Less than 50 days remain before the April 1 Democratic primary that will, if decades of D.C. political trends continue, likely determine the District’s next mayor.
Seven candidates are scrambling to topple incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray in the contest. Gray has led the crowded race since declaring his intention to run for re-election Dec. 2.
The D.C. native, who formerly served as City Council chairman, boasts solid fundraising totals, the backing of black voters in recent polls and some prominent political supporters. A member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet, Arne Duncan, makes a cameo in his latest campaign ad, campaign manager Chuck Thies pointed out in an email to CQ Roll Call.
Abundant name recognition may be Gray’s greatest strength in a field that includes four D.C. Council members and three political outsiders. Those opponents point to an ongoing federal investigation into his 2010 campaign as a disqualifying factor. Gray has apologized “about the campaign” since launching his bid. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and maintains his innocence.
After Councilmember Muriel Bowser won the most votes in Ward 8 and Ward 4 straw polls, the Washington Post declared Bowser “the one to beat” among the field of Democratic candidates jostling to defeat Gray.
In addition to organizational prowess, Bowser has raised more than $1 million for her campaign. On Jan. 25 she officially opened the doors to a second campaign office in Southeast D.C., a land that’s typically considered Gray’s home turf.
Jack Evans, the council’s longest-serving member, was the first mayoral hopeful to break the $1 million fundraising mark. He runs neck-and-neck with Bowser and Councilmember Tommy Wells in Washington Post polling on the race to defeat Gray. Evans submitted more than 10,000 nominating petitions to the D.C. Board of Elections in January — more than any other candidate, according to the campaign.
Wells, who represents Ward 6, including Capitol Hill, lags in the money race. He has shunned all corporate contributions and focused his bid on ethical integrity in the city’s politics. The progressive Democrat captured headlines in recent weeks with his sponsorship of a bill to decriminalize marijuana in the District. Wells promotes the new pot policy as a social justice initiative.
Councilmember Vincent Orange rounds out the field of lawmakers running for mayor. He was the last coucilmember to declare, and this is his second bid for the Democratic mayoral nomination.
Restaurateur Andy Shallal, who pitches himself as a progressive outsider, has been generating celebrity buzz with his campaign. On Jan. 11, actor and political activist Danny Glover headlined a fundraiser at Shallal’s Adams Morgan home. The “Lethal Weapon” star then endorsed Shallal at a Ward 8 town hall, calling him “the right person for this moment.”
Then on Jan. 30, legendary folk singer Peter Yarrow — the “Peter” of trio Peter, Paul and Mary — lent his musical talents to a Shallal campaign fundraiser.
Another outsider to city politics is Reta Jo Lewis, who has served at just about every level of government, including in the Clinton and Obama administrations. Though she has spent plenty of time with voters in forums around the city, Lewis’s candidacy is often framed as a long shot.
Rounding out the field is Carlos Allen, an alleged White House crasher who also ran in 2010 and wants to be the city’s first Afro-Latino mayor.
As snow shuts down the city Wednesday night, at least six of those candidates will duke it out before a crowd of young voters at American University. Gray will not be attending, and his campaign says it long ago informed debate hosts that the mayor had a prior commitment.
Bowser was also on the fence because of scheduling conflicts and concerns about the snowfall, according to campaign spokesman Brad Bauman.