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Vince Gray concedes very low-turnout election, blaming early primary schedule. By Benjamin Freed
Bowser addresses her supporters after declaring victory in the Democratic primary. Photographs courtesy Muriel for Mayor.

Four hours after polls close, Mayor Vince Gray finally appeared at his election-night party in ballroom at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill.

“Let me congratulate Councilmember Muriel Bowser for having won 44 percent of the vote,” he said.

While the sparse crowd is filled mostly with familiar faces from his administration, the first person Gray thanked was Marion Barry, the frail mayor-for-life who has been at the current mayor’s side for the last two weeks of the primary campaign.

Only 81,145 people voted in the mayoral primary, confirming the very low turnout seen across the District all day. Bowser received 35,899 votes, or 44.2 percent, to Gray’s 26,209, or about 32.3 percent. Tommy Wells finished a distant third, with 10,181 votes for 12.6 percent of the vote, while Jack Evans, who raised more money than anyone in the eight-person field, garnered just 4,039 votes for 5 percent. Busboys and Poets restaurateur Andy Shallal netted 2,657 votes for 3.3 percent.

Bowser, celebrating with supporters in Ward 8, was ready to declare victory an hour before the DC Board of Elections delivered the final tallies. “I’ve been a council member for darn near seven years, so I know a thing about running this government,” she said, responding to the Gray campaign’s closing attack that she lacks experience.

After conceding defeat, Gray started reflecting on his record. “I think work we’ve done the past three-and-a-half years has been nothing short of phenomenal,” he said. “If I am going to be in this job another nine months, I am going to work extremely hard.”

But Gray also blames his loss to the early primary.

“I hope that the city will change the date of the primary in the future,” he said. “This is really poor.” Barry concurred.

“This campaign hasn’t created much enthusiasm,” he said. Barry also said that Gray, who focused his campaign almost exclusively east of the Anacostia River in the closing days, could have spent more time campaigning in Bowser’s home turf of Ward 4.

“I told Chuck Thies that,” Barry said, referring to Gray’s campaign manager and self-declared election cop.

As much as Gray and his team want to blame an early-spring primary, Gray was dogged from the start by the federal investigation of his 2010 campaign, which was aided by $668,800 in unreported money from businessman Jeffrey Thompson. Since Thompson’s guilty plea on March 10, Gray has had to deal with allegations that he had first-hand knowledge of the scheme.

Gray addresses reporters after conceding defeat. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

"We believe that corruption at city hall is unacceptable," Bowser said in her victory speech. "We should also acknowledge the lifetime of service of Mayor Vincent C. Gray."

Gray closed by acknowledging that DC may still get a competitive general election, with independent Council member David Catania running.

“I guess there will be a campaign upcoming,” he said. He adds that he wants his supporters to “work hard” to elect the next mayor, but he doesn’t say explicitly if that means Bowser.

As much as Gray wanted to focus on the three-plus years he’s been mayor and the months remaining in his term, his appointees were dour about his chances all evening.

“This is a wake,” a Gray appointee was overheard saying. “If this was a winner, this place would be packed.”

Posted at 12:23 AM/ET, 04/02/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The polling places get a bit more crowded in the evening, but not by much. By Benjamin Freed

Polling places get busier once people get home from work, but it seems doubtful this primary will come close to matching 2010's turnout of about 135,000 voters. Shortly before 6 PM, 481 people had come through the polling place at Marie Reed Community Center on 18th St., NW, in Adams Morgan, making it unlikely to match the 994 who voted there four years ago.
The plaza outside the polling place featured a fuller lineup of mayoral campaigns, with people sporting T-shirts and literature for Vince Gray, Tommy Wells, Muriel Bowser, and Andy Shallal. Just as Gray's leaflets east of the Anacostia River featured a message from Marion Barry, his literature in Ward 1 comes printed in English and Spanish for the large Latino population there.
But Ward 1 is also home to one of the few competitive down-ballot races, as incumbent Council member Jim Graham faces a strong challenge from Brianne Nadeau. Their contest got a bit more spotlight last week when Graham publicly confronted Nadeau over a home loan she received in 2009, but the spat is still unfamiliar to several voters exiting the precinct at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School, where Nadeau is greeting voters.
"I just think he's pretty corrupt, like most politicians here," says Taryn McKinnon. McKinnon, 26, is an example of the thousands of new residents who have moved into Ward 1 as neighborhoods like Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Shaw have become younger, wealthier, and whiter as old row houses make way for modern, mixed-use developments filled with hip restaurants and pricey apartments.
McKinnon is more focused on the mayor than her Council member, though.
"If Vince Gray gets re-elected, I would blame myself," she says.
The precinct captain inside the school reports 402 voters through 6:30, a figure she puts on par with 2010. But even though the line is getting longer as people stop to vote on the way home, it does not appear to match the last mayoral primary, when 876 people came through.

