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.
Jim was a remarkable and brilliant Councilman. His influence and power on the Council was such that no bill or significant policy action moved forward without consultation with him. He was involved in most of the significant social and political issues of his day. It seemed he was everywhere. On the Council, he was the tail that wagged the dog. No Councilperson before or since has exercised such influence. Anyone following Jim in office was bound to be at a disadvantage. Which brings us to the current Ward 1 race.
Here are the reasons I will vote for Salah Czapary for Ward 1 City Council:
His experience as a police officer. Gone are the days when Councilmembers had a specific apprenticeship in communities and worked on civil rights. Salah was not only a police officer for 8 years, but a gay officer as well –and that cannot be easy! I worked in community policing for 6 years under Mayor Williams and have the highest regard for our MPD force, which I believe is among the best in the country. Nevertheless, you rarely hear specific solutions to police reform from Councilmembers. Solutions born out of experience in the field and in our communities. In a different time, leadership in our city was determined by the effort you put into the struggle for better conditions for all. Salah has that. I read the op-ed in the Post and was impressed with his arguments. It’d be nice to have someone roaming the halls of the District building who can talk details and be specific about crime & policing.
His heritage and background as the son of immigrants. Part Hungarian and Palestinian, he fits the spirit of Ward 1 and in particular Adams Morgan. Living here has always felt like an insurgency! We are the resistance. Just look around. I believe he will bring the outsider’s perspective to the District Building. He has been there and therefore knows the obstacles immigrants face. Hispanics will be paying particular attention to that.
His engagement. Perhaps I am spoiled from the days of Graham where you saw him everywhere in the Ward on a constant basis. Jim was always asking you questions and getting your opinion, making speeches at community meetings and showing up at crime sites, etc. Seems to me that has been missing. I enjoy the energy and the effort of this young man and the desire to serve.
Finally, his youth. I support most of the incumbents, including the Mayor, who are up for election in the District. Nevertheless, Czapary would be a breath of fresh air and would bring a new generation of young people into politics and public service in D.C. I believe he would be bright, inquisitive, annoying and challenging on the Council and that is a good thing.
Did I mention Ward 1 always likes to shake things up?
Jose Sueiro was Publisher and Editor of various Spanish language newspapers in D.C. & a political appointee in the Williams administration. He lives in Adams Morgan!