On the ground in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

Larry Pretlow's often strange ANC campaign enters final push

October 26, 2010 - 02:05 PM
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Larry Pretlow (right), with his current campaign manager, DaMar Jackson. (Photo: TBD Staff)

Larry Pretlow is fuming.

It’s a dreary Sunday afternoon in the District, and Pretlow was supposed to be campaigning in his Ward 8 neighborhood. But it looks like it might rain. Plus, he’s all worked up.

Earlier in the day, Pretlow said, he tried to discipline his young niece, who had exited a car without checking for oncoming traffic. He yelled at the girl, but said he never hit her. Pretlow said he was then approached by a D.C. police officer who took issue with Pretlow’s actions. Further complicating the incident: Pretlow said the officer had just come from the home of ANC 8C commissioner Mary Cuthbert, his opponent in the upcoming election.

Prelow wasn’t cited for any sort of infraction, but said he was warned about domestic violence. And he wasn’t about to let it go. He called the MPD to complain about the officer, but wasn’t satisfied with the response. So instead of knocking on doors and handing out fliers, Pretlow headed off to the police station to file a complaint.

“We told him that his assistance wasn’t needed,” Pretlow says after picking up instruction forms for filing a grievance against an officer. “I guess he was going to show his authority. He wasn’t going to be told that he wasn’t needed.”

His aggressive response felt a little overblown based on what he described had happened. But it wasn’t particularly out of character for Pretlow, a 21-year-old Strayer University student who has spent months in a bitter campaign against Cuthbert, a longtime fixture in Ward 8 politics.

“Thumbs up, but what have you done,” Pretlow says of Cuthbert. “Now, people are not happy with her. People are not satisfied at all. A lot of people don't even know what the ANC is and she’s been commissioner for so many years because of low voter turnout.”

Pretlow has run a lively but at times confusing campaign for the unpaid commission seat. He has fired off press releases, accused a District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics employee of favoritism, printed campaign T-shirts, dropped hundreds of dollars on the race and tried to cast himself as the next Marion Barry. He’s quit and re-started his campaign at least once, gone through two campaign managers, and turned his apartment into a war room of sorts -- complete with a ward map, list of registered voters and a wall papered with his released campaign literature. In the last week, his public Twitter feed has devolved into an emotional roller coaster.

His aggressive strategy might earn him some votes, but it has also soured some on his candidacy.

Cuthbert hasn’t said much of anything on the race. When approached by a reporter after an ANC meeting earlier this month, she declined to comment, saying she is “not even entertaining that foolishness.”

“This has been the most divisive race that I’ve seen at any ANC level since I've been in the District of Columbia,” says Jacque Patterson, president of the Ward 8 Democrats. “And it's very disappointing.”

Cuthbert has a long history in Ward 8, though not all of it is pretty. In 1996, she was reportedly part of an alleged altercation with other local politicians that left another ANC commissioner bruised. There have also been other allegations of harsh language and escalating neighborhood spats, and evidence of financial mismanagement. But, with the exception of one term during the 1990s, she’s managed to continuously retain her seat since the 1980s.

This November, Pretlow says he hopes to garner about 700 to 800 votes and that Cuthbert won’t get more than 300 — an ambitious goal that could only come about if voter turnout suddenly spiked within the ANC. But it’s a campaign Pretlow, a relatively recent transplant from Ward 7 to Ward 8, says he would have run no matter the opponent.

“I had already decided to run for an ANC seat, and because I relocated, I saw an opportunity, or at least I thought I saw the opportunity. ... This year I intended to run for something, to run for an ANC seat,” says Pretlow, who hadn’t attended an ANC meeting until this month. “But when I moved, a better opportunity was presented to run.”

ANC commissioners can wield a great deal of influence in their respective neighborhoods, but elections for the seats are generally sleepy affairs. They are nonpartisan. Write-in candidacies aren’t unheard of. Advisory Neighborhood Commissions offer residents who want to seek higher office, like a council seat, a chance to take the pulse of their community and learn the basics of D.C. government.

"Mary has been there quite some time,” Patterson said. “I can't remember when she wasn't ANC to be quite honest with you."

Both Cuthbert and Pretlow share some of the blame for the current state of the race, said Patterson. Cuthbert isn’t one to mince words and, Patterson acknowledged, she “gets a little angry if you don't respect her and the work she's put in the community.” Pretlow, meanwhile, has at times shown an unwillingness to back down or concede a point.

“(It’s) not that she does not want a challenger,” Patterson said. “It may be the manner in which he is challenging her.”

There are some in the community who aren’t fans of Cuthbert, and others who would like to see some younger blood on the commission.

“He’s very nice, he’s very wholesome,” said Naomie K. Martin, a former ANC commissioner herself. “Very respectful. And what I love about him is that he stays on the issues. He doesn’t stray. He’s right there on that issue. He does well and I told him as long as you stay on the issues, it’s not about talking about somebody. It’s about what you can do for the community.”

The race took an ugly turn in August, when Cuthbert was captured on video using a racial slur against Pretlow, who was campaigning at the house of a friend of Cuthbert’s. He says he didn’t want to go to the house, but his campaign manager pushed him into it.

“I’ve never been called the n-word before,” Pretlow later told the Washington City Paper. “By any race.”

That campaign manager, Liz Pecot, no longer works with Pretlow. She stands by the decision to campaign at the house, but took issue with Pretlow’s comments about the slur that he made afterward, saying people found them “hard to believe.”

"I would say that he lacks a maturity at this time to run for public office. ... he lacks the candor and honesty to run for public office,” Pecot says. “I do believe he still has a lot to learn. He's burned a lot of bridges already."

That could be bad news for Pretlow, who is already eying the Ward 8 council seat. This ANC race is just the beginning of his political career, he says. Pretlow has scheduled a community meeting for Oct. 27 called "Reshape Ward 8," a meeting he calls "the start."

"This is a whole ‘nother campaign within itself,” Pretlow says. "I’m basically running two campaigns at once. I’m doing my ANC campaign and also I’m starting my campaign for council now. Can I say that? Yeah. This is the start, Reshaping Ward 8."

When asked to clarify his remarks about starting a council run, Pretlow said: "I am, but I’m not. I’m not officially a candidate for a council seat but I am securing or building my reputation and developing a connection with Ward 8 residents."

Marion Barry, D.C.’s Ward 8 councilmember and former mayor, called Pretlow an “energetic young guy” but said he backs Cuthbert’s candidacy. As for Pretlow’s council ambitions, Barry found them dismissible.

“Good luck,” Barry said. “He won't get it any time soon.”

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