Ward 3 DC Council candidates turn to canvassing as signature collection ends

AU alum Monika Nemeth ended her bid for the seat, but nine other candidates are competing to replace Cheh

Ward 3 DC Council candidates turn to canvassing as signature collection ends

A mural commemorates the history of Tenleytown

As the campaign to replace Mary Cheh on the D.C. Council moves into its second month, the race remains wide open with as many as nine candidates competing for voters’ attention — and their signatures.

At farmers markets, candidate forums and on street corners, the candidates, who range from Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners to an 18-year-old high school student, have been canvassing for the signatures they needed to make the ballot.

Now, with the deadline to submit signatures having passed, candidates are turning to the next stage of the race: convincing voters that they are the best option to support in the Democratic primary in June. The primary functions as the de facto general election because of the Ward’s overwhelming Democratic majority, with the official general election occurring on Nov. 8.

Yet, not every candidate has made it this far. Monika Nemeth, who graduated from American University in 1988 and as an ANC commissioner became the first transgender elected official in D.C. history, dropped out of the race in mid-March and said she would refund donations to her campaign. Nemeth did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Eagle.

For those still in the race, the next two months are crucial. As the weather warms up, candidates will be on the streets trying to earn not just signatures but voters’ trust.

“It’s all about knocking on doors, talking to people, getting out there where people are and striking up a conversation about the race,” said candidate Matthew Frumin, who served as Cheh’s treasurer. “It’s gonna be a lot of shoe leather for everybody. I think everybody’s gonna need new shoes at the end of April and new shoes at the end of May.”

Deirdre Brown, a former ANC commissioner who is also running for the seat, said that in addition to knocking doors, endorsements will play an important role in the next stage of the campaign. 

She said she expects city politicians and newspapers to begin making endorsements over the next few weeks, but in the meantime she plans to focus on knocking on as many doors as she can.

As some candidates pick up more support than others, those who fall behind might drop out and endorse one-time opponents, narrowing the field before voters head to the polls. 

With a crowded field and no polling yet on the race, it’s still unclear who will emerge as a frontrunner among the candidates. Others in the race include Phil Thomas, chair of the Ward 3 Democrats; Ben Bergmann, chair of ANC 3D, which covers Palisades and Spring Valley; Tricia Duncan, former president of the Palisades Community Association; Eric Goulet, aide to former Mayor Vincent Gray; Beau Finley, chair of ANC 3E, covering the Cathedral Heights and Cleveland Park area; and Monte Monash, former chair of the D.C. Public Library. 

With so many candidates still vying for the seat, getting name recognition is a challenge many are facing. But one candidate has gotten attention not for his policy positions, necessarily, but for his age.

Henry Cohen is the youngest candidate in the race at 18 years old. He’s a senior at Jackson-Reed High School — formerly known as Woodrow Wilson High School — in Tenleytown and says he’s running to bring attention to education issues facing Ward 3 students.

Most people he’s approached, he said, have been intrigued by the idea of a teenager running for the seat, even if many of them may ultimately vote for someone else. 

“I’ve only had a few people be especially hostile to me,” Cohen said. But one of those people, he said, was Mayor Muriel Bowser, who he approached at the Palisades Farmers Market while collecting signatures in mid-March. Bowser's office did not respond to request for comment upon publication.

“When I told her I was running for D.C. Council, the first thing she said was, ‘Why aren’t you running for ANC?’” 

Cohen, whose father, Brian Cohen, is a former ANC commissioner, says he believes he can make more of a positive impact for students on the Council than he could on ANC.

The four candidates The Eagle spoke to said they felt they were being received positively by voters. But Frumin said that because the election is far off, he expects people to engage with the campaign more down the line than they are right now.

“Voters are living their lives,” he said. “It’s going to take a little while before people really focus on this race or any of the races that are going to be in June.”


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