Posted at 07:47 PM/ET, 04/01/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
DC’s mayoral race may come down to whose support base can be mobilized in the final hours. By Harry Jaffe

Christ Episcopal Church in Georgetown, among others, saw low numbers of voters Tuesday. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

The light voting in today DC’s Democratic primary presents Mayor Vince Gray with his best shot for a second term—if he can get his “super voters” to the polls.

By midday on April 1, precincts citywide were reporting extremely low turnout in a close race with council member Muriel Bowser—so low that the winner may well be the candidate who can deliver voters in the final hours.

In other words, the outcome of the primary will come down to mechanics: Can Bowser’s team summon voters in the largely white precincts west of Rock Creek Park, or will Gray be able to “knock and drag” his African-American women—known as super voters—this evening?

With less than four hours to go before polls close, it’s clear that none of the four major candidates in the race stirred passion in voters. Many Washingtonians were against incumbent Gray because of allegations that he knew of corrupt contributions to his 2010 campaign. But the negative mindset rarely motivates voters to veer from their daily routines to get to a voting station.

From Chevy Chase in upper Northwest to Georgetown along the Potomac River to Congress Heights over the hills of Anacostia, precinct captains reported the lowest number of voters they had seen in years.

“Last election we had lines in the morning,” said Derek Santos, precinct captain in Precinct 141, at the Frank Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets, Northwest. “We haven’t had a line all day, but there’s been no lull, either—more like a steady stream.”

By 1:30, 262 people had cast votes there, including special ballots that could be challenged. That’s about half of what poll workers had expected.

An hour later, in Georgetown, mayoral candidate Jack Evans jogged by Christ Episcopal Church at 31st and O streets, Northwest, with his golden retriever. If he had stopped to check the turnout at the church in his home turf of Ward 2, he would have found few voters. During the morning hours when voters are often lined up, one neighbor reported there were more political workers outside on the street than voters inside casting ballots. “Low turnout is good for me,” Evans said later in the day from Ward 7. “If the other candidates don’t get out their voters, that means I have a chance.”

Bowser had worked hard in hopes of turning out high numbers of supporters in the white wards west of Rock Creek Park. But at Precinct 51 at Lafayette Elementary School, turnout was low. The precinct is in Bowser’s Ward 4, but it’s west of the park. She needs strong majorities there to beat Gray.

But even deep in Gray’s territory—in largely African-American precincts east of the Anacostia River—no one seemed to be bothering to vote, according to reports during the day. Gray’s campaign manager, Chuck Thies, had predicted a low turnout. Fewer voters were supposed to give Gray an edge, since polls haves shown his base is more solid than Bowser’s. But if turnout is low across the District, either candidate could squeak out a victory.

Precinct 141 inside the Reeves Center is an ideal testing ground to gauge whether voting patterns have changed in the District. It lies at gentrification central. Condominiums are filling up with new residents along 14th Street. A Trader Joe’s just opened across U Street. But the precinct is home to middle-class African-American families as well as Latinos.

We will have to wait to see how they voted, but one result is already in: On this April 1 Democratic primary for mayor, voters made a joke of it.

Posted at 05:11 PM/ET, 04/01/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
A wet weekend with the candidates closes out a dreary race. By Benjamin Freed
Mayor Vince Gray peeks out the window as his campaign motorcade gets rolling. Photographs by Benjamin Freed.

Saturday, 11:10 AM

Long after his motorcade is scheduled to arrive at Skyland Town Center in Ward 7, Mayor Vince Gray is still at a ribbon-cutting for the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, 12 minutes away in Fort Dupont. Steve Glaude, on leave from his job as the Gray administration’s director of community affairs so he can serve as the Gray campaign’s political director, runs back and forth across the Skyland parking lot, making sure the vehicles participating in the eventual caravan are outfitted with Gray logos. A sport-utility vehicle rigged with loudspeakers queues up a playlist composed of Chuck Brown, Pharrell, Stevie Wonder, and, of course, the latest radio ads for Gray’s re-election campaign. It looks the sky is about to open up.

In the race’s closing weeks, Gray has focused his campaign almost exclusively east of the river, largely with former mayor Marion Barry in tow. On the final, rain-drenched weekend of the campaign, the current mayor hits Ward 7, and the mayor-for-life rolls through Ward 8, following a playbook that trades computer-targeted canvassing for old-school sound trucks. 

12:19 PM

Gray finally arrives. Carl Williams, who works at Like That Barber Shop across Naylor Rd., SE, walks up to the mayor and asks him to drop in. Gray obliges and leads his entourage and media followers to the strip mall across the street. “Chuck Baby” is blasting from the sound truck.

“We got his back,” Williams says inside the barber shop as Gray works his way around every chair. “He got a good man supporting him—Marion Barry. He’s been good for the people. You gotta let him finish his work.”

After working through Like That, which is festooned with NFL memorabilia and photos of DC boxers Dusty Hernandez-Harrison and Lamont Peterson—both of whom get their hair cut there, Williams says—Gray goes a few doors down two Vision’s Hair Salon. The perfume-filled salon is less busy than the neighboring barber shop, but Gray, stuck at 27 percent in the polls with Muriel Bowser pulling even or ahead less than a week before the election, he’s desperate to churn up as much of his base east of the Anacostia River.

Twenty minutes later, Gray finally returns to the Skyland parking lot, climbs in the lead SUV, and the 10-vehicle motorcade, plus two more reporters’ cars, finally gets rolling.

Matthew Morton, a resident of the Stoddert Terrace housing project in Ward 7, is mad at Gray because he's been out of work for two years.

1:25 PM

The caravan stops in Stoddert Terrace, a rundown housing project in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood with a sweeping view of Northeast DC. While Gray makes door-to-door visits, the speakers blast a radio ad boasting about a recent $187 million increase in funding for low-income housing.

But some are not impressed by the mayor’s drop-in, or by any of his competitors either. “He didn’t do shit,” says a young man named Scott Thompson as he storms past the idling motorcade. “I ain’t voting for none of these people.”

On the other hand, few people are talking in Stoddert Terrace about the federal investigation into Gray’s 2010 campaign. “There’s a lot of misinformation,” says Brittney Wright, a 25-year-old DC government employee driving one of the cars in the motorcade. “He’s innocent until proven guilty. Muriel’s people ignore that fact.”

Instead, the conversations here are about economic hardship. Matthew Morton, an unemployed construction worker says Gray promised him work in 2010.

“Last two years I’ve been out of work,” Morton, 55, says. “Why should I vote for him?”

1:44 PM

The next stop is the Benning Road Metro station, where Gray runs into a church group with members from DC and southern Maryland. Michael Barber, a pastor from Lexington, Maryland, leads a prayer as his parishioners lay their hands on the mayor’s shoulders and torso. “He’s done a fine, blessed job,” adds Sheldon Turner, a pastor at Grace Apostolic Church in Northeast.

2:25 PM

Gray’s motorcade pulls into the parking lot of the Dorothy Height Neighborhood Library, an early-voting location for Ward 7. Pete Ross, a furniture magnate and convicted tax cheat who’s running for one of DC’s shadow senator positions, waits under a polka-dotted umbrella. As he walks toward Gray’s car, Ross, who spent $200,000 in his failed shadow senator campaign in 2012, says he plans to blow just as much this time.

“It’s a shadow campaign you can be proud of,” Ross tells the mayor, who smirks at the joke.

Gray heads into the library, where poll workers tell him he has to take off the sticker with his campaign logo before they ask him to stand for a few photographs. “I don’t distinguish campaigning from governing,” Gray says.

Parishioners from DC and Maryland pray for the mayor.

2:55 PM

The caravan stops in another Lincoln Heights community, where Gray visits with Patricia Malloy, a member of the local advisory neighborhood commission. This mayoral election, the first since the Council moved the primary from September to April, has candidates bracing for an exceptionally low turnout. Only 14,000 people cast ballots during the early-voting period, compared with 22,000 in 2010. 

A small electorate could help Gray, who is depending on the 27 or 28 percent of voters who decided they were for him from the start. Bowser’s chances hinge on a larger, motivated anti-incumbent groundswell.

“Regardless of what it is, he’s going to win,” Malloy says. 

“Good answer,” says Gray.

Late lunch with the mayor-for-life.

3:23 PM

Finally, the motorcade arrives at Denny’s on Benning Rd., NE, where Barry and his 17-car motorcade are waiting. Barry needs the help of two people as he gingerly sits down. Ten days after endorsing Gray, Barry is still reeling from his long hospital stay to fight off a blood infection, but he’s sharp-tounged as ever when it comes to assessing a race between his old friend Gray and Adrian Fenty protege Bowser.

“Muriel Bowser is Fenty 2,” Barry says. “Muriel would be a disaster. There’s no textbook for being mayor.”

Barry also can’t help but give himself credit for propping up the Gray campaign in the closing days. “There’s nothing but love for me,” he says. “I think everybody knows I’m a straight shooter. [Gray] has nothing but integrity.”

And for Barry, there’s nothing wrong with a strategy that focuses almost exclusively east of the Anacostia. “Washington is racially divided like most cities,” he says. “That’s not Gray’s fault. Not my fault. It’s the nature of society.”

Jack Evans and his staff wait for volunteers.

Sunday, 11:56 AM

Jack Evans’s campaign office on 14th St., NW is a ghost town. “It’s almost snowing out there,” Evans says, walking in wearing duck boots, jeans, and a denim shirt. Evans sank to 6 percent in last week’s Washington Post poll, tied with first-time candidate Andy Shallal. Soda and snacks are piled up on tables, surrounded by thick reams of door hangers. His staff waits for volunteers to pick up canvassing packets.

Evans’s young campaign staff is there to believe there’s still a path to victory, but the candidate, who criticized Gray far less than any of the other challengers, seems to know he’s been defeated.

“I ran the campaign I wanted to run,” he says with a sigh. “Ran a real positive campaign. People told me, ‘You’d be the best mayor.’”

And in his latest agreement with Gray, Evans echoes the mayor’s criticism of Bowser.

“I don’t think she is ready,” Evans says, paraphrasing Gray’s advertising. “The mayor’s the mayor, and he’s doing a good job. What made Muriel the alternative? Was it the Washington Post?”

Evans says he has to run back to his office before he knocks on some doors himself. But he knows it’s nearly over.

“I don’t regret it,” he says. “I’d regret it if I was sitting here and had not run.”

3:35 PM

The temperature outside has dropped into the mid-30s and the driving rain solidifying in to thick, heavy snow. But Bowser’s campaign is flush with canvassers. “How many hours?” Muriel Bowser asks her packed campaign headquarters on Georgia Ave., NW. “Fifty-two!” her supporters yell back, marking the amount of time until polls open on Tuesday.

Some present are volunteers, others signed up with the promise of $100 for a day’s work. Boxes from nearby Ledo Pizza are stacked high, while Bowser’s supporters get ready to head out with walk packets, leaflets, and photocopies of one of Bowser’s multiple Post endorsements.

Asked about the “Muriel’s Not Ready” cover that the Gray campaign put on every copy of Friday’s edition of the Washington Post Express, Bowser says, “Nobody can be surprised that a flailing campaign throws a Hail Mary.”

Muriel Bowser's campaign office is crowded.

4:24 PM

Bowser’s Lexus SUV pulls up to a neighborhood of detached houses in North Michigan Park in Northeast, not far from where Bowser grew up. The candidate walks down the quiet street through the fat snowflakes while a half-dozen canvassers dart between houses, calling her to sprint over when someone answers the door.

Nikki Kasparek, 31, tells Bowser she’s choosing between her and Wells, and is concerned about education as she and her wife try to start a family.

“Gray hasn’t been bad,” Kasparek says. “The scandal just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”

A car stops, and Bowser chats up the driver.

5:25 PM

“Anything other than Gray,” says Maegan Graham, 25. “I was through when that man passed out,” she says, referencing Medric Mills, who died in January when he had a heart attack outside a Northeast DC fire station and none of the on-duty fire fighters came to his aid.

Graham isn’t committed to any candidate other, but she’s emblematic of the anti-incumbent vote that Bowser’s team is trying to congeal.

“DC Council members select April 1 for the primary, now find themselves campaigning in the snow. Mother Nature, I like your style!” NewsChannel 8’s Bruce DePuyt writes in a snarky tweet.

“Doesn’t bother me none,” Bowser says on the way back to her office.

6:58 PM

Tommy Wells, polling in third place, sits with a few supporters are in the basement of Fed Restaurant, an eatery and nightclub in Adams Morgan, for an event organized by a group called Unwined, which hosts politically themed happy hours. The snow and rain have finally stopped, but the place is deserted. One of the event’s organizers says over the pulsing music that it might be more happening in about an hour, and that Wells will probably stay until around 9:30.

But an hour and a half later, Wells is gone. “There wasn’t really much of a crowd,” the organizer says.

Posted at 01:02 PM/ET, 03/31/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
And nobody even bothered to buy coffee. By Benjamin Freed
Brianne Nadeau, right, goes over her loan documents with Council member Jim Graham. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

DC Council member Jim Graham had to be pulled away by one of his staff when he got in the face of Brianne Nadeau, his opponent in next week’s Democratic primary.

“I’m a public official, which you will never be,” Graham barked while wagging his finger at Nadeau in the lobby of the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown DC.

Graham, 68, is running for his fifth term representing Ward 1, which includes U Street, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and Mount Pleasant. But his latest tactic suggests he could be running scared from Nadeau, a former aide to Representative John Sarbanes, who says she is giving Graham the toughest challenge he’s ever faced.

At issue is a city-backed loan Nadeau received in February 2009 when Nadeau, then a member of an advisory neighborhood commission, purchased a condominium on 14th St., NW, with the help of the District’s Home Purchase Assistance Program. Nadeau was originally approved in 2007 by the Greater Washington Urban League, which administers the loan program, but the offer expired late that year when she didn’t buy a home. Nadeau was first approved to receive $33,050, but that figure was cut by more than half in 2008 when her salary edged above $50,000, at which level the loan program lowers its awards.

