News & Politics

Vince Gray’s Campaign Plays Defense for Andy Shallal to Attack Muriel Bowser

Gray’s campaign manager says Bowser is using Tea Party rhetoric. Bowser’s campaign says this means she’s mounting a serious challenge to the incumbent.

Why is there a photo of Sarah Palin? Chalk it up to wacky rhetoric in the DC mayoral race. Photograph via Andrew F. Kazmierski via Shutterstock.

The DC mayoral race descended into the utterly bizarre Friday morning when Mayor Vince Gray’s campaign manager, Chuck Thies, blasted out a fundraising e-mail, press release, blog post, and string of tweets suggesting that Council member Muriel Bowser is taking up with the likes of Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh.

“I never thought I’d see this in a Democratic election in the District of Columbia,” Thies writes in the e-mail, which includes photos of the former Alaska governor and the blustery radio host.

But Thies’s outburst is reacting to a two-month-old quote about Andy Shallal reprinted in this week’s Washington City Paper cover story in which Bowser jokingly refers to the Busboys and Poets restaurateur as a “rich socialist.”

“There is no place for Tea Party rhetoric in our Democratic Primary,” Thies writes.

It might seem curious that the campaign manager for the incumbent and frontrunner would defend Shallal against another candidate, but Shallal spokesman Dwight Kirk explains it this way: Thies, he says, “is trying to say Muriel is engaging in dirty politics. Andy’s about elevating the dialogue.”

Thies says today’s argument is not about playing defense for another candidate, but trying to keep a sense of decorum in the race. “We’re policing this election,” says Thies, who earlier this week prompted hurt feelings from the Bowser campaign when he referred to Gray’s rivals as “smurfs.” (The resulting fundraising e-mail from Bowser opened with “Feeling blue?”)

Then Thies doubled down against Bowser.

“Who has spent every year since President Obama was elected screaming ‘Socialist!’?” Thies says. “Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Rand Paul.”

Bowser has won straw polls in Ward 4 in Northwest, her home turf, and Ward 8 in Southeast, considered Gray’s stronghold. She also came in a distant second in a recent Washington Post poll.

“The only thing that makes Muriel Bowser a frontrunner is her imagination,” Thies says. “When she is forced to talk about substantive issues there is no substance, just a smokescreen of shrill finger-pointing.”

But Bowser’s people are enjoying the Gray campaign’s Tea Party panic. “It shows there’s only one campaign that can take on the mayor, and that’s us,” says Bowser’s campaign manager, Bo Shuff.

As for Bowser’s “rich socialist” comment about Shallal, Shuff says it flowed out of a “casual conversation” Bowser had with City Paper about December’s fundraising report showing that Shallal had given his campaign $45,000 of his own money. (He has since put in another $50,000.)

“He is a wealthy individual,” Shuff says of Shallal, who is worth an estimated $12 million to $15 million and has never publicly responded to Bowser’s comment. “And he is probably the most left of the candidates running for mayor. And I don’t think he’d disagree with that.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.