#CrowdingTheField: Why Ward 8 Candidates Can’t Get it Right
As of today, there are 7 declared candidates for the April 3rd Democratic Primary for Ward 8 Member on the DC City Council: Darrell Gaston, Gary Feenster, Jacque Patterson, Angela Narain, Sandra Seegars, Jahaur Abraham, Natalie Williams and incumbent Marion S. Barry.
Six challengers that range from community activists, ANC Commissioners, old residents, new residents and everything in between have decided to wage a campaign against the 2-terms incumbent and former Mayor. They may all have different ideologies on some community issues, slightly different visions for the ward and differences in persona and demeanor, but deep down inside they all have one goal: defeat the un-defeatable Marion Barry.
In the 2008 Democratic Primary, the incumbent Barry garnered 74% of the vote, leaving his 4 other primary challengers to divvy up the remainder. In his first election to the Council in 2004, close to half of a decade after his controversial tenure as Mayor, he garnered 58% of the vote, with his closest competitor (out of 6 candidates) getting 24% (she, by the way, was the incumbent). The self-proclaimed Mayor-for-life feels very confident that he is on his way to a very smooth and resounding electoral victory in April and, if trends hold, his numerous challengers will get the short end of the stick.
It is impossible to fathom how all of the challengers believe they can win electorally against a relatively popular incumbent while fighting in a pigeon coop of five other challengers (while the list is still destined to grow). It is apparent, even in the first weeks of what will shape up to be a very long race, that Barry’s challengers are spending more time fighting each other than focusing on the issues and laying out the assets that the incumbent doesn’t have.
There are three voter bases in Ward 8: those who are with Barry, those against Barry and those in the middle ground. It is hard to tell whether or not this “against Barry” voter base plus this middle ground group is in the majority, but even if they are, the 6 challengers will dice up this group so badly that even if Barry loses the majority in this next election, he will still win the plurality and win a third term the same way he did two times before. Even worse, the infighting between these 6 challengers (which will be unavoidable) will dissuade the “middle ground” group from voting for the challengers or participating at all, a worse outcome for the challengers.
No matter what any challenger says, it is near impossible to win with such a crowded field.
I mentioned this train wreck in one of my previous posts, but I thought it should be expanded on and highlighted. These candidates say they are running because they want what is best for the ward. However, collectively, if they believe that Marion Barry is what is worst for the ward, they are doing the ward a disservice by inherently ensuring Barry another term as council member.
I have already talked to numerous candidates and proposed the idea of holding a Ward 8 Challengers Summit soon after the petitioning period has ended. This summit would be designed to get all the candidates together, talk about their qualifications for the office, their vision for the ward and their general electability and in the end, the challengers would choose to support one, strong primary candidate to challenge the incumbent in the general election.
If we want to bring real change to Ward 8, candidates running for public office have to look beyond themselves, their egos and their ambitions and support one another and work together to bring about this change. All the candidates running have special assets and talents, but they cannot all be council member. They have to garner their collective talents, support the most desirable candidate and strive for positive change in Ward 8.
I will publish more news about the challengers meeting soon.