From David McAuley. Email him at david[AT]borderstan.com.
More than 150 people watched the five of the candidates in the April 23 special election for a DC Council seat take part in the Loose Lips At-Large Candidates Debate at the Black Cat, yesterday evening. The April 15 debate was sponsored by Washington City Paper. Attending candidates were: Democrats Matthew Frumin, Elissa Silverman and Paul Zuckerberg; Republican Pat Mara; and DC Statehood Green Party candidate Perry Redd. Democrat Anita Bonds did not attend.
The event was moderated by City Paper Editor Mike Madden. The candidates were questioned by Tom Sherwood of NBC4, James Wright of the Washington Informer, and Alan “Loose Lips” Suderman of the City Paper.
Democratic Candidates Try to Isolate Mara?
The opening Q-and-A section from journalists gave an opportunity for the other candidates to isolate the lone Republican. Some efforts were more successful than others.
- Suderman asked the candidates if they would post recent personal tax returns on their campaign web sites. All immediately said “yes” except for Mara. Mara said it would support disclosure of tax returns for all elected councilmembers.
- But will you, a candidate, post your returns, Suderman pursued.
- “I would consider it,” said Mara. This met with boos from the crowd.
- Finally, Mara agreed to post his returns “if all the other candidates did the same”.
- Sherwood noted that, nationally, Republican party opposes gay marriage and that a Michigan state Republican official had recently characterized homosexual lifestyles as “filthy”. How did Mara reconcile this to DC Republican’s support of gay marriage?
- “This disgusts me greatly,” Mara said, before detailing the long history of support for gay marriage by both DC Republicans and Mara personally.
- “I’m the only one who testified at the Wilson Building for gay marriage,” Mara said. “I lobbied conservative members of Congress.”
- Mara then said it was unfair to tie him to the national GOP, just as it was unfair to tie other candidates to the current Democratic corruption in DC government.
- The other candidates, except for Paul Zuckerberg, said the national Republican party’s position was “relevant”.
- “I don’t think Pat should be dinged for what some yahoo said,” Zuckerberg said.
- During the later audience Q-and-A period, Mara stood alone as the only candidate not endorsing mandatory sick days for restaurant workers whose income depended primarily on tips. Mara said this measure would “discourage small business in DC”.
- In his concluding remarks, Mara characterized himself as a “very moderate Republican”.
- “I’m never ever ever going to be a true member of the Wilson Building club,” he said.
Ugly Moments on the Racial Politics of DC
Wright asked the candidates what they would do for “people who feel that Washington is not for them anymore.”
- Answering second, Redd began: “What you posit here is a factual thing.”
- He then began to talk about “new residents”.
- Tom Sherwood interrupted to ask him if meant white people.
- Redd avoided a direct answer to the question.
- Then he said, “Check your conscience.”
- At this point, Redd then began to inaccurately cite the poem by Martin Niemoller that begins, “First they came for the communists, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist”.
- Redd said, “When they came for the Jews …”
- Members of the audience began to boo Redd.
- “Are you booing me?” Redd asked in angry disbelief.
- Tweets sent at this point indicate some spectators thought Redd was comparing DC gentrification to Nazi Germany.
I don’t think this comparison was his intention. I think he meant to say that, if you are well-off today but don’t help the less-well-off, then one day when you are no longer well-off, no one will help you. Perhaps some of the audience, having progressed past their first beer by this point, were not prepared for this level of nuance.
However, Redd never had the chance to finish his quotation or explain his meaning completely.
Tom Sherwood began the next question by observing the proportion of DC’s population that is African-American has declined from 70 percent to 50 percent.
- “It’s called ethnic cleansing!” a woman shouted from the crowd.
- “I can’t hear that,” Sherwood said.
- “Ethnic cleansing!” the woman shouted louder.
- Sherwood went on to note recent remarks by Anita Bonds on WAMU. She said: “People want to have their leadership reflect who they are. The majority of the District of Columbia is African American. … There is a natural tendency to want your own.”
- Sherwood asked the candidates what they thought of this remark.
- Answering third, Redd said, “It is a fact that many African-Americans have that belief … We want to be respected. When whites are in control, they don’t respect the most wronged.”
All Candidates to be Full-Time Councilmembers
All candidates supported the abolition of “pay to play culture” in DC politics and said they would have no outside employment during their terms as councilmembers. Perry Redd went further, saying he would only serve one term and he would employ an “open source software solution” so every telephone call and every meeting he attended could be monitored by the public.
Still Anybody’s Race
A poll reported yesterday that Anita Bonds has the lead among voters with a land line responding voluntarily to an automated survey. However, 43 percent of respondents said they had yet to make up their minds.