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Ambrose Retirement May Lead to Free-for-All for Seat

With this past weekend’s retirement announcement by D.C. City Councilwoman Sharon Ambrose (D), the race for the Capitol Hill-based Ward 6 seat has been thrown wide open, adding to what is already a lively city-wide election cycle.

Ambrose’s announcement, which was not unexpected within D.C. political circles, cited her need to devote more time to her family and her ongoing battle with multiple sclerosis.

But even as District leaders expressed sadness this week at Ambrose’s decision to step down after eight years on the Council, already at least two candidates have expressed interest in her seat, and District political insiders expect more to get in line.

Some speculate that the race might also provide the perfect opening for a comeback by former Councilmember Harold Brazil (D), who held the Ward 6 seat before Ambrose did, and who lost his At-large Council seat to Kwame Brown (D) in 2004.

“If Sharon had run again, she would have had trouble finding an opponent,” said Tony Bullock, executive vice president of public affairs for Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and former director of communications to D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D). “She has achieved institutional status in the District. That being said, when an incumbent steps down from a Ward seat, the line forms quickly. The same thing is happening right now in Ward 3 and Ward 5 where Councilmembers [Kathleen] Patterson (D) and [Vincent] Orange (D) have made clear their intentions to run for district-wide office.”

“For citizens and veterans of District politics, its really rare you have so many open races,” said D.C. Shadow Senator Paul Strauss (D), pointing out that several Council members are also expected to run for mayor, if incumbent Anthony Williams decides not to seek a third term, as many observers expect. “I think Ward 6 has been in play for a while — Ms. Ambrose’s retirement is not a dramatic surprise. … At this point it’s going to be a spirited race.”

But Bullock said that Brazil, if he chooses to run, would be the wild card in the race.

“I think Harold, if he ran, would probably get the lion’s share of support,” he said. “It really boils down to name recognition and likability and Harold is a very likeable guy and his name recognition is enormous. He can raise money and put a political campaign together.”

Reached at his law office this week, Brazil, who still resides in Ward 6, said he’d not yet made a decision on whether to throw his hat in the ring.

“I’m thinking about it, but that’s all,” Brazil said.

But with less than a year to go until the city’s primary election — what is widely considered the “real” election in the overwhelmingly Democratic city — Brazil said the Ward 6 race is sure to draw several more candidates in the coming months.

“After the first of the year, you’re really going to start seeing evidence of the race” in Ward 6, he said.

For now, though, City School Board member Tommy Wells and Ambrose’s 2002 challenger, Keith Perry, are the only two candidates in the race.

Wells, who will make his official announcement on Saturday morning at Marty’s Restaurant on 8th Street, said that he wanted to get in the race early because “there’s been a lot of speculation about whether I would run or not and instead of speculation I just want people to know. I also hold a School Board seat, and this seemed like the most responsible thing to do.”

A former commissioner and chair for Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B, Wells said he’s begun to reach out to other Ward 6 ANC members to support his campaign and is seeking Ambrose’s endorsement.

Perry, who garnered 4,482 votes in 2002 when he ran against Ambrose, about half of Ambrose’s 8,152 votes, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

But whoever takes Ambrose’s seat on the Council is going to inherit a ward in the midst of massive change. Several large scale redevelopment projects — such as the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, the new Nationals’ baseball stadium and a number of large housing renovation projects including Reservation 13 — began under Ambrose’s tenure as chairwoman of the Council’s Economic Development Committee.

“With Sharon on the committee, any developer knew they had to take community concerns very seriously,” Strauss said. “With everything happening there, and the projects that are so critical to the city, Ward 6 covers a lot of strategic area.”

“That ward is going to be a very busy place in the next 10 to 15 years,” Bullock said. “In many ways its where most of the [development] action will be.”

One factor that could be an advantage for Brazil is that he chaired the Economic Development Committee before Ambrose.

“I think in terms of neighborhood development, Ward 6 is really the hot spot right now,” Brazil said. “The spaces are filling up in the downtown area, a lot is being built and the focus is moving out to the neighborhoods more, so its important that we keep things on track in Ward 6.”

Wells said that a big part of his platform will be the creation of “livable communities” as Ward 6 moves into its major redevelopment years.

“I don’t want to minimize what it means to keep creating livable communities and what that’s going to be under redevelopment,” Wells said. “When we create the baseball stadium project in Southwest, it can’t be just a bunch of Hooters restaurants. It has to serve the residential community that’s going to be built down there.”

“I actually expect the pro and con on economic development to be a pretty interesting issue in the campaign to replace Sharon,” said Walter Smith, executive director of the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, a local public advocacy firm. “And I think economic development is a concern city-wide, not just in Ward 6. … I think it’s going to be a great year for anyone who cares about issues in the city.”

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