Is The District's National Political Power On The Wane? | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Is The District's National Political Power On The Wane?

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The Wilson Building in Washington, D.C.
Rebecca Sheir
The Wilson Building in Washington, D.C.

As we enter the frenzied final months of the fall political campaigns, Rebecca Sheir and WAMU 88.5 District Reporter Patrick Madden meet at the Wilson Building to talk about the political winds blowing down Pennsylvania Avenue, and what they may bring to city leaders and residents.

Madden says it's hard to tell what will ensue on a local level, though it's certain that "the specter of scandal and federal investigation still [looms] over city hall," and will "affect what gets done and what doesn't get done inside the Wilson Building, because right now everyone seems to be waiting for the next shoe to drop."

Madden says it'll be interesting to see what happens now that Phil Mendelson is acting chair of the City Council; Mendelson took over when former council chair Kwame Brown resigned and pleaded guilty to several crimes.

"[Mendelson] has a reputation as very low profile," Madden says. "He's known in the halls of the Wilson Building as a nitpicker. He's very detail oriented. When reading legislation on the dais he'll notice a typo, and will ask the secretary if they can correct that on the spot." In terms of how Mendelson's micro-managing style may affect his political capital, Madden says "it's unclear. He certainly knows the Wilson Building and committees better than anyone else. He's a former council staffer for many years, so it will be interesting to see what that means in terms of legislation."

Madden says it's interesting to note that since the scandals and investigations started among council members, "there haven't been any real big ticket items that this city has passed. You look at Mayor Fenty, he passed education reform. There was the big stadium deal with Mayor Williams. Same-sex marriage. All these major pieces of legislation. There hasn't been that under [Mayor] Gray."

And that, says Madden, has hurt the Mayor, since "a lot of the council members that he normally would have relied upon as mayor to push stuff through, he's lost. Mary famously endorsed him; [she] was his go-to person in the beginning. But she called for him to resign a couple months ago when one of these indictments came down. So the mayor is probably not in a very powerful, strong position to move a big piece of legislation right now."

Regarding D.C.'s place on the national stage right now, Madden says the mostly Democratic city is at a low ebb in terms of national influence.

"You just have to look at these two conventions and the party platforms to see that the District's message is not resonating anywhere," Madden says. "At the Republican convention, there were a couple of pieces in the platform talking about how 'we would support Puerto Rico's right for statehood, but the District we do not support at all."

"There were other parts, basically just continuing to use the District as a way to pass all sorts of legislation. Whether it's loosening the city's gun control laws or abortion regulations. And then you look at the Democratic convention going on right now, and there's no mention of D.C.'s push for statehood, which had happened in the past."

Madden says four years ago, when President Obama took office, "there was a lot of optimism within the D.C. vote and other groups that are pushing for D.C. autonomy because you had a Democratic president, you had a Democratic-controlled House, and you even had a filibuster-proof Senate. So the belief was it would be really easy for someone in the Democratic Party to push statehood or a vote in the House, but that never happened.

"And now the Republicans control the House, the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority is no longer there, and the White House is up for grabs."

When asked if there are any local races we should keep our eyes on this November, Madden points to the at-large council race between two Independent candidates: Michael Brown, the incumbent, and David Grasso.

"Grasso has challenged Brown's ballots," Madden says, "whether he had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, and that is still up in the air. Brown has also had trouble with his campaign's bank account. There is money missing, a significant amount, and it's alleged that someone who worked on the campaign may have embezzled that money; that still has to be sorted out.

"So it's created an opening for this relatively unknown challenger to put up a strong fight, and his fundraising numbers are relatively strong. So that is the race to watch."


[Music: "The Power" by Snap! from The Power"]

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