Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie talks to D.C. voters. (Courtesy photo)
Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie talks to D.C. voters. (Courtesy photo)

Ward 5 D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie, faced with the decision of the D.C. Board of Elections to remove him from the June 21 Democratic primary ballot in his quest for attorney general because he failed to fully qualify for the office, has asked the D.C. Court of Appeals for consideration.

And along the way and with time running out, he has been encouraged by public support that continues to grow.  

“I have appealed the Board of Elections’ erroneous decision on the minimum qualifications required for attorney general candidates,” McDuffie said in a statement. “Legal experts, original proponents of the law that created the independent, elected office of the attorney general, and residents across the District all agree that the board’s decision is simply wrong. I am confident that we will succeed on appeal and ensure that District residents ultimately decide who is the most qualified to be our next attorney general. Our campaign remains focused on discussing the issues that matter the most to District residents in every neighborhood across our beloved city.”

McDuffie’s campaign legal team filed an application for expedited review of the elections board’s decision with the court of appeals on April 21. The 120-page application argued the board misinterpreted the statute mandating qualifications for the attorney general position. The application requests a quick decision by the appeals court due to the board’s deadline of April 28 on matters of qualifying for the primary in time for the printing and mailing of the ballots. If the April 28 deadline cannot be met, the application asks the court to issue a temporary stay of the board’s decision and if necessary, holding off the primary until the matter becomes resolved.

Since the board’s recent decision, his campaign has received support for his efforts to remain on the ballot and in the race. On April 22, seven current and former members of the council including D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) and former Council members Kwame Brown, Yvette Alexander, Tommy Wells, Michael Brown and David Catania, filed an amicus brief with the court supporting McDuffie’s right to run.

“I was a co-author of the bill setting up the elected attorney general’s office,” said Mendelson at a Ward 8 Democrats candidate’s forum on April 23. “It was never intended to exclude council members who otherwise met the qualifications from running for or being elected to the office.”

There has been talk in political circles about the council considering emergency legislation that would allow McDuffie to be included on the ballot. Mendelson, who said he would not support such action, and D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large), speaking at the Ward 8 Democrats event, expressed concerns about using emergency legislation to aid McDuffie and said the matter should be addressed utilizing the proper legislative process.

While Charles Wilson, the chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, rarely weighs-in on primary races, he expressed reservations about the board’s decision regarding McDuffie.

“It is clear there are some lingering questions that need clarity regarding the qualifications to run for the office of the attorney general,” Wilson said in a statement. “But it is also clear that many supporters of the Kenyan McDuffie campaign stand by his appeal, which the campaign has a right to do. Now we wait to see the outcome.”

Gordon Fletcher, chairman of the Ward 5 Democrats and a candidate to succeed McDuffie on the council, encourages McDuffie’s desire to stay in the race.

“I hope he can win on appeal,” Fletcher said. “The law is a gray area when it comes to the qualifications for attorney general. In this case, it could go either way. However, I think it would be reasonable to believe that Kenyan can serve as attorney general.”

Tyrell M. Holcomb, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 7, said McDuffie’s troubles reflect a deeper problem with the District’s electoral process.

“This is an attack on our democracy,” Holcomb said. “Residents should decide who appears on the ballot, not anyone else. I think this is a sign that the rights of minorities are in trouble. In the meantime, I hope that an effort is underway to make the legislation clearer as far as who qualifies as a candidate for attorney general so we won’t have to go through this again.”

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James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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