D.C.’s Ward 1 has always been an iconoclastic place that has a tendency to vote for outsiders and underdogs for Ward Councilperson. In the early 80’s Frank Smith, a civil rights veteran and yet an outsider to D.C.’s democratic elite, beat a white, establishment backed, liberal in his first election.
After four terms, Smith would lose to Jim Graham, a gay man (when that was less common in D.C. politics) who clerked for a Supreme Court justice and managed the District’s most famous AIDS prevention facility, the Whitman Walker Clinic (along the way befriending Elizabeth Taylor who became a major supporter). To win his first campaign in Ward 1, Jim put together an eclectic coalition of gays, Hispanics and what I describe as the ‘Euro trash’ vote – young, white, lefties from Adams Morgan, Mt. Pleasant & Columbia Heights. At first, he did not win the majority of the African American vote, nor the support of the democratic machine. Later the African American community and folks on the eastern side of the Ward became his most loyal constituents.