Graduate makes bid for city council

To make a difference in the District, city council candidate Max Skolnik is drawing from his alma mater to power his campaign efforts.

The Colonials are a driving force behind alumnus Skolnik’s campaign to capture a seat on the D.C. Council to represent Ward 4 from an incumbent. The 2002 graduate said the GW College Democrats – with a two dozen-member team that has knocked on more than 1,000 doors – are a cornerstone of his campaign.

“I couldn’t have done it without them,” Skolnik, a former CD, said. “They’re one of my strongest supporters in this campaign.”

The group has been campaigning for the Elliott School of International Affairs graduate for 10 weeks and plans to ramp up phone banking efforts to get out the vote in the days leading up to the April 3 primary, CDs communications director Shiah Shahmohammadi said. She said the cadre feels a stronger connection with Skolnik than any other candidate they’ve worked with in recent years, and his focus on economic development and education issues would better the quality of life in D.C.

“Members have gotten to know him, like him and even consider him a friend,” Shahmohammadi said. “Max has been canvassing with us almost every weekend, so members have gotten to know him on a personal level.”

The CDs approached Skolnik early in his campaign, offering their endorsement and campaign help, she and Skolnik said.

Skolnik’s platform is geared toward education, aiming to rehabilitate the District’s flailing public school system, in line with his background in youth issues prior to running for office. He founded the local nonprofit Kid Power, which provides academic support in underprivileged neighborhoods and looks to boost youth literacy rates, after graduation. He is calling for a year-round youth employment initiative in the city, as well as heightened anti-bullying efforts and stronger after-care programs.

Skolnik is also campaigning for ethics reform that would ban corporate and lobbyist donations to D.C. political campaigns and end council members’ ability to have other jobs outside representing their wards to avoid conflicts of interest.

Pitted against Muriel Bowser, who has held the position since 2007 and has raised nearly 30 times the amount of money Skolnik has for her campaign coffers, the alumnus said he plans to spend his remaining funds on an intense get-out-the-vote operation. While Bowser has $217,143 on hand, Skolnik has a pool of just $7,570, according to campaign finance records filed March 10.

“It’s not unthinkable that the underfunded challenger could win,” Skolnik said. “It’s not about who can buy the best T-shirts or who has the fanciest office.”

Skolnik said he has not accepted corporate donations, aligning with his support for a proposed November ballot initiative to ban corporate contributions to city political campaigns. He accused Bowser of supporting a culture of corruption by accepting donations from corporations, and also said her approach for school reform is “bureaucratic.”

Brandon Todd, Bowser’s campaign manager, said the incumbent’s track record throughout her years representing Ward 4 would drive her victory. He declined to comment on Skolnik specifically.

Bowser earned an endorsement from The Washington Post, saying she has “shown herself to be an effective advocate for the interests of her demanding ward and a leading voice for education reform and good government.” The endorsement also said other candidates vying for her spot “fail to make an effective case against her reelection.”

Despite campaigning from about 8 to 1 a.m. daily, Skolnik said he feels “the most positive I’ve felt since I’ve started.” His team of about 100 volunteers is focusing on maintaining direct contact with voters by calling, knocking on doors and distributing brochures to Ward 4 residents.

“It’s really a privilege to walk to people’s homes, be invited into their living rooms and hear their stories,” Skolnik said. “People understand that the incumbent is unacceptable and it’s really time for change.”

Ward 4 covers the northernmost part of the city, including Fort Totten, Petworth, Takoma and Chevy Chase.

This post was updated on March 22, 2012 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly referred to Takoma as a neighborhood in Maryland.

Priya Anand contributed to this report.

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