Remember January? Relative unknown Sekou Biddle narrowly beat out the establishment, insider candidate, Vincent Orange in the DC Democratic State Committee voting to become interim councilmember. Last night, Orange won in a crowded field including a poorly performing insider Sekou Biddle.
Looking back, was the January victory really a good thing for Biddle’s campaign?
In the lead-up to the State Committee vote, a group of people affiliated with progressive organizations in DC had begun mobilizing with the expectation that Orange would get the nod. I was among them. We planned to visibly launch an effort to seek a more progressive alternative to Orange and harness some of the frustration from a very insider process picking a very insider candidate from a decade past who brought nothing but old ideas to the debate.
Instead, that distasteful insider process picked Biddle, and Orange got to claim the outsider’s mantle. A lot of the energy dissipated. Then Biddle spent most of the next few months racking up insider endorsements, challenging people’s signatures, and not standing for much of anything.
Plus, the scandals around Kwame Brown’s Navigators and campaign finances and around Vincent Gray’s hiring then made being the insider a real liability. Back in January, those scandals hadn’t broken, so it wasn’t as clear that his support from Brown and Gray would be so damaging. But even at the time, I wrote that he needed to show some independence, and that never happened.
Neither did he ever find a strong message or make a clear case for his candidacy. When writing the article on the strategic voting quandary, I asked folks from his campaign to explain some ways Biddle differs on policy from Patrick Mara. Since Mara is a member of the Republican party, you’d think there would be some. They couldn’t give me any.
I met with Sekou Biddle early on and liked him. I still do. He’d make a good member of the Council, but needs to learn to be a good candidate first. Successful politicians are always running as if they’re about to lose their seat (exhibit A: Jim Graham.) Instead, Biddle ran as if he had a huge lead, hesitating to take bold or courageous stances that could have won him strong supporters but also risked losing some shakier voters.
He claimed to be the education candidate, but never really defined how exactly he would improve schools. This left him with a lot of soft support that quickly faded for want of a clearly articulated argument for why he’s the best, instead of just okay.
What would have happened if Biddle hadn’t won the State Committee? He would have been more of the outsider. On the other hand, Orange might have picked up some Council endorsements and even more unions.
Maybe he would have run the scrappy campaign that he needed to run, and taken some stands to make a group of people more enthusiastic about supporting him. Or maybe his campaign would have been the same.
Biddle needed to explain to the public why he was the best candidate, instead of just a candidate with a good resume. If he had still been the challenger trying to break the control of insider Orange, maybe he would have recognized the need to do that.
On the other hand, maybe an interim Orange would have created even more energy for a candidate other than Biddle, like Bryan Weaver. Or maybe we would have been split anyway and it would all have ended up pretty much the same after all.
Looking ahead, the method of picking interim councilmembers seems to be fairly poor, since the last two times it was employed the candidate lost, and special elections need an instant-runoff or some other method that reduces vote splitting. Might the Council now seriously consider any kind of voting reform?