What Comes Next for D.C. Politics?
LL will do the honors. D.C., meet your presumptive next mayor.
“I like the sound of that,” Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser said Wednesday at her post-primary victory press conference.
After Bowser walloped Mayor Vince Gray with 44 percent of the vote to his 32 percent Tuesday night, her campaign organized an event at the National Press Club. D.C. Democratic State Committee chairman (and D.C. Council at-large primary victor) Anita Bonds joined Bowser at the podium, declaring that the party’s considerable weight would go behind its new candidate. The first step in healing ahead of the general election fight with David Catania would be a “unity breakfast” planned in the heart of Gray country in Ward 8.
“We did this four years ago, and it was fairly effective,” Bonds said, apparently oblivious to the fact that one of the camps that had come together in “unity” in 2010 had just avenged its loss by kicking Gray out of office.
Tuesday’s primary results marked the start of new things, including Bowser’s general election bid and a reorganized D.C. Council. It was also the beginning of the end for Gray’s mayoralty and Councilmember Jim Graham’s 15-year reign in Ward 1—albeit an end the city won’t actually see until they’re replaced in January. Here are the questions LL will be thinking about in the ensuing nine-month before somebody new becomes mayor.
How will Bowser run in the general election?
At a predawn rally Tuesday near Nationals Park for her supporters, Bowser ran through her list of requests for primary day: Work hard at the polls, because you never know when the candidate will stop by. Dress well. And don’t be rude to other Democrats’ supporters, since she’ll need their votes in November.
“Everybody that’s not with us today, well, they’re going to be with us in November,” Bowser said.
Now Bowser will see how many of those other supporters really will stick with her against Catania. While Bowser says Gray backer Marion Barry has already pledged his support, Gray was more circumspect in his concession speech Tuesday night.
Instead of saying the party should unite behind Bowser, Gray only urged his supporters to work for an unnamed person who would make the best mayor for the District. As of Wednesday afternoon, he also hadn’t called her to offer his congratulations. Take that, Muriel!
Gray’s reticence isn’t as tacky as it might look: Earlier in the campaign, Bowser said that she wouldn’t help Gray beat Catania if he had won. But then, she didn’t have an indictment looming over her.
Despite polls showing Bowser beating Catania by more than 30 percentage points, Catania is staying in the race that will require him to give up his at-large Council seat. The morning after Bowser’s win, Catania called Bowser to say that he welcomes a debate in the general election. In other words, game on. But with an electorate that’s still 75 percent Democratic, Catania, not Bowser, has the most work to do.
How much did the lack of a shadow campaign hurt Vince Gray?
Even as it became more and more obvious that Gray’s 2010 election benefited from an illegal shadow campaign, Gray supporters insisted that the election hadn’t been stolen from Adrian Fenty. Since Gray beat Fenty by 10 points, city contractor Jeff Thompson’s criminal $668,800 effort hadn’t swung the election—it had just sweetened Gray’s win.
The claim made sense at the time, but LL isn’t so sure anymore. Gray beat Fenty by 13,000 votes, a number that was helped along by Gray-friendly Wards 7 and 8 and Thompson’s illicit get-out-the-vote effort.
Gray received 25,020 votes from those two wards in 2010; with lower turnout Tuesday, he received only 7,889. The difference in Gray’s support from election to election in those wards alone was enough to account for his winning margin in 2010 (and then some). With Gray losing handily this time around sans Thompson, it’s worth reconsidering whether Gray would be in the mayoral suite at all without the help that Thompson has pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges for providing.
Will the D.C. Council improve?
For the past few years, the D.C. Council has been marked by either incumbent laziness (see: elected attorney general, the delaying of) or outright criminality. Thanks to the primary results, though, that may be about to change.
Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells will be replaced in his seat by Charles Allen, his protégé and former chief of staff. Wells, who gave up his seat to finish third in the race for mayor, was one of the Council’s most progressive members. But Allen offers the prospect of someone with Wells’ ideas who hasn’t alienated all of his colleagues, and isn’t distracted by mayoral ambitions (for now!).
The biggest change, though, will come in Ward 1, where FBI sting target and 13-year Councilmember Jim Graham has been ousted by Brianne Nadeau. LL’s guessing that Nadeau’s victory took Graham by surprise, since just last week he was angrily telling Nadeau that he was “a public official, which you will never be!”
If Nadeau and Allen team up with other ethics stalwarts like independent at-large Councilmember David Grosso and Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, the legislature will have the makings of a kind of progressive caucus.
A ban on corporate contributions? A later primary date? Instant runoff voting? Make your wish lists, goo-goos!
How lame is Vince Gray’s administration?
Gray’s descent into lame-duck status came at an inconvenient time for his administration, which is set to send its 2015 budget to the Council on Thursday. The budget, which will include a request for $300 million for a new hospital to serve Gray’s east-of-the-Anacostia-River base, will be going in front of councilmembers who know Gray’s time with any leverage over them is rapidly dwindling. Gray’s other plans are in jeopardy, too: For one thing, Bowser has raised doubts about the D.C. United stadium deal.
What the election results will mean for the federal investigation into Gray’s 2010 campaign isn’t clear, either. U.S. Attorney Ron Machen has made resignation from office (or withdrawal from elections) a part of every plea deal he’s struck with his Wilson Building targets so far. Now that the voters have already taken care of that with Gray, will that slow Machen’s drive to indict him? (Machen’s spokesman wouldn’t comment.)
Prosecutors aside, Gray has, at least, one fewer public enemy today than he did last week. Bowser declined to take shots at her now-toothless primary opponent Wednesday. Instead of taking the opportunity to say the Council should disregard Gray’s budget, Bowser said only that she and her colleagues (and rival Catania) should review the budget like they would for any mayor. But with Bowser claiming that her 44 percent win means she has a mandate for a “new vision,” Gray might want to get over his loss and pick up the phone.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, this story initially misstated the length of Jim Graham's Council tenure.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery
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