kathy Patterson, Vincent Orange and Sharon Ambrose have all decided against seeking re-election. Ambrose, who has been battling multiple sclerosis, is retiring, while Orange says he would rather be mayor and Patterson wants to move into the council chairman's job. Council Chairman Linda Cropp, meanwhile, also plans to vacate her seat, choosing to run for mayor rather than re-election.

Aside from the four members of the 13-member council who have announced so far that they will give up their seats, there is speculation that Councilman Jim Graham may throw his hat into the ring for the council chairman's seat, rather than seeking another term as Ward 1's representative. An open Ward 1 seat would provide what some see as the best bet for the District's quickly growing Hispanic community, concentrated within the ward, to secure an elected representative in the D.C. government.

At-Large Councilman Phil Mendelson, who is seeking re-election, is seen as vulnerable by some, though that same widely held observation proved wrong four years ago. At-Large Councilman David Catania, the only incumbent who to date has actually filed a formal "declaration of candidacy" with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, is expected – at this early point in the campaign – to easily win re-election.

Staggered four-year terms on the council mean that members Carol Schwartz, Kwame Brown, Jack Evans, Adrian Fenty, Vincent Gray and Marion Barry still have almost three years remaining on their current terms. All were elected or re-elected in 2004.

While it is far too early to know who will win the mayor's race in November, a Fenty victory would require a special election to be held to fill the Ward 4 council seat, which he would need to vacate. Recent polls have shown Fenty with a slight lead over Cropp in the race, with others trailing far behind. Those same polls – showing Orange, lobbyist Michael Brown and former Verizon executive Marie Johns at the back of the pack – have prompted speculation that Orange might decide to switch from the mayor's race to run for either at-large council or council chairman, though some think it unlikely that he would give up his outside income to seek the chairman's post. All council members except the chairman are permitted to hold other jobs.

Who will be the eventual candidates on the ballot for the Democratic, Republican and D.C. Statehood Green primary elections in September won't be clear until after the summer deadline for filing nominating petitions. Under D.C. law, candidates cannot begin securing petition signatures from voters until May.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator