The recent allegations that Mayor Vincent C. Gray may have known about an illegal shadow campaign run on his behalf in 2010 has given Council member Muriel Bowser a surge among White voters in her quest to become the city’s top executive.

According to results of a Washington Post poll released this week, D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) holds a slight lead over Gray (D). The poll’s results show that Bowser is favored by 30 percent of the voters likely to cast a ballot on April 1, compared to Gray’s 27 percent. His support has remained unchanged between the recent poll and another conducted by the newspaper earlier this year.

Last week, a poll conducted by WAMU and the City Paper showed the two candidates were tied at 27 percent.

Black analysts told the AFRO that the additional support for Bowser among Whites is more an indication of concern about Gray than a show of confidence for her. Bowser, who has served on the council for seven years, is somewhat of an unknown in some areas of the city, the analysts said.

“She appears to be getting a bump in the White wards where voters are suspicious of Gray’s alleged involvement in the criminal activity surrounding his campaign,” said Joe Madison, the Black Eagle on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. “But Gray is holding his own because his supporters are enthusiastic. So I guess the bottom line is that the recent indictment against Jeffrey E. Thompson clearly hurt him to a degree.”

Michael Fauntroy, an associate professor of political science at Howard University, agreed.

“It has nothing to do with her and everything to do with him and how people feel about a possible indictment,” Fauntroy said. “There has been no change in her campaign policy positions since the Thompson indictment. This is not about momentum for her, it’s about the mayor losing traction because of the indictment and the consistent attempts by the Washington Post to get her elected mayor.

Were it not for the indictment, he would be the odds on favorite to win. This is really about the concern that he might be indicted, which is ironic because if he is not, the person who will win will not be the person who most people want for mayor.”

Gray has denied any wrong doing. Thompson pleaded guilty recently to federal and D.C. election fraud. He told prosecutors that Gray was aware of a scheme that pumped more than $600,000 into his campaign. In exchange for his cooperation, a potential sentence of five years was cut to six months and Thompson is likely to be permitted to serve it under house arrest. That arrangement has left many of the city’s Black voters suspicious of the timing of U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, who has not filed charges against Gray.

Gray’s campaign manager, Chuck Thies, said the mayor’s camp was not surprised by any of the polls. He said the mayor has more money and more than 700 volunteers working to get his message out during the final push.

“We always knew this election would come down to the wire,” he said. “We always knew it would be close and we prepared for exactly that. If you look at our campaign strategy, it has always been focused on the closing weeks, if not the closing days, of the campaign.”

Black analysts said the close race comes despite what many call a successful first Gray administration. Though he has benefited from some efforts that were in place before his election, Gray is overseeing a city that is enjoying a construction boom, lower crime than when he took over, a growth in population of upwards of 1,000 people per month and schools that are reporting an upswing in test scores and other performance markers for students. He has been praised for his efforts to increase affordable housing and pushed for a measure to allow long-time residents on limited incomes to forego paying property tax.

Political analyst Ted Trabue, who served as executive assistant to former mayoral candidate Linda Cropp when she was a Council member said Gray may be able to overcome Bowser’s slight lead on April 1 because many voters, especially longtime Black residents, are more likely to look at the city’s success as a barometer by which to measure his fitness for a second term—not allegations.

“I think that the charges that were brought against Jeffrey Thompson have affected different constituencies differently,” Trabue said. “There are those who have watched the government for years who feel that…Mayor Gray would have won that race four years ago whether that money had been there or not. Some feel very strongly that the proof they needed—that there was something nefarious in the last election and that Mayor Gray was not worthy of their vote—is not there.”

He, like Fauntroy, said Bowser is getting a bump from voters who feel that Gray may not be able to overcome the scandal. Despite Gray having a strong and faithful base, uncommitted voters who may give Gray high marks for the state of the District may feel he can’t win in the general election. Unlike previous years when the primary decided the mayor’s race, analysts said whoever wins April 1 will have a formidable foe in the general election in Council member David Catania, an independent who is also seeking the mayor’s job.

“People are reading the tea lives and saying ‘Who can I vote for who can win this race?’” Trabue said. “There are a lot of undecided voters.”

Statistics from the D.C. Board of Elections show that as of March 25, 5,266 voters have cast ballots in early voting of more than 444,000 people who are registered to vote in D.C.

Of the 13 early voting locations, the highest turnout was at One Judiciary Square in Ward 2, where 1,705 people had voted as of March 25; Chevy Chase Recreation Center in Ward 3, where 727 had voted; and the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Ward 5 where 642 had voted.

The locations with the lowest turnout were the Bald Eagle Recreation Center in Ward 8, where 87 had voted as of March 25; Stoddert Recreation Center in Ward 3, where 139 had voted; and Kennedy Recreation Center in Ward 6, with 148 voters.

Election officials said turnout was less than expected.

Madison said Gray has a significant advantage in that the city is running well.

Bowser, who is considered an able legislator with a solid connection to some voters, is at a disadvantage when it comes to experience, but has good points, he said.

“She is a good campaigner, number one, and number two, she certainly has been very solid on the council,” Madison said. “Her positions are well thought out.

Number three is she’s been scandal free. She gives people a very viable alternative, no ifs, ands or buts about it.”

Trabue said Bowser will need to “consolidate more of the anti-Gray vote” to prevail on April 1. He believes that Council member Jack Evans may siphon some votes from her. He said Wells may take some votes from Gray with voters who are looking for a more known alternative.

Longtime news professional and political analyst Jerry Phillips said race is playing a major factor. He said he knows both Bowser and Gray well, but doubts that she has the experience needed to keep the city on its current upward trajectory.

He said many of the Whites who are supporting her are doing so because she is perceived to be more pliable in working with them than Gray.

“In my coverage of elections and God knows I’ve been doing it for 30 years, I look at the wards in this town,” Phillips said. “The wards make up the electorate and Muriel Bowser is pretty much new on the block…Muriel hasn’t got enough experience off the board. They don’t know her in Southeast and Northeast. She’s being pushed by the Washington Post, the big stores, the Board of Trade—the White people who want to get rid of a Black mayor. Let’s face it. Vince is the last Black mayor. I don’t think we’ll get another one who connects with Black voters like him again.”


Avis Thomas-Lester

AFRO Executive Editor