A Virginia Election Primer and Getting to Know the DC Council Vol 11: Brandon Todd and Ward 4

Good day Runners!

Thank you so much to those of you who sent me feedback on last week’s issue. I got more emails than usual and it’s always nice to hear from all of you. I wanted to add a bit of a clarification to one of last week’s actions, the writing a letter to the editorial boards of the Times and the Post. I realized, thanks to a reader, that I didn’t really make a distinction between individual journalists and the papers at large. There are many individual journalists who are doing daring, tireless work on healthcare, but they unfortunately do not get to decide where in the paper or where in the online layout their stories go. In my opinion, these are two separate issues and writing to the Times or the Post does not diminish my admiration for these journalists. Some examples of those doing great writing on this topic are Robert Pear at the Times and Paige Winfield-Cunningham at the Post. I do not believe that the majority of American news readers — yes, even in 2017 — get their news by following the writing of individual journalists, however, so I still think above the fold reports are important. As an example of people continuing to be uninformed, just this week the Kaiser Foundation released polling data that showed only 38% of Americans are aware that the GOP Healthcare Bill makes massive cuts to Medicaid. We could also have a whole separate conversation about cable news and their coverage, or lack thereof, which is also terrible. But for now I’ll just say I hope that distinction — between journalists and the institutions they work for — is clear to people.

Today I’m reaching the home stretch of my Getting to Know the DC Council series with Brandon Todd of Ward 4. You can check out my profiles of some of the other Councilmembers by taking a look at my Medium page. Last week I covered at-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman.

This week I am also taking a look at the local races in Virginia and pulling some brief profiles on some of the Democratic candidates that are running. Enjoy!

Small Immediate Acts of Resistance

​That are never calling your Senator or Representative

  • Write a letter to Rex Tillerson telling him to condemn the violence against gay men in Chechnya. I mentioned Ramzon Kadyrov in the actions from a couple of weeks back. He is the leader of quasi-independent Chechnya, a protectorate in Russia. His regime is responsible for rounding up and torturing gay men in Chechnya, among other atrocities. Many senior US officials, including U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), former Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are among those who have publicly condemned the arrests in Chechnya, but Rex Tillerson our Secretary of State, has not. In April, 50 US Senators wrote Tillerson a letter urging him to condemn these atrocities…and he still hasn’t. Write to Mr. Tillerson and let him know how you feel about that. Tell him to speak out in the strongest terms and condemn these actions but also to put pressure on Putin to force Kadyrov to stop. The State Department should be doing everything in its power to stop what’s happening in Chechnya. Rex Tillerson US Department of State 2201 C St NW Washington, DC 20520

In honor of the holiday I’m keeping this section short this week guys. Enjoy your travels or your cookouts and recharge a bit. ❤

Resistance Events this Week

​Local to DC unless otherwise noted

June 29: Rally for Transit Justice hosted by Americans for Transit
June 29: Phone Bank to Elect Pro-Choice Candidate Ralph Northam as Governor of Virginia, hosted by NARAL Pro Choice America and DC for Progress
July 1, 2, and 3 (nationwide, go type in your zipcode): Resistance Summer Community Cookouts, hosted by moveon.org/your neighobors
July 6: NJNP Debrief and Planning Meeting, hosted by No Justice No Pride

Topic 1: Getting to Know the DC Council Vol 11: Brandon Todd, Ward 4, and the Committee on Government Operations

This week we’re heading to the northern corner of DC to talk about Ward 4, whose Councilmember is currently Brandon Todd. Councilmember Todd is Mayor Bowser’s chosen successor to the Ward 4 seat — Mayor Bowser used to be the Ward 4 councilmember, Mr. Todd was her campaign’s finance director, and he ran to take her place in the special election of 2014 after she won her mayoral race. Councilmember Todd was elected to a full, four-year term after that in 2016. Councilmember Todd’s run in office has been dogged by a campaign finance scandal. An April report by the Washington Post revealed that Mr. Todd had been under investigation for “being unable to document more than $100,000 in contributions reported by his campaign and failing to report an additional $34,000 in donations”. While the audit into these donations — being conducted by the DC Office of Campaign Finance — began several months before the 2016 primary, but

The findings were kept confidential … as city auditors gave Todd’s campaign repeated chances to correct the record, including granting several extensions to explain the discrepancies.

Which they never satisfactorily did….

