Shifting Political Climate in D.C.

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(Washington Post) –As the candidates in the April 26 special election for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council gear up for the final weeks of the campaign, they are using phrases such as “machine politics,” “openly corrupt” and even “banana republic” to describe the District government.    Although they almost never mention the city’s two highest-ranking officials, the language heralds a dramatic shift in political climate that has left Mayor Vincent C. Gray and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown sidelined in a campaign that could affect the ideological balance of the 13-member council.

When they were running last year, Gray, the former council chairman, and Brown frequently mentioned opinion polls showing that the D.C. Council’s approval rating was among the highest of any legislative body in the nation. They leveraged that approval into political clout, endorsing and securing Sekou Biddle, a former Ward 4 school board member whose family has long-standing ties to Brown’s, as an interim appointee to Brown’s former at-large council seat.  Just six months later, Brown’s and Gray’s efforts to turn their victories into lasting political power appear to be faltering amid news reports alleging wasteful spending, cronyism and nepotism in the administration.

“They bring it up all the time,” said council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), referring to her constituents in upper Northwest, where turnout for the special election is expected to be higher than in neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city. “Some people are quite sad, and some are quite mad. It’s really something that has touched a nerve.”  The allegations have led Biddle to try to put some distance between himself and his Wilson Building backers.

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