Best Campaign Tactic

Feigned Outrage
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

With four guilty pleas and one prison sentence to its name so far, Vince Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign didn’t exactly cover itself in glory. This year, running a candidate who had a good chance of being indicted for how his last campaign operated, it made sense for Gray’s camp not to challenge how other candidates ran their campaigns. Of course, that’s the exact opposite of what they did.

In February, Gray campaign manager Chuck Thies (pictured) read an old quote in which leading Gray rival Muriel Bowser called lefty restaurateur (and fellow mayoral candidate) Andy Shallal “a rich socialist.” A typical campaign manager might figure that, since his own candidate wasn’t involved, there was nothing to do here. Instead, even though Shallal didn’t care about Bowser’s jab, Thies sent out a press release accusing Bowser of borrowing from the “Tea Party playbook” of the likes of Rush Limbaugh.

Thies told Washingtonian that he’d be “policing” the election for further infractions, whether or not Gray was involved. Bowser eventually apologized to Shallal, who didn’t seem interested either way.

Bowser’s team took a fundraising stand on some faux-outrage of their own. After Thies said the other candidates reminded him of Smurfs—small, annoying, inconsequential, blue?—Bowser’s campaign rushed out a fundraising email accusing Gray and his staff of treating voters like Smurfs. Muriel Bowser, the email assured supporters, did not think their issues were Smurf issues. (Of course not: Smurf issues are mushroom equality and Gargamel, and here in D.C., those are niche concerns at best.)

Ward 6 Councilmember and mayoral hopeful Tommy Wells had his own outrage, thanks to outspoken mayoral flack Pedro Ribeiro. Ribeiro, who’s never shy about insulting Gray’s enemies, seemed to take special delight in bashing Wells as a dopey publicity hound. After Wells called for affordable housing to be included in any swap of the city’s Reeves Center office building, Ribeiro responded that Wells’ idea was idiotic—a remark Wells rarely failed to bring up on the campaign trail.