[from April 2004 issue]


As we reported last month, and as his ward constituents are clearly aware (along with large numbers of soon-to-be November voters across the District), Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham appears excited about the possibility of expanding his focus city-wide. Right now he is “exploring” the possibility of taking on incumbent At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil in next fall’s election contest.

While we clearly understand that Graham does not at this time consider his decision to be a “done deal”--that he is simply in the “exploratory” stage--it would appear that he has gotten much encouragement from his pollsters that he could win over Harold Brazil. Whether the methodology employed by the Mellman Group on Graham’s behalf was good or bad or whether they’re just whistling in the dark, we have no opinion, nor do we profess to have any expertise.

We do know that his bursting upon the candidacy scene has clearly gotten the attention of incumbent Brazil--seemingly so much so as to have driven him to issue a few quite shrill and desperate-sounding broadsides against Graham. That’s unfortunate; we would hope that should there be an actual contest for this at-large seat that it will focus on substance. (Hope always springs eternal!)

As readers of this newspaper know, we have been one of Graham’s strongest supporters--we endorsed him from the very first when he took on the then long-entrenched (and well-liked) Frank Smith; and we have for the most part admired his work on the council. Clearly, he has been one of the most conscientious members and has always given serious thought to his positions and tried to balance the often wildly competing interests and priorities among the voters in his ward, which is the most economically and racially diverse in the city.

Councilmember Graham, in addition to being a savvy legislator, has brought to his position a unique ability to understand and compassionately work amongst this incredible diversity of needs and interests that are emblematic of his ward. And, it is because of this that we do not relish the prospect of him redirecting his energies to become one of the four city-wide representatives. While we know he could be terrific in that role, we do not wish to see him separated from Ward 1 as would of necessity be the case--notwithstanding that he believes he will be able to continue looking after those voters also.

Once a ward councilmember is no longer the member for the specific ward, comity and tradition--and this is true in all legislatures--militates against the former ward member injecting oneself too directly into the nitty-gritty of in-the-trenches problem solving in that ward; that now becomes the responsibility of the successor. And, since one of Graham’s great strengths has been that of actually helping individuals and groups deal with the city and with problems caused by others as to which city agencies are not always so responsive, for his present constituents to lose him at this time would be unfortunate indeed.

To “move up” to be an at-large member we do not believe would bring new or greater strengths to the city council. He will not be a more effective legislator simply for that reason. But what he is likely to achieve is a strong possibility that a successor Ward 1 council member will be alarmingly less effective overall, both in the ward itself and on council.

It is no secret that there are large numbers of voters and other influential voices who believe it is time for Harold Brazil to go, that he has been only marginally effective as a legislator, and that his absence would not be noticed in the slightest. Yet, although we have not been among his avid supporters--we were last year particularly scornful of his attempts to create an overwhelming and burdensome regulatory scheme with his master business license scheme--we do recognize that he has made contributions and that his voice is one that does resonate in many diverse parts of the city. And, there are times when he can be quite aggressive on behalf of the taxpayers; his leaping into the fray, along with At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz on the WASA lead-in-the-water scandal has so far been impressive and his proposal for a fund to assist homeowners in replacing pipes is commendable (and the council should act on that without delay).

But simply because there may be a perceived weakness about Brazil as an effective council member is, by itself, no reason to pull out all stops for his removal, especially if it should result in a superb ward council member vacating a seat that could very well be taken over by someone considerably less savvy or caring than either of the two members who might soon be battling it out between themselves. We believe that would be a lose-lose proposition not only for the residents of Ward 1 but for all of us city-wide who are also represented by Harold Brazil and the other three at-large members.

Jim--Please stay where you are most urgently needed.