May 8, 2024 - Politics
Town Talker

Recall campaigns produce unusual time in D.C. politics

Illustration of an undo symbol over a red background with ballot elements.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

It's an unusual time in D.C. politics, where recall campaigners are collecting thousands of signatures in hopes of achieving the unprecedented: booting out two sitting council members, Charles Allen and Brianne Nadeau.

Why it matters: The swirl of politicking is drawing unconventional campaign tactics, national consultants working on local, and boatloads of money. Caught in the middle: Out-of-the-loop bystanders being asked to sign petitions.

State of play: The Ward 6 Allen Recall campaign has "around 4,500" signatures, says spokesperson Rich Masters, but they aim for over 10,000. The leader of the Ward 1 Nadeau Recall, Diana Alvarez, said the campaign "feels good about its chances" though it didn't release numbers.

  • By late summer, they'll need legit signatures from 10% of the ward's registered voters to force a recall election.

What I'm hearing: In Ward 1, the urban core of the city that includes Columbia Heights, there is a brouhaha over a new "tip line" established by Nadeau supporters.

  • The pro-Nadeau side has asked residents to call the tip line and report back the whereabouts of any recall signature gathering. That would allow, in theory, Nadeau fans to locate and even distract the signature gatherer.
  • The recall campaign calls it "intimidation tactics."

Jamie Sycamore, a neighborhood commissioner in Cardozo and longtime Nadeau foe, called the tip line to express his displeasure. A recording of a voicemail from Sycamore's cell number, provided by Nadeau, has him saying: "Is this Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany where people are reporting on their neighbors?"

  • Nadeau, a Jewish member of the council, called those words "angry, extremist rhetoric." When reached for comment, Sycamore said in a statement that the tip line "harkens back to a dark time in history that is meant to intimidate community activists who are working for a safer Ward 1."

Across town, a recent spat in Ward 6 centered on a claim that the recallers will cost the city $2.6 million in election expenses.

  • Masters, the recall spokesperson, accused the chair of the pro-Allen campaign, Tommy Wells, of "spreading falsehoods." He points to an email from a D.C. Board of Elections official that estimated a recall election "could be within the $300,000-$400,000 range."
  • Wells says his accounting also factors in what would need to happen if Allen is removed from office, which is another special election to fill the seat.

Follow the money: We don't officially know how much the campaigns have raised, because the next financial disclosure isn't due until July 31.

  • But Masters told me the Allen Recall has fundraised $116,000. The Nadeau Recall didn't provide numbers, saying "We're raising the money we believe we need to be successful."
  • The pro-Allen campaign has raised $125,000, according to Wells, while Nadeau says her side has collected over $70,000.

Zoom in: When Allen needed fundraising muscle, he got help from Karl Racine, the former D.C. attorney general and backer of progressive lawmakers.

  • An event was held in April at Hogan Lovells, the law firm where Racine became a partner after leaving office in January 2023.
  • Longtime D.C. businessman Warren Williams also recently co-hosted a fundraiser for Nadeau.

Between the lines: This type of fundraising is a throwback to the days when D.C. pols more often depended on $500 checks for their D.C. Council campaigns.

  • Nowadays, ward-based council members running for office usually participate in the D.C. Fair Elections Program, which matches small donations of up to $50 with public funds.
  • But campaign committees formed to lead or oppose the recall of a public official are not eligible for the Fair Elections program, hence the outreach to more deep-pocketed donors.

💭 My favorite tip line is my email inbox. Town Talker is a column about money and power. Send all your news and intrigue to [email protected]

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect the recent fundraising flurry is a throwback to $500 checks for council campaigns (not $2,000 for mayoral campaigns) and to clarify how the fundraising system works.

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