DC City Council Gets Whiter: 5 Takeaways From Election Day

What we learned from the outcome of the District’s election.

By: Harry Jaffe

Tuesday’s election results turned Virginia more blue and the DC City Council more white.

With President Obama taking the Old Dominion and Tim Kaine defeating George Allen, Virginia is becoming as Democratic as Maryland.

David Grosso beat incumbent Michael Brown in the crucial at-large race, meaning the 13-member legislative body now has seven white members and five black. The 13th seat is open and will be filled in a special election, but even if the new member is African-American, blacks will be in the minority.

Does it matter, for anyone beyond Marion Barry, who cruised to victory for another four-year term in Ward 8?

“No,” says Grosso, who surprised the city’s cynical political pros by out-polling Brown. “It certainly doesn’t make any difference to me. We have a responsibility to represent every DC resident.”

Grosso will join a legislature that’s decidedly liberal. There are neither Republicans nor conservatives among the group. Jack Evans, who won another term in Ward 2, can be called a fiscal conservative and even tough on crime, but he’s in the minority.

Here are five takeaways from the vote in DC.

The sons are gone: Michael Brown’s loss removes the third son of an iconic African-American leader from the council. His father, Ronald Brown, was a powerhouse in national Democratic circles and served as Bill Clinton’s Commerce secretary. Harry Thomas Jr.’s dad, Harry Sr., represented Ward 5 for many terms. Harry Jr. is now serving jail time for stealing public funds meant for youth athletic programs. Kwame Brown was forced to step down as council chair and awaits sentencing for bank fraud and violating campaign finance laws. Brown’s father, Marshall, is a veteran political operative who served as Marion Barry’s fixer and adviser for many years. He also ran his son’s campaigns for council chair and dreamed of Kwame becoming mayor.

Ethics matter: Grosso won as the clean candidate running against a local political class riven by corruption, ethical flaws, and pending investigations. Brown was the subject of stories about conflict of interest, personal financial troubles, and irregularities in his campaign’s finances. Grosso reports that voters across the city responded to his promises of transparency and campaign reform.

Unions lose: Organized labor came out strong for Michael Brown. From SEIU to AFL-CIO, the hard-bitten union organizers figured their pet council member was unbeatable. They thought DC’s African-American majority would return Brown, based on habit and his name. They were wrong. The police union didn’t endorse.

Fresh blood could bring true change: David Grosso joins Ward 5 council member Kenyan McDuffie to create a pair of young, idealistic politicians with deep local roots. It’s the first injection of new energy in years, and it brings a sense of hope.

Eleanor Holmes Norton rocks: Granted, the veteran delegate to Congress had no competition, but she did come away with the biggest number of votes: 206,664, with just under 90 percent of the votes counted.

But that raises a more nettlesome question: Why did so many candidates run with so little opposition, including Jack Evans, Marion Barry, and Muriel Bowser in Ward 4?