Jun 15, 2022 - News

Town Talker: The Twitter-fluencers of the 2022 D.C. election cycle

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Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

In between news of the latest LGBTQ happenings in town and GIFs of men in Speedos, some of the hottest political scoops of the 2022 D.C. primary season could be found on a Twitter account called DC Homos.

Run by José Romero, a 44-year-old who works in IT, the account with over 91,000 followers that began as a passion project to highlight the local LGBTQ scene burst into the funhouse of city politics this year, breaking negative news about former police officer and Ward 1 D.C. Council candidate Salah Czapary, who is waging a spirited challenge against incumbent and progressive favorite Brianne Nadeau.

Why it matters: Citizen journalism shaking up an election cycle might sound quaint — like 2010 Twitter — but it hasn’t been seen before at this level in local D.C. And this year’s online discourse has injected a new element of surprise into silly season. A cast of Twitter influencers on both sides of the aisle has had on-the-ground impact on campaigns.

  • In addition to news about Czapary, Twitter users have revealed the Republican past of lesser-known Ward 3 candidate Monte Monash, which she addressed in a Twitter thread.
  • Those on the left have questioned if Faith Gibson Hubbard would deal with a potential conflict of interest if she wins the Ward 5 seat, pointing out that her husband is the head of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development.

State of play: Ward 1 has been ground zero, where Czapary shook up his campaign after reports online from Romero and other tweeters showed his chairperson had links to a Republican institute.

  • “I just spent about 30 minutes looking into him,” says Kate Ross, a D.C. resident and political researcher who backgrounded Czapary in her free time and tweeted the GOP connection. (Her typical work tracking international corruption gives her nightmares about Saudi retaliation.)
  • More recently, the DC Homos account acquired video of a man ripping down pro-Nadeau campaign signs.
  • The next day, a prolific anonymous account supporting centrist Democrats uploaded video of people grabbing a pro-Czapary sign. A tit-for-tat; both campaigns say they are the victims of sign smashing.

What they’re saying: “I vet everything,” Romero told me at a downtown park, mentioning that his inquiries into Czapary began after people sent him tips through DM. “People are afraid to come forward. I am willing to take that fire.”

  • As a progressive, Romero says he opposes Czapary’s support for more police and his proposed crackdown on dirt bikes and ATVs.

Says Czapary about the DC Homos account: “I really don’t put any stock in anything they put out. In fact, I find it repulsive how they treat members of the [gay] community, which I am a member of.”

The big picture: The accounts are proving influential, especially due to a D.C. press corps stretched thin trying to cover an unusually busy campaign cycle without enough time to dig deep into many new candidates.

The other side: Jonetta Rose Barras, a longtime local political columnist, characterizes much of the tweeting as “really nasty opposition research,” possibly even stifling future candidates from seeking public office.

“It’s unbelievable what we’re watching,” she says.

Zach Teutsch, a progressive activist, sees it differently: “When candidates tell partial truths, they should know the truth is going to come out.”

💬 You can follow me at @cuneytdil. Town Talker is a weekly column on local politics. Drop me a line about what your friends are chatting about: [email protected]

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