Feb 14, 2022 - News

Free-for-all election emerges to represent D.C.'s wealthy Ward 3

Mary Cheh campaigning in 2006.
A 2006 photo of council member Mary Cheh campaigning. Photo: Preston Keres/The Washington Post via Getty Images

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh’s abrupt decision to not seek re-election has turned a sleepy contest into one of the city’s hottest races.

Why it matters: Cheh has served since 2007. Her successor faces a packed agenda in Ward 3: overcrowding at some of the city’s most desired public schools, contentious neighborhood politics that can stymie new housing, and perennial feuds over bicycle lanes.

  • The ward stretches from quiet Foxhall Village to the busy Connecticut Avenue corridor — constituencies ranging from two college campuses to senior centers and the District’s richest ZIP codes.

What they're saying: "Many people have reevaluated their lives during the pandemic, and that has been the case for me as well," Cheh, 71, wrote Friday in an email to her supporters, adding she also wishes to spend more time with her granddaughter. She was expected to easily win re-election to a fifth term.

State of play: Two new candidates launched campaigns Friday evening. Some are still exploring bids.

  • Matt Frumin, Cheh’s former treasurer and a public schools advocate, announced his run in a fundraising pitch.
  • Tricia Duncan, a civic leader in Palisades, told Axios on Saturday she has begun collecting signatures to make the ballot.
  • Two other candidates were already in the running before Cheh’s decision. Deirdre Brown, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner in the Forest Hills neighborhood, filed in February to run. Monika Nemeth, a Forest Hills neighborhood commissioner, began campaigning last year.

Between the lines: With such a large field of candidates, Ward 3 observers are wondering whether heavyweights will endorse candidates.

  • Cheh’s endorsement would immediately elevate any candidate. Duncan told Axios she would aim to continue Cheh’s vision in office. “I am hoping for her endorsement,” she said.
  • The most sought-after endorsement may be from Attorney General Karl Racine. Several candidates, typically campaigning on progressive platforms, have won seats in recent cycles with his blessing. Frumin is close with council member and mayoral candidate Robert White, who Racine has backed.
  • While the mayor hasn’t endorsed a candidate in other races this year, her political allies may also support one of the campaigns.

And more than in other parts of town, the Washington Post is the bible of Ward 3 voters — especially among seniors who vote in large numbers. Its endorsement will boost any bid.

A much-talked-about scenario includes a celebrity-type figure who announces a run. The ward’s upscale enclaves could produce no shortage of wildcard candidates.

The big picture: Candidates will jockey to break out in a crowded field. Top issues include affordable housing, with progress in Ward 3 the slowest in the city. Its schools are so overcrowded that a 2019 report from parents called for the creation of four new public schools.

  • Brown, a mother of five children and current Palisades resident, said finding locations for new schools was paramount. “I am in favor of adding more affordable units in Ward 3,” she told Axios, adding: “I am focused on inclusiveness.” She pledged to bring a “fresh new perspective.”
  • Duncan is the former president of the Francis Scott Key Elementary School parent-teacher organization. She has led the Palisades Community Association since 2020. Cheh has “been a terrific advocate for our neighborhood,” she said. “I see myself taking that same energy ward-wide.”
  • Frumin is a longtime advocate for public schools in the ward and recently spearheaded the Lisner-Louise-Dickson-Hurt Home affordable housing project for seniors. He told supporters he would release a “detailed platform.”
  • Nemeth endorses the District’s plan to transform Connecticut Avenue with bicycle lanes. She has blasted as a failure the city’s Vision Zero goal to eliminate traffic deaths and criticized oversight over the program, which falls under the transportation committee chaired by Cheh.

What’s next: Tracy Hadden Loh, a Brookings Institution fellow on urban studies and a member of the Metro board, is seriously exploring a campaign, according to a source familiar with her outreach to community leaders in Ward 3.

  • She told Axios on Friday that she had no comment "at this time.”
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