When Nadeau was finally ready to make an offer but found out her loan offer had been reduced, she emailed Graham and then-Council Chairman Vince Gray for their assistance, saying the apartment she was eyeing was the only unit in her ANC district that she could afford. Graham supported her appeal for the original loan amount.

“First, let me express my strong support for Ms. Nadeau’s appeal here. Please do all you can,” he wrote to the Greater Washington Urban League on February 9, 2009.

The original loan amount came through that afternoon.

But Graham now accuses Nadeau of using her position as an ANC member to influence the loan process, and in return, Nadeau says Graham is using his office to win a close election. Last Friday, Graham, using his Council letterhead, sent a complaint about Nadeau’s loan application to the city’s Inspector General and to the Washington Post, which reported on the flap today.

“It’s a desperate move,” Nadeau said in front of the Starbucks coffee shop in the hotel’s lobby. “His back is against the wall. It’s very blatant.”

Nadeau also handed out copies of the loan notifications she received from the Greater Washington Urban League. On the 2007 form, she reported an annual household income of $50,000. When she re-applied the following year, she listed her income as $55,280. Nadeau, who now works for a public relations firm, said the increase came from year-end bonuses from Sarbanes’s office and not from cost-of-living increases, which she said she declined so she could remain eligible for home-purchasing assistance.

Loans issued under the Home Purchase Assistance Program defer payments for five years, and are then payable over 40 years without interest. (Incidentally, Nadeau said she made her first payment today.) But Nadeau got her loan at a time when the program, like most city operations, had its budget slashed. Even outside of lean times, the loan program prioritizes low-income, elderly, handicapped, or displaced DC residents ahead of others.

Graham, sitting inside the coffee shop, said Nadeau’s defense rings similarly to the fall of former Council Chairman Kwame Brown, who pleaded guilty to bank fraud after inflating his income on a loan application and served six months house arrest in 2012. “Kwame Brown inflated his income, Brianne Nadeau deflated it,” Graham said. “This is probably more serious than just a lost election.”

But Graham squirmed when asked if his complaint was politically motivated, claiming he is only a public official investigating possible wrongdoing by one of his constituents. When asked if he had filed similar complaints about anyone else in the past five years, Graham could not come up with a single example. He is also focused on the fact that Nadeau’s email signature in 2009 included her position as a neighborhood commissioner, but she said that was a standard insert on all of her correspondence then.

“Anyone who thinks ANCs have that kind of influence is mistaken,” she said.

Graham exited the Starbucks to find Nadeau waiting, and the rivals launched into a heated argument that culminated in the finger-wagging moment. There are no public polls for DC’s ward races, but Nadeau said her internal polling shows a neck-and-neck race. Not surprisingly, she dismissed Graham’s suggestion that he was merely acting as a concerned Council member when he contacted the Inspector General.

“Has he ever done this to another constituent or just a political opponent?” Nadeau asked. But Graham was unavailable to comment on that one, having stormed off after the finger-wagging moment.

Posted at 03:32 PM/ET, 03/26/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Bowser continues to gain on Gray with just seven days before the Democratic primary. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph of Gray by Flickr user chesbayprogram. Photograph of Bowser by Flickr user crystalndavis.

A Washington Post poll released Tuesday further confirms that the Democratic primary in the DC mayoral race is a contest between Vince Gray and Muriel Bowser. Thirty percent of likely voters surveyed say they plan to vote for Bowser, while 27 percent say they are pulling for Gray, a statistical tie a week before the primary.

The poll, taken last week, shows continued momentum for Bowser and little movement for Gray when the campaigns are burning through their cash reserves. The Post’s last poll, taken in late January, showed Gray with the support of 28 percent of likely voters and the other seven candidates in the low double digits or below.

Since then, Bowser has emerged as the candidate with the best shot to defeat the incumbent, especially in the wake of businessman Jeffrey Thompson’s admission earlier this month that he bankrolled an off-the-books “shadow campaign” to help elect Gray in 2010. Federal prosecutors now allege that Gray had knowledge of the scheme.

Gray’s campaign manager, Chuck Thies, said last week that his client is the victim of a “coordinated smear campaign” orchestrated by US Attorney Ron Machen’s office and the media, but according to the Post’s poll, three-quarters of likely voters believe Machen has conducted his investigation fairly, while 62 percent believe the accusation that Gray knew about Thompson’s illegal contributions.

Bowser performed well across several demographic groups in the new Post poll, leading among female voters, college graduates, and voters between 50 and 64 years old. But 48 percent of all likely voters questioned say they could change their mind before next Tuesday, and of that group 32 percent are currently supporting Bowser, while 19 percent are backing Gray.

“Voters are looking for change,” says Bowser’s campaign manager, Bo Shuff. “Gray hasn’t moved since the last Washington Post poll. He has gone absolutely nowhere.”

