While seven District residents are vying for the Ward 3 seat on the D.C. City Council in this fall’s election, for candidate and GW law professor Mary Cheh, the competition is hitting close to home.
Erik Gaull, an adjunct professor at GW, announced earlier this semester that he will also be running for Ward 3 council member, a position currently occupied by Kathy Patterson, who is leaving the seat in order to run for council chair.
For the seven Democratic contenders the election will essentially be decided at the Sept. 12 primary – no Republican has announced a candidacy – and Cheh said she doesn’t think the other GW candidate will have any effect on her campaign.
Gaull, 44, has been a part of GW’s emergency medicine faculty since 1997. While he said he has not taught in the classroom for some time, he has given more than 60 lectures internationally on behalf of the University. He said he recently quit his job as special assistant to the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in order to focus on full-time campaigning.
Public education and public safety are the top two issues on Gaull’s list for reforming the District if elected. Gaull has been a reserve firefighter for 26 years and is one of 900 certified emergency managers, an internationally recognized group that certifies achievements within the emergency management profession. Gaull said he helped head the emergency response in the District following Sept. 11.
He said he feels these qualifications will allow him to make D.C. “as prepared as possible for a manmade or natural disaster.” However, Cheh pointed out that the D.C. firefighters have endorsed her in the race.
Gaull was raised in New York City and received his undergraduate degree in urban studies and political science from Columbia University. He went on to receive a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University and has lived in the District for 17 years.
He currently resides in the Palisades area, located near GW’s Mount Vernon Campus. Ward 3 consists of Northwest neighborhoods including Friendship Heights, Tenleytown, Cleveland Park and Chevy Chase. Foggy Bottom is located in Ward 2.
In 2002, Kathy Patterson beat Gaull for the Ward 3 seat, but Gaull said he decided to give it another shot. In 2002 The Washington Post endorsed Patterson, stating that Gaull “did not perform that most basic civic exercise, registering to vote, until 1998, even though Gaull had first moved to the District in 1986.” Gaull instead voted in New Mexico by absentee ballot for those 12 years.
With seven people in the race Gaull said “he’s not taking anyone lightly,” but he feels that he is the “best qualified for the job.” Gaull has worked in local, state and federal levels of government, and held a senior position under D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams as director of operation improvements. He also worked for 10 years as a consultant on state and local levels. His experiences give him what he calls “a perspective and understanding of the problems facing this city.”
Gaull said many professors and faculty have supported and do support him in his campaign, but added that he does not wish to “put them in an awkward position” by forcing them to choose between him and Cheh.
However, Gaull said he did come to campus to ask for help, and 30 students immediately joined his campaign.
Kunal Khemlani, a GW sophomore transfer student from Switzerland, is Gaull’s volunteer campaign coordinator and said he joined the campaign because of Gaull’s “26 years of experience, his willingness to come to the students for help and his stance on the issues.” He said he spends two to three hours a day campaigning.
Cheh’s network of students, however, is double what Gaull has and numbers more than 60 people, she said.
“It’s quite clear I have the support of the GW community,” Cheh told The Hatchet.
Other candidates in the Ward 3 race include Robert Gordon and Catherine Wiss, both members of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, which make zoning recommendations to the city. Jonathan Rees, a business manager for an institutional dental care company; Bill Rice, D.C. Department of Transportation spokesman; and Democratic activist Sam Brooks are also vying for the seat.
Gordon said in an interview this week regarding the six other candidates, “The more the merrier,” adding, “I find everyone a worthy opponent.”