Ward 4 Council member Muriel Bowser prevailed over embattled Mayor Vincent Gray to take the Democratic nomination for mayor in the April 1 D.C. primary. She faces a general election in November against at least one contender, At-Large Council member David Catania (I).
With 89 percent of the precincts reporting about midnight, Bowser, 41, a fifth generation Washingtonian, was leading Gray 44 percent to 32 percent. Council member Tommy Wells came in third with 12.6 percent.
The primary, which took place for the first time in April, drew smaller-than-usual numbers of voters. Statistics from the D.C. Board of Elections show that 83,000 voters cast ballots in the primary, including 72,500 who voted on April 1.
Bowser, 41, got a boost from a scandal that involved Gray that ramped up last month when D.C. businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson pleaded guilty to orchestrating a shadow campaign on Gray’s behalf in 2010 and told prosecutors that Gray was aware of the illegal activity. Gray has denied any wrong doing.
Though he has not been charged, many voters found it difficult to vote for Gray when he may be indicted in the campaign fraud. Bowser who has no scandal in her past, cast herself as the candidate whose integrity had not been impugned, an alternative to Gray who would operate with integrity if elected.
In other primary victories, D.C. Council chairman Phil Mendelson was reelected; longtime Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham was defeated by community activist Brianne Nadeau; incumbent Anita D. Bonds was reelected to her At-Large seat; Ward 3 incumbent Mary Cheh went unchallenged; and in Ward 5, incumbent Kenyan McDuffie claimed victory. The Ward 6 seat vacated by Tommy Wells when he threw his hat in mayor’s race was won by Charles Allen, Wells’ former chief of staff.
Voters and candidates alike were forced to wait longer than anticipated when the Board of Elections failed to release the results until almost midnight even though the polls closed at 8 p.m. BOE officials said the delay was caused by some problems with the way some poll workers operated voting machines and concerns that results in some precincts needed to be verified.
Bowser held her post-primary event at the Imagine Southeast Public Charter School in Southeast Washington. She said she held it there to fulfill a promise she made to Ward 8 residents. There has been some concern among some of the city’s Black residents, especially those who live east of the river, that a Bowser administration might not focus as much on their needs as Gray did.
Bowser pledged that if she wins in November, she would be responsive to all the city’s residents.
She also took the opportunity to thank her family and parents, whom she credited with her success.
“We did it!” she told cheering supporters at the charter school. “Today signifies a resounding affirmation of the values we share.”
Gray, at his post-campaign event at the Hyatt Regency in Northwest, thanked his supporters and some members of his administration and noted some of the successes of his term. He pledged to keep working for the nine months he has left in his administration. The next mayor won’t take office until January 2015.
Black voters on April 1 highlighted a wide range of concerns that drove them to the polls, including the effect of the changing demographic on issues and services that affect them, affordable housing, improvement of schools in economically challenged communities, jobs for Black men and teens and even-handedness in development.
Reginald Hogart, of Southeast, was still undecided as he headed to vote. “I’m looking for someone who has some moral restraint about them and a person who won’t cave in to political enticements,” he said.
Constance Green, who voted at Francis Stevens Education Center in Northwest, said she voted for Bowser, though she liked what Gray had done for education and other programs.
“I hope we can have a government we can trust,” she said. “Housing is a major issue. There are a lot of people being displaced in D.C. Without good housing you can’t raise your kids properly. The city needs to be improved for all residents. It really bothers me that people don’t feel like they have a place here.”
Sharmán Perkins, a student at the University of the District of Columbia said that she voted for Bowser. “I am interested in education for kids and parental guidance,” she said. “Some of these kids don’t have a foundation, that’s why they’re bouncing off the walls.”
While several voters said they were sticking with Gray because they thought he would be more responsive to Blacks, some said race played no decision in their choice.
At the Dorothy I. Height Public Library in Northeast Washington, Roscoe L. Jackson said he cast his ballot for fourth-place finisher Council member Jack Evans because he thought the long-time city lawmaker had the best record with low-income residents.
“Skin don’t mean nothing,” Jackson said, referring to Gray and Bowser being Black like him. “I’m voting experience.”
Roy White, 76, who stood outside the Dorothy I. Height-Benning Library just after noon on April 1, said he was disturbed at the low turnout. He said he moved to the District from Georgia in 1961 for better opportunity—including the right to choose his elected leaders.
“There was a time when Black people couldn’t vote in Georgia,” he said. “In Atlanta, they would throw out a ballot if it was from a Black person—throw it out. I always vote. Many people were dying and marching to give me the vote.”
White said his major concerns with the city are on issues of over development; housing for senior citizens; and affordable housing. He said he was concerned that Blacks were being locked out of the city’s boom.
“When the contractors come in, you see all these buildings…You see every color on the scaffolds except Black.”
Several older Black residents said they wish D.C. Council member Marion Barry had run again, like the Rev. Aubrey R. Wilkins, 65, pastor of Allen House Ministries at the Allen House Apartments in Northeast.
“Despite everything that has happened to him, Marion Barry was the best male mayor we have ever had,” she said. “He had a heart for God, which made him have a heart for others.”
Zachary Lester, Enitan Aigbomian, Taryn Findley, Ariel Medley and Courtney Jacobs contributed to this report.