Gray’s support continues to appear locked in. He leads Bowser for likely black voters, 40 percent to 27 percent, and has a commanding lead among voters for whom the economy is the primary issue. But the size of Gray’s voting bloc has remained consistent across several polls taken since January, and Gray has focused his campaign on driving out his base east of the Anacostia River, especially since last Wednesday when he announced his endorsement by mayor-for-life Marion Barry.

But only 12 percent of likely voters say Barry makes them more inclined to vote for Gray, while 26 percent say it makes them less inclined, and 61 percent say the endorsement makes no difference at all.

The Post poll had a bit of good news for Tommy Wells, who came in third with 14 percent of likely voters, an improvement over his 9 percent showing in last week’s Washington City Paper/Kojo Nnamdi Show survey. But Jack Evans, who has raised and spent the most money in the race, sank to 6 percent, tied with first-time candidate Andy Shallal.

The poll also included a hypothetical match-ups for Bowser and Gray against Council member David Catania, who is running as an independent in the general election. Catania and Gray are tied at 41 percent among registered voters, while Bowser leads Catania 56 percent to 23 percent.

Catania’s campaign manger, Ben Young, notes that the Post’s sample of 1,402 registered voters was 85 percent Democratic. He also attributes Bowser’s big hypothetical lead to the fact that his candidate only entered the race two weeks ago.

“It’s not surprising that somebody who’s been campaigning full-time for a year and has spent over $1 million has a big gap,” Young says. “For the first time we have a seven-month general election. We’re prepared to run against whoever. We have a candidate who has a record, stands up for that record, and who brings a lot of passion to that job.”

Posted at 01:24 PM/ET, 03/25/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
From Ray Nagin to Rob Ford. By Benjamin Freed

Federal prosecutors now allege DC mayor Vince Gray knew businessman Jeffrey Thompson had been illegally funding his 2010 campaign. Here’s how long other big-city mayors lasted under scrutiny.

Ray Nagin

New Orleans

Conflict-of-interest allegations surfaced in 2009; Nagin was charged with fraud, conspiracy, bribery, and money laundering in ’13, after leaving office. Convicted February 12 on all but one count, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

Tony Mack


Accused of cronyism soon after he took office in 2010, he was arrested in 2012 by the FBI. He clung to office for weeks after his February 7 bribery conviction, until a judge ordered him removed.

Bob Filner

San Diego

Eight months after his 2012 election, female aides claimed sexual harassment. Seven weeks later, facing a recall effort, he resigned. He pleaded guilty in October and is on probation.

Rob Ford


Elected in 2010, Ford survived a judge’s 2012 order to step down after a flap over improper gifts. Admitting he “probably” smoked crack last year cost him most of his powers, but he’s up for reelection.

This article appears in the April 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 09:04 AM/ET, 03/24/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Bowser has erased Gray’s once-considerable lead in the first public poll since Jeffrey Thompson pleaded guilty. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph of Gray by Flickr user chesbayprogram. Photograph of Bowser by Flickr user crystalndavis.

Mayor Vince Gray and Council member Muriel Bowser are in a dead heat with 11 days to go before the April 1 Democratic primary for mayor, according to the first public poll in the DC mayoral race taken since federal prosecutors alleged Gray had a direct role in the the “shadow campaign” funded on his behalf in 2010 by businessman Jeffrey Thompson.

The poll, published by Washington City Paper and WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, shows Bowser has continued to gain on Gray. Both are supported by 27 percent of likely voters. Earlier surveys showed Gray hovering around 27 or 28 percent, while Bowser has steadily moved up in polling as the race have progressed.

Gray and Bowser are the best-funded candidates in the race, with each claiming about $700,000 on hand in their March 10 fundraising report. Both campaigns say they are burning furiously through their cash on direct mail, door-to-door canvassing, and other tactics.

“It validates what we’ve been saying the whole time, that this race would come down to two people” Bowser’s campaign manager, Bo Shuff, tells Washingtonian. “When two-thirds of the city wants a new mayor, it tends to get one.”

Thompson pleaded guilty on March 10 to local and federal charges of consipiring to commit election fraud by funnelling more than $2.3 million in unreported money to help elect candidates around the country. As part of his plea, Thompson told federal prosecutors that he financed an illicit campaign to help elect Gray in 2010, and that Gray was an active participant of the operation. Gray has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and has denied any involvment with the shadow campaign.

Since Thompson’s plea, Gray has asked voters whether they believe him and his track record or Thompson and the allegations made in his plea deal. When asked that same question in today’s poll, 48 percent of respondents said Thompson, while only 24 percent said Gray.

“That’s a clown question, bro,” says Gray’s irascible campaign manager, Chuck Thies, quoting a popular rebuke coined by Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. “How many people even know who Jeff Thompson is? Check his name ID.”

