City Council campaign running on shoe leather

Ward 6 D.C. Council candidate Will Cobb has bragged that he is not part of the establishment. That’s true in so many funny ways.

Ward 6 D.C. Council candidate Will Cobb has bragged that he is not part of the establishment. That’s true in so many funny ways.

First, he’s not a Democrat. He’s supposed to be a Democrat, but his now-former campaign manager — a George Washington University grad student — forgot to submit the nominating petitions on time. Instead of quitting, Cobb picked himself up, dusted himself off, and bought lots of white duct tape to cover the word “Democrat” on his yard signs. He’s an Independent now.

“I think there’s a lot of people who would’ve loved it if I had just gone away,” Cobb says. Yeah, but not the reporters — several local news outlets reported on the blunder, making Cobb’s name unforgettable to anyone paying attention. And it certainly extended the life of his campaign, which faced long odds in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary against the leading candidate (and now Democratic nominee) Tommy Wells. Wells clobbered his two remaining primary opponents with over 65 percent of the vote. After winning the nomination, right as the Cobb campaign geared up for the final battle, Wells went on vacation.

Second, he doesn’t have a single big endorsement. Instead, Cobb is relying on shoe leather; he’s greeting people on sidewalks, knocking on doors, and showing up at community meetings. Since the primary, Cobb campaign signs have proliferated in the neighborhood. You can’t pooh-pooh the shoe-leather strategy — it certainly worked for Adrian Fenty.

And third, Cobb has lived in D.C. for only three years. Growing up as a military brat, he was never able to establish roots in any one place, but that never stopped him from winning an election: As his website points out, he was elected senior-class president of the third high school he attended.

“Nobody in there’s looked down the barrel of a gun,” he says of the current D.C. Council. (When I mention it, he concedes that Marion Barry did, in fact, look down the barrel of a gun when he was mugged this year.) Cobb’s point is that his experience as a Coast Guard officer — chasing down drug traffickers and over-fishers — gives him the gritty experience to handle a job on the D.C. Council.

“Do we have people who are gonna waffle in the breeze or people who are gonna stand up?” Cobb says he will stand up. His determination is admirable, considering that most people think he doesn’t stand a chance. But you can’t deny this: The duct tape is holding (unless you tug on it a little).

Detective S. Holmes interrogates witch

On Oct. 18, Debbie Anderson’s daughter Erin McNamara had a visit from the FBI. They had a few questions about mom.

Anderson, who graduated from the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law last year, was preparing for a trial in her Mount Pleasant apartment in July when two FBI agents knocked on her door. She let them into her foyer, where they played a tape recording.

It was a good friend from law school, speaking on an answering machine, saying something like this: “I got your message. It was pretty garbled, but I’m sure it had something to do with esoteric websites and suicide bombers.” (Her friend declined to be interviewed.)

Anderson, 56, tried to explain the message was the sort of joke her friend routinely made since suggesting a career in suicide bombing to another classmate who hated studying law (one of those hopelessly inside jokes). The explanation failed. You really had to be there.

A grand jury subpoena soon arrived in the mail, which Anderson’s lawyer convinced the feds to waive in favor of a voluntary interview at a Justice Department building. There, in response to questions from detective Seth Holmes (a member of D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department deputized by the FBI to work on anti-terror cases), Anderson denied that she advocates the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, and insisted that her political activism has always been legal. Holmes said he’d be in touch.

Anderson recounted her experience on Sept. 20 to a group of rapt law students at her alma mater. The seminar, part of UDC’s program for Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) federally mandated “Constitution Day,” focused on Anderson’s experience as an example of farcical homeland security overreach by federal authorities during times of war.

During the question-and-answer session, law school Dean Shelley Broderick said that when she came to the law school’s admissions committee decades ago, she was given this direction: “Bring in the biggest group of troublemakers you can find.” Everybody laughed. The consensus among Anderson’s peers is that she is just an activist — more of a constitutional Dennis the Menace than a terrorist. And she’s a witch. Not a Wiccan — a term she dismisses as some kind of “New Age” baloney — but a witch of the old-school: the spell-casting, burning-at-the-stake variety.

She used to participate in protests against military recruiters on campus — such groups, Anderson correctly notes, have been placed on Defense Department watch lists before. She believes the government picked up the offensive message with a sophisticated wiretap. (The Justice Department has no comment.)

Until last week, when the FBI called her daughter (who declined to be interviewed), Anderson figured the whole thing might go away. “I finally know what it feels like to be a real witch in a real witch hunt,” she says.

Some Hill residents are fed up with the bang-bang

It’s not fireworks season, but that doesn’t mean people who hate all the pyrotechnics at that time of year are just sitting there, waiting to be set off. At an Oct. 18 meeting of a northeast Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commission’s (ANC) security committee, residents discussed strategies for extinguishing the fireworks craze that takes over city neighborhoods every summer.

The routine until now has been for residents to get all upset around Independence Day, when many D.C. neighborhoods have more small explosions than usual, and then to forget about it for the rest of the year.

Stephanie Nixon, chair of the committee, is part of a group of neighborhood activists hoping to break the cycle. Originally from Texas, Nixon moved to D.C. at the end of 2004. During the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July this year, Nixon says she called 311 and sometimes 911 more and more every day. On the Fourth, she says her complaint level crescendoed at 20 calls. On one of those she reported that some sparks had landed on her roof.

The person on the line asked if the roof was on fire. It wasn’t.

“‘Call back when your building’s on fire,’” Nixon says she was told.

The problem, as explained at the meeting by Lt. Tony Falwell of the D.C. fire department, is that the laws prohibiting the irksome and dangerous fireworks are weak and the resources to enforce those laws are not abundant. The District’s police and emergency personnel are usually pretty tied up on Independence Day dealing with all the drunks.

The committee plans to make recommendations to the ANC, which they hope might eventually prod the D.C. Council into writing fireworks-restricting legislation.

“I love fireworks,” insists Stephanie Nixon, “but I do have a problem with them every day for three months.”