Theresa Conroy, one of the last of the Republicans in a one-party city, is endeavoring to state her case in Ward 3 against D.C. Council Democratic nominee Mary Cheh in the weeks leading up to the general election in November.
She has been satisfied with the response she has received from voters, most of whom do not recoil in horror at the mention of her political affiliation. As Mrs. Conroy jokingly notes: "I've maybe had only a few voters say, 'Well, some of my best friends are Republicans.'" This is Mrs. Conroy's acknowledgment that hers remains an uphill struggle, especially in a city that views the victors of the Democratic primary as virtual locks to claim the race in November.
"It is a challenge to continue to get out there and say I am a credible candidate," the 55-year-old resident of Cathedral Heights said. "It is a slow process, but I think the name recognition is gradually coming." Despite the leftist bent of the city, Mrs. Conroy notes that Ward 3 does have a maverick's sense about it. It does have the highest concentration of registered Republicans in the city. It does have a large number of registered independents. And it does have a fair number of closeted Republicans who register as Democrats in order to participate in the Democratic primary.
She talks the talk of a fiscally prudent Republican. She sees a desperate need to add a sense of efficiency to the city budget. She sees an equally desperate need to hold city agencies accountable.
Hers are hardly the suggestions of a radical, although anyone who claims the Republican Party as their own in this bluest of precincts is uniquely set apart from the groupthink that so dominates many of the institutions in the city.
As one D.C. Council member told her in private after learning of her candidacy: "You're brave." Brave is not a word Mrs. Conroy would employ. She is idealistic enough to think the two-party system should not be dead in her beloved city. She is idealistic enough to think that competency is not an old-fashioned concept and that having two do the job of one is an act of bureaucratic surrender.
Mrs. Conroy sees weaknesses in Ms. Cheh's sudden civic-mindedness. Ms. Cheh concedes she never has attended a civic association or Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting in her neighborhood.
As impressive as Ms. Cheh's academic credentials are -- she is a constitutional scholar at George Washington University -- the classroom environment is hardly an apt preparatory course in the oft-times down-and-dirty dealings of politics. Her word would be one of 13 on the council, and it hardly would be the final one, no doubt a change from students jotting down her every word.
Ms. Cheh also recognizes the potential appearance of a conflict of interest in touchy matters involving her employer and the residents of Foggy Bottom. In such instances, she says she would recuse herself from the voting process. Her ability to juggle her professorial and council duties, if it comes to that, was a subject of concern in the Democratic primary race as well.
Mrs. Conroy no doubt plans to amplify these unsettling elements in the weeks ahead, while touting her ample portfolio, stuffed with both an academic and political background.
She earned a doctorate in politics from Catholic University in 1981 and was a lecturer at Marymount University for 16 years. She co-founded the Institute for Republican Women in 1992 and serves as president of the D.C. League of Republican Women.
Now she is fighting the good fight in a city that often thinks no deeper than the D next to a candidate's name.
It won't be easy to cut through the Democratic political machine.
As Mrs. Conroy knows only too well: As much as the city embraces diversity, it is a diversity that does not include the diversity of thought.
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