Thies says that in the days before “Stormy Monday,” as he calls the day Thompson pleaded guilty, the Gray campaign’s internal polling showed the mayor pulling ahead of the rest of the field.

“The growth we had achieved in late February, early March was impacted,” he says. “You could have said, ‘Who do you trust, Mickey Mouse or Vince Gray?’ People would have said Mickey Mouse.”

Gray's base is "unshakeable," Thies says, but it has not appeared to expand since January, when the first major public poll of the campaign also showed the mayor claiming 28 percent of likely voters.

“When did Jeff Thompson become the knight in shining armor?” Thies asks. “I thought this was the guy who spent millions to subvert democracy.” Thies says that Gray is the victim of a “coordinated smear campaign” by its competitors, the media, and the US Attorney’s office.

The other six candidates for mayor are far behind Gray and Bowser. Jack Evans drew 13 percent of likely voters, while Tommy Wells, who has made his campaign largely about the fact that he is the only elected official in the field to not have taken money from Thompson over the years, is at 9 percent. Busboys and Poets restaurateur Andy Shallal is next at 7 percent, trailed by Vincent Orange at 2 percent, Reta Jo Lewis at 1 percent, and Carlos Allen at zero. Fourteen percent of voters queried were undecided.

The poll was conducted by North Carolina firm Public Policy Polling between March 13 and 16 and questioned 860 likely voters using land lines. Eighteen percent of the sample was between 18 and 45 years old, 41 percent was between 46 and 65, and 23 percent was older than 65.

Posted at 09:41 AM/ET, 03/21/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
DC's mayor-for-life will throw his support to the incumbent, but will it make a difference? By Benjamin Freed, Harry Jaffe
Photograph by Flickr user Tom Bridge.

Mayor Vince Gray visited Marion Barry while the mayor-for-life was laid up in Washington Hospital Center, and his concern appears to be paying off. The embattled incumbent will get the mayor-for-life’s official blessing Wednesday, a few days after Barry campaigned for Gray.

Barry will endorse Gray at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church on Wednesday in Southeast DC, where Gray is trying to drum up as much support as he can ahead of the April 1 Democratic primary. The announcement was supposed to be kept under wraps until just before the event, but Washington Post reporter Paul Schwartzman tweeted the news, breaking the embargo requested by Gray campaign manager and self-declared election policeman Chuck Thies.

Thies responded with a Twitter tantrum, accusing the Post of “shoddy reporting” and letting the world know he cursed out Schwartzman before slamming downhanging up the phone. Schwartzman later apologized for blowing the embargo. 

Washingtonian was able to confirm with Barry’s spokeswoman, LaToya Foster, that he will be making his mayoral endorsement on Wednesday, and Thies’s outburst aside, the announcement that Barry is siding with Gray is not terribly surprising, as Barry spent part of last weekend campaigning for Gray in Southeast, with Gray’s campaign releasing a video showing Barry speaking into a microphone telling residents to “Come on out and say hello to the mayor, Mayor Gray.”

With early voting already underway and two weeks left until the primary, Gray is trying to shore up his numbers in the wake of federal prosecutors’ allegations last week that he had a direct role in the $668,800 “shadow campaign” waged on his behalf in 2010, which businessman Jeffrey Thompson admitted to funding.

Since Thompson’s guilty plea, Gray’s campaign has asked people to decide between the mayor and “Uncle Earl,” as Thompson admitted he preferred to be called in discussions about the under-the-table money. Gray’s seven opponents have seized upon the latest twists in the three-year investigation into his 2010 campaign, especially at a debate Sunday night, which the mayor skipped.

But Barry’s actual effect on the election will be minimal. For one, his coat tails are clipped because of his age and ethical lapses. Younger voters can’t relate to him, and the general electorate has grown past his appeal.

Gray can expect Barry to solidify his base among black residents east of the Anacostia River, but these voters were already on his side and likely to punch his ticket. On the other hand, the few white voters who were considering a vote for the mayor might think twice after seeing Barry stumping for him.

“It might help solidify the mayor’s support among blacks who have been sitting on the fence,” says Phil Pannell, president of the Congress Heights Community Association in Barry’s Ward 8. “But his endorsement goes only so far, when he can’t physically back it up."

Barry, 78, got out of the hospital March 5 after a 23-day stay to be treated for blood and urinary tract infections, and now attends physical therapy sessions three times a week.

Posted at 01:57 PM/ET, 03/18/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Vince Gray was a no-show at the Black Cat, but there was still plenty of talk about “Uncle Earl.” By Benjamin Freed
Missing the mayor. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

Considering the almost-nightly debates and forums to which the candidates running for DC mayor are invited, one can’t blame any of the contenders for not having perfect attendance. But Mayor Vince Gray’s absence from last night’s Washington City Paper-sponsored showdown at the Black Cat set up an evening full of “Uncle Earl” speculation from seven challengers who bashed Gray without ever having to hear a direct response.

