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Posted at 8:48 AM ET, 01/21/2011

Vince Gray Gives Biddle a rousing endorsement

By Tim Craig

District Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) gave interim D.C. Council member Sekou Biddle an energetic endorsement Thursday night, vowing to use the full weight of his political organization to work to keep his seat from slipping into GOP hands.

Speaking to a room full of business leaders and Democratic activists at a stylish new restaurant on H Street Northeast, Gray indicated Biddle's efforts to win the April 26 citywide special election will also be a test of his ability to keep intact the operation he built in his successful campaign last year against former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

Gray called Biddle, who was sworn in as an interim at-large council member two weeks ago, "absolutely the right person for the job" because he said he was "very serious, very thoughtful, very committed and very deeply involved" when he served on the D.C. Board of Education from 2007 to earlier this year.

"We've got to make sure we get out and campaign effectively, hard to make sure he becomes the council member for the duration," Gray said at a Biddle fundraiser at Smith Commons restaurant. "We got to get out there and get it done...We got to get out there and work at this stage...Him winning is absolutely important to the District of Columbia."

Following Kwame Brown's (D) election as council chairman, the D.C. Democratic State Committee voted two weeks ago to appoint Biddle instead of former Council member Vincent C. Orange to fill Brown's at-large seat pending the special election. Before the state committee vote, Brown and five other council members endorsed him, arguing the council needed a fresh face.

But Biddle, a 39-year-old former school board member who vows to make education his top priority, now faces a potentially tough race.

Any Democrat or Republican or member of an minor or unaffiliated party who can collect 3,000 signatures can run in the special election. So far, as many as 16 candidates have indicated they may run, including Orange, Ward 1 activist Bryan Weaver, former Fenty adviser Josh Lopez, Ward 2 activist Wayne Dickson, former Democratic National Committeewoman Mary Eva Candon and Republican school board member Patrick Mara.

Gray, who admitted Thursday night he lobbied some state committee members to select Biddle over Orange for the interim appointment, vowed he would try to help his preferred candidate raise money and staff his campaign with volunteers.

In an interview after his endorsement speech, Gray also said he would try to talk to other possible Democratic candidates to see if they could be convinced to line up behind Biddle instead of mounting their own campaign.

Gray said he's trying to avoid a repeat of 1997, when a crowded field split the Democratic vote. That led to the election of then-Republican candidate David A. Catania to the council. Catania left the Republican Party in 2004 and became an independent.

"We got to be able to make sure this continues to be a Democratic seat," Gray said to cheers at the restaurant. "Are the Democrats prepared to stand up an work?

But with Gray and Brown now both fully behind his candidacy, Biddle starts his race as the candidate with the closest links to the city's political establishment. Some activists and bloggers argue the council needs another voice who would be more willing to stand up to Gray and Brown, both of whom struggled during their campaigns to win support in the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city.

Orange, who drew 50,000 votes in his unsuccessful campaign last year against Brown for council chairman, poses perhaps the biggest obstacle to Biddle securing a permanent seat on the council. When told Thursday night that Gray had endorsed Biddle, Orange said he's "not surprised."

He then noted he was at a community meeting in Northwest helping residents organize against Georgetown University's campus housing plan while Biddle was hobnobbing with Brown and Gray.

"Tonight, I'm at Duke Ellington standing with the community of Citizens Association of Georgetown, Burleith and Foxhall fighting," Orange said.

But with fewer than 25,000 residents expected to turnout for the special election, Biddle appears to be quickly amassing the types of allies he needs to wage a well-funded campaign.

Guests at the fundraiser ranged from businessman Emmanuel Bailey and lobbyists David Wilmot and Douglas Patton to Cora Masters Barry and David Meadows, executive director of the D.C. Democratic State Committee. Several business leaders said they attended to hear Gray and Biddle, but added its premature for them to make an official endorsement - despite the "Biddle" stickers they were wearing.

By Tim Craig  | January 21, 2011; 8:48 AM ET
Categories:  Sekou Biddle, Tim Craig, Vincent C. Gray, Vincent Orange, vincent gray  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Gray scheduled to appear at Biddle fundraiser
Next: House GOP proposal to cut D.C. budget stands little chance of passage


And hours later Gray nominates a former top aide to Republican Governor Bob Erlich to be his Deputy Mayor for Economic Development.

Posted by: billjones21 | January 21, 2011 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, but I want a repeat of 1997. That was one of the best things to happen to DC politics. We need another Catania.

Posted by: blankspace | January 21, 2011 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Actually electing Democrats and appointing qualified Republicans to positions are two different things.

I am glad that Vincent Gray is not using party affiliation as a litmus test for who he appoints to his administration.

I have endorsed Sekou Biddle because he is a highly qualified candidate now Councilmember. He has proven by his work and his service on the school board that he can act on his promises. Gray endorsed Biddle even though Biddle supported Fenty and that says something good about both Gray's willingness to have an open mind and Biddle's ability to work with everyone.

There is no one in this race that compares to Biddle or that compares to Catania. David was lucky when he ran that the Democrat didn't campaign and we ended up lucky that David Catania has made such a good Councilperson.

In this race the one to vote for is Sekou Biddle regardless of party label he is the best candidate.

Posted by: peterdc | January 21, 2011 11:03 AM | Report abuse

What we see happening with the rallying around interim Councilmember Biddle is a group of individuals worried about his record of service to the residents of the District of Columbia. Biddle is a very nice guy, but he is not the best candidate in the field by far, hence the reason so many challengers. His government subject knowlegdge and experience is one dimentional. He is the council club candidate and residents want a citizen candidate. Not a candidate who's audience show up at a fundraiser because they want to carry favor with already elected officials but a candidate who can stand on his own, and energize residents on his own. Would Mr. Biddle even be in this position had the Chairman not rescued him at the DCDSC appointment?

Posted by: jacque4dc | January 23, 2011 8:46 AM | Report abuse

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