This article is part of a series highlighting local LGBTQ candidates running in the 2018 elections. The opinions and political beliefs expressed in this candidate spotlight do not necessarily reflect those of Metro Weekly, its employees, or its contributors.
To say Jamie Sycamore has an uphill battle in his race for D.C. Council might be an understatement — not least because some voters aren’t paying close attention to local elections.
“I’ve knocked on doors, and had people say, ‘Oh, you’re running against that nice Jim Graham,’” Sycamore says, referring to the former Ward 1 Councilmember who lost his re-election bid in 2014 and died last year. “And then I have to gently explain to them that I’m not running against Jim Graham.”
Sycamore’s first name also throws up a few hurdles, as some voters assume he’s female.
“I’ll be canvassing, and people will get confused by the name. ‘Jamie Sycamore, oh, wait, you’re the guy from the sign. I thought that was a girl.’ Then they start putting two-and-two together,” he says, laughing.
Despite those more embarrassing one-on-one interactions, Sycamore is running a huge campaign on seemingly boundless energy. You’ll frequently him out on a weekend, sometimes with a small group of volunteers, sometimes alone, shaking hands at different community forums and events, meeting with local business owners, and strolling through farmers markets.
He even crashed a recent happy hour for the D.C. chapter of Log Cabin Republicans — despite his affiliation as a Democratic-leaning independent and some disagreement with a few of his views, some attendees said, on background, that they would likely vote for Sycamore over Democratic incumbent Brianne Nadeau.
“We have an extensive social media campaign, we have signs everywhere, we go door-to-door every single day,” the 31-year-old first-time candidate says excitedly.
Part of the challenge facing Sycamore, a freelance sign language interpreter and disabilities advocate, is one of party affiliation. Nadeau, the incumbent, is a Democrat in a ward where 75% of registered voters are Democrats, running in a year when the national atmosphere is favorable toward Democrats.
But she also only earned 48% of the vote in a four-way primary, and Sycamore believes he can capitalize on that by attracting Democrats who supported her challengers to his side.
“I think Ward 1 voters are smarter than just voting blindly for a party,” says Sycamore. “I think Ward 1 voters will look at the issues and base their decision on who has the best answers to those issues.”
Sycamore says he’s running to ensure that residents have a sympathetic ear, criticizing Nadeau for not being responsive enough to constituent concerns, whether it’s trash, rats, lack of affordable housing, or economic development within the ward.
“I’m running for the DC council because I need to make sure that our constituents are being listened to,” he says. “It seems like right now residents of ward 1 are not being listened to, and their values are not being represented well on the council. A lot of the people who initially supported [Nadeau] and her first campaign feel they’ve been neglected and left behind.”
Not surprisingly, Nadeau rejects Sycamore’s allegations.
“I have been working for the past four years to fulfill the promises I made to the people of Ward 1. And I’ve done that by putting more than 500 units of affordable housing in the pipeline, by investing more than $200 million in our neighborhood schools, by investing in our communities, and by providing some of the best constituent services in the District,” she says.
“I’m out in the community all the time, whether it’s through my regular office hours, town hall meetings, or just out and about. And I get great feedback from my constituents,” she adds. “Now there’s certainly more I can do, and whenever someone has specific feedback, I’m always glad for that. But certainly the fact that I had a quite decisive primary victory with three challengers seems to indicate that the people of Ward 1 are feeling good about their Democratic representation.”
Nadeau also points to her commitment to LGBTQ voters.
“I’ve worked incredibly hard to advocate for the LGBTQ community,” Nadeau says. “And I’m really proud of that. It’s not just something that happened accidentally. I find that work to be incredibly important.”
If elected, Sycamore would be the only openly gay member of the Council, something he says would be a “huge honor.” He doesn’t just want to be a voice for the LGBTQ community, but an advocate for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups who feel their voices aren’t necessarily represented on the Council.
Sycamore has said publicly would like to model himself after former Councilmember Jim Graham in terms of constituent services and helping residents access city programs or benefits that are available to them.
“It’s really about follow-through, and making sure you’re responding to email, showing up to events, putting your face out there,” he says. “The role of a council member is not just there to make legislation, but you are there to be a bridge builder, to make sure that you bridge your constituents to the services that the city has to offer and also to resources that the city can’t offer, and to bring in outside agencies as well.”
He encourages voters to pay more attention to several of the local races, even though many in D.C., particularly those who dislike President Trump, are focusing more on congressional races and whether Democrats can take control of the House of Representatives.
“I would encourage people, if you only care about national politics, look at national politics and where apathy has gotten us now,” he says. “If you’re living in the District and contributing to the city’s economy, if you’re taking advantage of city services, our wonderful nightlife, then you need to start caring about local elections…. [Councilmembers] are the people who impact your everyday lives in ways you don’t even realize. National politics are fantastic, but we are the ones who get things done.”