Hosted by an alt-weekly and set in music club with a cash bar, Sunday night’s debate was sure to be rowdier than the scores of previous forums. It also came nearly a week after federal prosecutors got businessman Jeffrey Thompson to plead guilty to bankrolling numerous “shadow campaigns” for local politicians over the years, including a $668,800 scheme on Gray’s behalf in 2010 that authorities now allege Gray had a direct role in. The debate also fell on the eve of the beginning of early voting.

Gray could still win on April 1, setting up a tight race against DC Council member David Catania, who is running in the general election as an independent. But by not showing up to the Black Cat on Sunday and not really giving a reason for his absence, Gray opened himself to two hours of criticism without a chance to defend himself. Here’s what we learned:

1) This might be Muriel Bowser’s election to lose at this point.

A poll released two weeks ago by WAMU and WRC put Bowser eight percentage points behind Gray in the eight-way field, but that was before Thompson pleaded guilty. Since last Monday, the mayoral race has gone into a tailspin that has largely benefitted the Ward 4 Council member. The Washington Post editorial page has hammered Gray on a near-daily basis and re-upped its Bowser endorsement. Bowser’s campaign organization, with nearly $700,000 left in the bank, is also showing its muscle, packing last night’s capacity crowd with supporters who cheered every answer she gave.

2) By the way, Bowser would really appreciate it if Tommy Wells dropped out right now.

Before they started clawing at each other over campaign contributions from city contractors, Bowser tried buttering up Wells on multiple issues, thanking him for sponsoring the recently passed marijuana decriminalization bill and setting up one of Wells’s trademark sermons on ethics reform. The charm offensive ended when Wells used Bowser’s prompt to attack her for sponsoring a 2011 campaign finance bill that he feels did not go far enough in limiting contributions from contractors and other corporate entities. Bowser tried a similar tactic during a televised debate last week, and it played out the same way. It’s clear that Bowser, as the strongest challenger to Gray, is trying to finally take the lead by cutting into Wells’s argument about good government. But don’t count on Wells quitting with two weeks to go.

3) Even if he wins, Gray won’t have the support of a united Democratic Party against Catania, a former Republican. 

WRC’s Tom Sherwood opened the debate wishing he could ask Gray a question. With that proving impossible, he instead asked the seven candidates in attendance if they would support Gray as the Democratic nominee. Only Jack Evans, Vincent Orange, and Carlos Allen said they would, and of those three, Evans is the only one with any significant support, although he is running in third place in recent polls. Bowser, Wells, Reta Jo Lewis, and Busboys and Poets restaurateur Andy Shallal said they would not line up behind Gray.

4) Marijuana makes candidates say the damnedest things.

With the DC Council having just passed a marijuana decriminalization bill and activists trying to get a legalization question on the November ballot, the candidates were asked how they feel about pot reform. Some of their answers were, well, a little strangely baked. Long-shot candidate Lewis gave the weirdest answer of the night with this gem: “We should stop and think, do we want kids with all the problems they have to be smelling of smoke? What about the seniors who live in apartments who would be subject to the smell of drugs in their homes?” And Bowser said that while she supports the “private use of marijuana among consenting adults,” her support does not extend to “big marijuana festivals.”

Ron Moten and his Uncle Earl gear. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

5) Uncle Earl is here to stay.

Shallal was the first candidate to reference the code name Thompson wanted Gray and his associates to call him by in order to mask his support of Gray’s first mayoral campaign, but plenty of audience members shouted it out, too. The allegations read by prosecutors at Thompsons plea hearing last week are going to dominate the rest of this campaign. Wells said that in getting Thompson to sing, US Attorney Ron Machenlaid out a scheme that would make House of Cards blush.” Thompson’s shadow campaigns might not have been as bloody as Frank Underwood’s machinations, but they have given followers of city politics an unforgettable pop reference. Ron Moten, a anti-youth violence activist and Adrian Fenty loyalist, roamed the crowd selling out his supply of Uncle Earl-branded T-shirts and cap. (There were no Uncle Earl sweatshirts.) And when City Paper columnist Will Sommer asked the candidates the question Gray himself has been spouting—”Who do you believe? Vince Gray or Jeffrey Thompson?”—no one sided with the mayor. Even Orange, who matches the description of one of the candidates who enjoyed Thompson’s under-the-table largesse, said he believes Thompson’s guilty plea. The closest bit of support Gray got on that front was a milquetoast answer from Allen, who said “let the courts decide.” But judging from the Black Cat crowd, voters will be deciding that sooner.

Posted at 01:03 PM/ET, 03/17/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()