The D.C. Board of Elections made the thrifty decision Monday to let voters select a replacement for disgraced former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown on Nov. 6 - the same day voters cast their ballot for president and multiple council races.
The District could save at least $500,000 by allowing city voters to select their new council chairman during the general election, according to estimates provided by elections board Executive Director Clifford D. Tatum.
City rules call for a special election to be held on the first Tuesday to arrive 114 days after the elections board certifies a vacancy. In the chairman’s case, it falls on Oct. 9. Because the November elections fall within 60 days of the October date, the board exercised its power to combine the events into one day.
Mr. Tatum said a standalone election would cost $850,000 to $1 million, but attaching the chairman’s race to the general election should add only about $300,000 to the estimated $1.6 million that the city already plans to spend on its Nov. 6 elections.
“I think the investment would be worthwhile,” board member Stephen I. Danzansky, a Republican, said, despite his concerns about the length of time it will take each voter to make their picks for president, council chairman, two at-large seats on the council, the District’s House delegate and shadow representation in Congress while weighing in on three amendments to the D.C. Charter that stem from ethics legislation passed last year.
Voters in four wards also will be selecting their council members in November.
The elections board, which received Brown’s resignation letter Thursday, officially declared the council chairman’s seat vacant during its Monday meeting.
Brown pleaded guilty in separate courts Friday to bank fraud on a home-equity loan and authorizing a relative to set up a “side account” during his 2008 campaign for re-election as an at-large member of the council without reporting it to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.
Potential candidates to finish Brown’s term through 2014 may pick up nominating petitions starting Friday. They must turn them in by Aug. 8.
Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, is in charge of the council for now. The body will select one of its four at-large members on Wednesday to serve as acting chairman until the special election.
Veteran council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, is considered the favorite to gain the acting job before running for the post in November.
“Phil brings balance and consensus,” said council member Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat. She plans to support Mr. Mendelson for chairman and Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, to serve as chairman pro tem, or second in command.
Council member Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat, also is making a push for the short-term chairman position and exploring his options for November.
Mr. Orange is one of several council members up for re-election this fall along with Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat; Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat; Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, and Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat. Yet Mr. Orange is the only incumbent up for re-election who has shown outward interest in the chairman’s position.
According to the elections board, candidates can appear on the ballot twice on Nov. 6, because the council seats are part of the general election and the chairman’s position is a special election.
“They’re two separate elections,” Board of Elections Chairwoman Deborah K. Nichols said Monday.
Dorothy Brizill, a longtime D.C. politics watchdog, objected to the board’s interpretation, citing a city law that says no person can run for more than one office on the Board of Education, the council or for mayor “in any election.”
“To me, it’s just an election,” Ms. Brizill told the board during its meeting.
The board stood by the general counsel’s reading of the law, although Ms. Nichols acknowledged there will be challengestied to the “very complex situation we’re faced with.” For instance, a voter might find it strange to see the same candidate’s name in two separate sections of the lengthy ballot.
“We’re still concerned about confusion,” Mr. Danzansky said. “It’s something we’re going to have to work on.”
Mr. Danzansky noted the board may have to schedule a special election at a future date, anyway. If Mr. Orange - who lost to Brown in the 2010 race for council chairman - or another candidate were to win both a council race and the chairmanship in November, he or she would have to decide one seat over the other. Voters would then head to the polls once more to fill the passed-over seat.
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