Because of this decision, voters were unaware of Councilmember Todd’s financial…issues…until after the 2016 general election was complete and he had already been sworn in to a four year term. Councilmember Todd also notably, since his term began, opposed a campaign finance reform proposal by Chairman Mendelson in June of 2016.

It was announced earlier this month that Councilmember Todd is being fined $5,100 for his campaign’s mishandling of finances, an amount that DC activists say is ridiculously low given he is accused over well over $100,000 of mis-documented contributions. Councilmember Todd has since paid the fine in full.

Councilmember Todd represents the people of Ward 4, the Ward occupying the northern corner of DC and neighborhoods such as Takoma, parts of Chevy Chase, Petworth, Fort Totten, and Manor Park.

According to 2010 Census data, Ward 4’s population was 24.5% White and 58.7% Black. Ward 4 has a relatively high percentage of people identifying as Hispanic at 18.7% in 2010. In 2010, Ward 4’s median household income was $60,642 compared to around $85,000 that same year in DC generally.

Councilmember Todd currently chairs the Committee on Government Operations, whose other members include Councilmember Trayon White of Ward 8, Councilmember Nadeau of Ward 1, Councilmember Evans of Ward 2, and at-large member Elissa Silverman. The Committee on Government Operations is, in the words of the Council:

… responsible for overseeing the executive, administrative, and operational functions of the government. The Committee also oversees a wide array of offices that advocate for the diverse population of the District of Columbia. It works to ensure accountability and wise use of taxpayer dollars across all the offices and agencies under its purview.

Kind of ironic given Councilmember Todd’s current woes. Offices under the purview of this committee include Executive Office of the Mayor, the Interfaith Council, the Office of Veternas Affairs, the Office of GLBT Affairs…and pretty much the office of any “identity” affairs (Latinos, women, you name it). Legislation being considered by this committee in the near future includes bill B22–0165, The Grant Administration Amendment Act of 2017. This bill would make it unlawful for an organization giving out grand funding to ask about the felony status of the person or entity applying for the grant. That is pretty awesome guys, and you can write Councilmember Todd and tell him so, since his committee is considering it.

I reached out to Councilmember Todd to answer some questions on activism in DC, and he was kind enough to provide me with some answers. Here they are. (Note: an earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Councilmember Todd had not responded to my request to answer questions; that was an error on my part.)

Question 1: What, in your mind, is the issue most under threat here in DC from the current administration and why? This can be anything from a specific law you think Congress may try to overturn, to a broad topic like DC’s budget.

I think what is most threatened is the basic notion of home rule and self-determination for our city and its over 680,000 residents. Home rule was established in 1973, and since then we have made incredible progress in advancing the interests of our city through self-government. Those foundational democratic principles are now increasingly under threat.

Question 2: As a member of the Council, what are your priorities for DC in the coming months? Again, these can be specific legislation or just broad goals.

As the Councilmember representing Ward 4, I remain laser-focused on advocating for the priorities of Ward 4 residents. These include improving public safety and education, advancing equitable economic development, ensuring our seniors are well cared for, and delivering swift and responsive constituent services. As Chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, I am also focused on ensuring that our Government’s agencies are accountable to residents and use tax dollars wisely.

Question 3: If you could tell the residents of DC to do one thing — either support one cause, take one action, join one group, etc — to help advance progressive causes in DC and/or keep DC independent, what would it be? (You could actually list a couple of things here if you’d like.)

I encourage residents to become active in their community. If you disagree with something going on around you, stand up, speak out, and lead an effort to address it. Attend your community’s civic association and Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings. Get to know your neighbors better. Come testify at City Hall before a DC Council Committee hearing. I think residents will find that greater involvement in their community and city affairs will make them feel empowered and fulfilled in the face of a national political climate that can be frustrating.

Topic 2: A Virginia Election Primer

As many of you may already know, the commonwealth of Virginia has its elections for the state house of delegates and the governorship in 2017. The primaries have already happened in Virginia, and so our candidates have been chosen. Now it’s time to fight for them. We’ve already done pretty well so far. For the last several elections, there have been an average of over 30 seats for Virginia State legislature that have had Republicans run unopposed; this year there are only 10.

So let’s get to know the candidates and the strategy. In order to flip Virginia’s House of Delegates blue, we need to take control of 17 seats and hold all of our existing seats. Currently Dems control only 34 out of 100 seats, with Republicans controlling 66.

