Who Will the Washington Post Endorse for DC Mayor?

A look at the candidates’ prospects.

By: Harry Jaffe

February is the month when DC’s mayoral hopefuls interview with the Washington Post editorial board for its coveted endorsement. Who will get it? 

Historically, the Post’s endorsement is most powerful among white voters in Ward 3, who have faithfully followed the board’s call over the years, but its impact is felt across the city. The Post’s word was crucial in the election of Marion Barry in 1978 and, more recently, Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty

The Post’s influence has waned with its revenues over the years, but to the current crowded field for the April 1 Democratic primary, the endorsement might be especially important.

Voters are looking for an alternative to incumbent Vincent Gray, who is vulnerable due to a looming investigation into his 2010 campaign finances. And the winner of the primary faces an unaccustomed challenge this cycle: a viable general-election candidate in at-large council member David Catania.

It’s not likely that the Post, led by editorial page editor Jo-Ann Armao, will back Gray. The paper has published at least half a dozen editorials calling for Gray or his administration to answer questions about his role in what federal prosecutors called a “corrupt” campaign.

“It’s material to D.C. residents to know that they have leaders who will level with them,” a recent editorial said. “So far, Mr. Gray has refused.”

For his part, Gray has been running against the Post and other outlets, claiming only they, not the voters, are interested in the investigation.

That leaves council members Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, and Tommy Wells as leading challengers. The Post will also hear from council member Vincent Orange, restaurateur Andy Shallal, and former State Department official Reta Lewis

The editorial board has long supported Evans’s work as chairman of the council’s finance committee. Wells stands out for his devotion to education reform and for his refusal to take corporate contributions. That same purity, however, has impoverished Wells’s campaign and made it hard to compete with Bowser and Evans, both of whom have raised more than $1 million.

Bowser has the edge. She is strong on ethics, having authored the most recent reform law. And though she can’t rival Evans’s 22 years on the council, the Post endorsed her mentor, Adrian Fenty, despite his inexperience. Bowser, too, appeals to voters across racial lines, which makes her very appealing: The Post likes consensus, and a winner.

If Gray prevails in the primary, however, all bets are off. Catania then could be the first white, non-Democrat to get the Post’s nod.