WASHINGTON – A former MLS player is hoping to follow in the footsteps of George Weah and Cuauhtemoc Blanco with an upstart run for office.
Amir Lowery, a central defender and midfielder who played for Colorado, Kansas City and San Jose in MLS as well as the Montreal Impact and Carolina Railhawks in the lower divisions over an eight-year pro career, aims to add his name to the list of footballers turned politicians by throwing his hat in the ring for the role of the District of Columbia’s Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Now is the time,” Lowery, who works for MLSPA as a Player Relations Manager, told MLSsoccer.com last week. He notes that while he’d already resolved to run before the murder of George Floyd and subsequent upheaval last month, the resulting national conversation about racism and police brutality has further galvanized his determination.
“I think all of us know, collectively, that we need to take steps forward in the right direction,” he said. “And for me personally, this has been something I've thought about for a long time. It's been a passion of mine. I was moving in this direction, and it just so happens that I feel like it's more and more necessary in this climate.”
A bit of background: The District is home to more than 700,000 residents – a bigger population than Wyoming or Vermont – but due to a quirk in the Constitution, they have zero voting representation in either chamber of Congress, a perceived injustice in the city reflected in the “Taxation Without Representation” slogan on D.C’s license plates. In fact, the city’s residents have only had the right to vote in presidential elections since 1961, thanks to the 23rd Amendment.
Current and longtime D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton can participate in some aspects of House business, like drafting legislation and committee activity, but cannot actually cast a vote. Several legislative attempts have been mounted to remedy that over the past few decades, coming closest in 2009, but all have fallen short, mostly due to Republican opposition in light of D.C.’s heavily Democratic demographics (the city typically votes 80-90% blue).
Holmes Norton, a Democrat, has held that post since 1991 and has often run unopposed in the primary stage. A respected figure in the city and on Capitol Hill, she has always garnered at least 61% of the vote in the general election and has finished at 83% or more since the turn of the century.
She’s a formidable opponent for Lowery, a born-and-raised District native running as an independent, to face in his first-ever political race.
“So I have watched her since I moved back to D.C. and since I've been working in the community and then just progressing in these next steps in my life after soccer,” he said. “A lot of times she's unchallenged, as she was this year in the Democratic primary. But I've noticed a lack of visibility, a lack of accountability.
“I think it's time to move forward with younger leadership, with more enthusiastic leadership, more energetic leadership. I think somebody needs to be on the ground really listening to and speaking to the community.”
Lowery will have to mount an insurgent campaign against this entrenched incumbent if he’s to be successful come November. He plans to pull off the upset by emphasizing his own track record of leadership and service to the community. In addition to his work at MLSPA, where his Spanish fluency allows him to communicate directly with the majority of its members, he’s also a licensed youth soccer coach who has worked for several D.C.-area clubs and previously led the boys varsity team at Cardozo High School.
He is also the co-founder and executive director of the Open Goal Project, a non-profit which works to provide opportunities for young players from low-income families and underserved communities to play and excel at soccer, including a free-to-play youth club launched last year called DCFC.
For him, it’s not so much about Holmes Norton herself as the need for fresh blood in a rapidly-changing city – and the persistent lack of viable alternatives for D.C. voters dissatisfied with the stubborn status quo. D.C. uses a closed primary system, which means only registered party members can take part in primary elections, where most of the closest races take place. That can alienate independents and coddle incumbents; as Lowery notes, only two people – Holmes Norton and her predecessor Walter Fauntroy – have occupied the D.C. delegate position since it was created back in 1970.
Lowery pledges to make full use of modern technology to be more accessible to his constituents, and has resolved to campaign without the usual candidate fundraising process, preferring to connect directly with the voters and avoid being beholden to moneyed interests. He also aspires to become a concrete example of what’s possible for Black men.
“One of my reasons for running is also to hopefully inspire more young African-American males to run for office,” he said. “I'm hoping to inspire more athletes, and more African-American athletes as well, to run for office. I think it's an arena where our skill set can translate. There's plenty of players that are savvy and capable enough to do it, and do it successfully … there's many of us who could find themselves in a similar position – or a better position – and effecting change.”
The big-picture goal, of course, is to push the District’s long quest for voting rights over the hump by helping to guide legislation to that effect through Congress, which could have a particularly momentous impact on national politics if it included two seats in the Senate.
At a time when a desire for real change is palpable as millions take to the streets in demonstrations across the United States – “a critical moment,” in Lowery’s words – it might just be the moment for an underdog to have his day.