Ben Schumin, your “man on the street” out gathering people’s thoughts…

September 14, 2006, 1:50 AM

As date-stamped on my previous entry, my most recent trip to Washington DC was on September 12. That date coincided with the primary elections in Washington, where, among other things, people were making their choices for the Democratic Party candidate for mayor. In Washington, with the city itself being heavily Democratic, the Democratic primary is considered the actual deciding contest in the mayor’s race. And with Mayor Tony Williams not seeking another term, the field was wide open.

In fact, there were seven candidates on the ballot: Adrian Fenty, Linda Cropp, Marie Johns, Vincent Orange, Michael Brown (name remained on ballot despite exiting the race), Artee Milligan, and Nestor Djonkam. Fenty ultimately won the race (see here), and therefore, Fenty will likely be the winner in the general election in November.

Now let me remind you that I presently do not live in Washington DC, nor do I live in the Washington DC metropolitan area (though I’m working hard to change that part, but no success yet). I’ve followed the race to an extent, as I spend the equivalent of a month in Washington each year (a day in Washington every two weeks plus a few double-dips). I also really hate it when our national leaders step on the local leaders’ toes or leave them out of critical incidents, such as on May 11, 2005 (one of my DC trip days, by the way) when the White House and Capitol were evacuated due to an idiot who got lost in restricted airspace over Washington. There, the DC government wasn’t informed that something was up until it was all over. Mayor Williams was not happy, needless to say.

Still, I managed to get involved in the process for this election, despite being from outside the area. Before this trip, I looked up the different polling locations on to figure out where I wanted to go to do some man-on-the-street interviews about the election. Most of the polling locations were in schools and churches in locations that I’d not been before, or that I didn’t recognize offhand. Then one location set off that “bingo” kind of reaction for me: The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library at 901 G Street NW, which places it at the corner of 9th and G Streets NW, right across the street from one of the entrances to Gallery Pl-Chinatown station.

I’d been thinking about some questions for these man-on-the-street interviews for some time. I actually wrote down the questions just minutes before going to the library, while sitting in a chair at the Macy’s (former Hecht’s) in downtown Washington, just up the street from the library.

And here are the questions that I came up with:

  • Are there any particular issues that brought you out to the polls today?
  • Who do you want to see as the mayor of Washington DC, and why?
  • Regardless of who you voted for, who do you believe will ultimately win today’s primary, and why?

I deliberately did not ask the who-did-you-vote-for question directly, though #2 is worded to kind of ask it without really saying so.

Getting there, I parked myself near people doing some final campaigning for the various candidates, and having a great time doing it. In the hour that I was there, I got two interviews. One man and one woman, both African-American. In each case, I showed them the list of questions and explained what was going on. And here are the interviews:

I interview a woman about the primary election.

I interview a man about the primary election.

I was quite pleased, as these two people gave me some really well-thought out answers.

I also got some interesting responses from other people. Two DC voters declined interviews with me, and another person declined because they couldn’t remember the name of the candidate that they had voted for in the Republican primary, which, after going online later, I determined was more than likely David Kranich. That one was kind of interesting because not even the campaign volunteers nearby could think of Kranich’s name. It’s understandable, though, as the focus was on the Democratic primary, and Kranich was the only GOP candidate, so basically running unopposed for the Republican primary.

Then there were some other responses from people on the streets that the campaigners filtered out with their own work. As expected, we had a lot of Virginia and Maryland residents passing by, and residents of the two nearby states are of course ineligible to vote in DC. Then they inadvertently hit up some people still to young to vote.

The best response was from this one guy, who responded with “I’ve got felonies” when asked about the campaign. The campaigners were a little taken back by that one, responding graciously with, “I’m sorry to hear that,” before looking for others. I was a little taken back by that, too, and some of the campaigners and I discussed this during a few slow moments. The consensus was that we were so surprised about how up-front he was about it, because if any of us had been convicted of felonies, we wouldn’t be so up-front about it.

So all in all, there you go. It was an interesting day, and I had fun, and got to gauge the opinion of the public doing my man-on-the-street interviews. I also now have some “boilerplate” questions to use if I ever do this again (which I might).

Web site: From The Washington Post, about Adrian Fenty's victory. Fenty also received the Post's endorsement a week prior to the election.

Song: Nothing...

Quote: Funny... the one thing that would have prevented these interviews from happening was if I chickened out. Believe it or not, I was really nervous about doing this, as it was new territory for me. Last time I did an interview was for A Protest Against the War, and that was three years ago, and the questions were off the top of my head, vs. pre-scripted. Plus then it was at a large protest, and not hitting up random people on the street. Still, though, I think I did well for a first time.