Flippable.org has a breakdown of all the candidates running in flippable districts. Five of these are their “priority” districts — the ones they think are most likely to flip, and here’s some information on each of them:

  • Virginia 42: The candidate, Kathy Tran, is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees. VA-42 voted for Hillary Clinton by a 20 point margin, and the incumbent Republican candidate has dropped out of the race, leaving only a relatively unknown GOP challenger in his place.
  • Virginia 32: The candidate, David Reid, is a former Navy Commander and the first in his family to graduate from college. This district voted for HRC by a 19% margin, and (being in northern Virginia…) consistently supports Democratic values and candidates, yet is represented in the State House by a Republican.
  • Virginia 2: Flippable still lists both primary candidates on their page here. According to ballotpedia, Jennifer Foy won the primary, but they list her as winning by only 10 votes, so I’m not sure if that’s still being contested/recounted. But in any case, the Republican incumbent also dropped out here, and the guy who’s running is a consultant for the Koch brothers. In 2015, Republicans spent over 2.5 times as much on this race as Dems did and won by only a 1% margin.
  • Virginia 13: This State Republican is the sponsor of an LGBTQ+ discrimination bill
  • Virginia 31: The candidate, Elizabeth Guzman, is an immigrant and a social worker. This district voted for Hillary Clinton by a 7% margin and is currently represented by a “deeply conservative” NRA advocate

Now these five districts are very important, because they seem like our most likely flips. However, they are also where many people will be spending their time and energy already AND because they are the most likely flips, they are the safest in a way and may need the least work. If we want to truly flip the State House, we need those 5 seats plus twelve more. We’ve got to spread out our efforts as much as possible.

Flippable’s second tier seats to flip only includes 12 more districts, so we would need to win all of them:

  • Virginia State House 40
  • Virginia State House 94
  • Virginia State House 21
  • Virginia State House 10
  • Virginia State House 12
  • Virginia State House 100
  • Virginia State House 27
  • Virginia State House 28
  • Virginia State House 50
  • Virginia State House 72
  • Virginia State House 67
  • Virginia State House 68

We need to go after all of them. The GOP outraised us in these districts sometimes by a 10-to-1 margin in 2015. No I am not exaggerating. Check out Virginia 40. That’s not even putting up a fight. This time we make them work for every vote.

My advice: Pick one of the five priority districts to “adopt”. In fact do it collectively with all of your friends. And then also pick TWO of the second tier districts. From now until November, figure out every possible thing you can do to help the candidates in those districts: host a fundraiser in your home; sign up with their campaign to phone bank; go canvas! A lot of these districts are actually close by. Find them, read about them, and do it. Get your friends in DC to do it too. These elections are often decided by a few dozen votes. We can do this!

The governorship in Virginia is also going to be an important race. Leiutenant Governor Ralph Northam won the primary election in June over challenger Tom Perriello so Northam is now our candidate. Treasure him. Hold him close. Get to know him intimately.

You heard me.

This one is more straightforward: there’s only one Democrat, and one race for governor. When you go out to canvas for the State House candidates, tack Northam on there too. Watch how much money is being raised by both sides closely, and mobilize your networks when necessary to stir up enthusiasm for him. Governorships are so important. Most redistricting efforts require approval from the Governor, and Dems currently hold only 16 governorships nationwide. That needs to change. Virginia (and New Jersey!) are our first up.

In 2018, we’ll swing our focus to the House of Reprsentatives in Virginia. But for now, check out these guys and give it all you’ve got.

Aaaaaaaand that’s all folks! Tune in next week for my penultimate Getting to Know the DC Council series and have a really great July 4th. I hope it is as AMAZING AS THIS GIF IS!!

In solidarity,


And now the Maple pic!

Speaking of getting to know people intimately…….

You can email me at theforerunnerletter@gmail.com with your thoughts, criticisms, or ideas. Last week’s letter was on At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman.

Follow me on Twitter at @speaknojessica. And get your friends to subscribe to The ForeRunner at http://tinyletter.com/theforerunner because how else will you know what is going on in the world?! Surely there is NO OTHER CONCEIVABLE SOURCE of information.

Jessica, the writer, has written for Gender Avenger and been a speaker for Trybe. She is the DC state captain for the national activist group Solidarity Sundays (solidaritysundays.org, look for the NE DC/Brookland group) which meets once a month to take progressive political action. She developed this newsletter in response to the 2016 election.