What Muriel Bowser has at stake in next year’s D.C. Council elections

What Muriel Bowser has at stake in next year’s D.C. Council elections

By Colbert I. King Opinion writer November 13

Her name won’t be on the ballot next year, but Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has more riding on the 2016 D.C. elections than anyone else in the city.

Bowser has high stakes in four key council candidates: Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4), Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) and LaRuby May (D-Ward 8). If the mayor is to keep control of the city’s direction, these members must hold on to their seats. Otherwise, the political advantage shifts to a less-reliable majority. At this stage, odds are against all four of them winning. Chances are even that two will cross the finish line first. Only one can be called an odds-on favorite.

Colbert I. “Colby” King writes a column — sometimes about D.C., sometimes about politics — on that runs on Saturdays. In 2003, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. King joined the Post’s editorial board in 1990 and served as deputy editorial page editor from 2000 to 2007.

Bowser starts with two disadvantages. There’s not a thoroughbred in her stable. And she’s no longer in a position to fuel her horses with loads of energizing cash because the means of doing so, an independent political action committee called FreshPAC, is being shut down in response to withering criticism heard across the city.

Bowser doesn’t have much of a choice about the candidates she’s backing. Each Democratic incumbent on her slate is a proven ally and a sure-fire council vote when she needs it. She has no real options.

That wasn’t the case with FreshPAC. The mayor knew it was in the works. She was aware that it was out to raise $1 million to reelect supportive council members while targeting those who won’t get with the mayor’s program.

She appeared at fundraisers for FreshPAC. She defended its existence when it came under attack from council members, clean government groups and the media.

Bowser wittingly decided to get behind the creation of a richly funded political vehicle launched to reward friends and punish enemies, in the finest tradition of Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall.

That is likely to be an issue that will bleed into next year, and in ways that Bowser and her political crew never expected.

Inquiring minds want to know whether Bowser’s change of heart on the $6.4 billion Pepco-Exelon merger — from nay to yea — had anything to do with Pepco coming up with $25 million to help her administration build a new stadium for the city’s Major League Soccer team, D.C. United. Opponents of the deal have asked the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to look into Pepco’s sponsorship agreement with the city.

This inquiring mind also wants to know whether FreshPAC approached Pepco or Exelon for contributions during Bowser’s merger discussions with the utilities. I’m not the only inquisitive journalist.

Tom Sherwood, of WRC (Channel 4), beat me to it.

In response to Sherwood’s e-mail queries to Pepco regarding FreshPAC solicitations — which he granted me permission to use — Myra Oppel, Pepco’s vice president for communication, wrote that Pepco had not contributed to FreshPAC. Sherwood followed up by asking, “Was Pepco asked to make a contribution?” Oppel responded, “We have no further comment beyond our statement.”

Sherwood also asked FreshPAC whether it solicited contributions from Pepco or Exelon. On Oct. 20, he received this from Thorn Pozen, FreshPAC counsel: “We want to be as open as possible. Although I may not always be able to report on all internal conversations, requests, and/or discussions, including if such conversations have taken place, we’ll always report contributions in full compliance with the spirit and letter of the law. Here there were no contributions.”

Hardly a denial.

Any interest, D.C. inspector general, D.C. attorney general or D.C. ethics board? Or does the U.S. attorney have to do the job for the city?

Just asking.

Those questions linger as Bowser goes into the election year accompanied by her stable of incumbents.

No telling what impact the demise of FreshPAC will have on the candidacies of Orange and Alexander. They both need money, honey. FreshPAC would likely have been a chief source, especially since Jeffrey E. Thompson , the wealthy self-made (or is that D.C. government-made?) businessman who pleaded guilty to financing illicit off-the-books campaign schemes, is, well, out of service.

Orange and Alexander face a possible opponent in former mayor Vincent C. Gray (D). Their prospects of beating Gray are grim. Orange tried in the April 1 Democratic mayoral primary; although Gray lost, he outpolled Orange 31,613 to 1,946. Orange should hardly be itching for a rematch.

Alexander shouldn’t be hankering for a race with Gray, either. She’s sitting in the Ward 7 seat that Gray gave up to become council chairman. It’s his for the asking.

Odds are even that Todd retains his seat. But it will be done on the strength of his work on the council and strong constituent service that covers Ward 4 like a blanket.

May, in contrast, is not an odds-on favorite in Ward 8, because Bowser isn’t one there, either.

So 2016 is shaping up as Bowser’s year to win or lose, and her chances aren’t looking so good.

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