Voters in Wards 7 and 8 Aren’t Turning Out for Vince Gray

The people who voted him into office four years ago aren’t showing up this time—despite a letter of support from Marion Barry.
Voters in Wards 7 and 8 Aren’t Turning Out for Vince Gray
The scene Tuesday is quiet at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church in Southeast. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

Four years ago, Vince Gray won by sweeping neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River where Adrian Fenty, DC’s previous mayor, was deeply unpopular. He’s essentially trying the same strategy today, by passing out a letter in those neighborhoods reminding voters that Muriel Bowser, who is running neck-and-neck with him, is also Fenty’s heir apparent. It’s signed by someone even more popular than Gray in those same environs: Marion Barry.

“Vince is not selling a gimmicky ‘new plan’ like the other candidates who have no track record of real results for us,” Barry says in the letter. “We don’t need Muriel Bowser, who has never managed more than ten people in her life and is not ready to manage a $10 billion corporation called the DC government. The Post called her Adrian Fenty’s protégé. We’ve been there and done that.”

But even in the Ward 7 and 8 precincts on which Gray is staking his reelection, few people seem to be receiving Barry’s message. By 1:30, only 144 people had voted at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Southeast, where two weeks ago Barry publicly endorsed Gray.

The sidewalks outside the church are empty, save two Bowser supporters and two members of a union that endorsed Gray. “It’s been a slow grind,” says Bowser campaigner Alfonzo Holloway.

Voters are just as scarce at Union Temple Baptist Church in the heart of the Anacostia neighborhood, where the precinct captain, Robert Hairston, says 173 people voted through about 2:15 PM. Hairston expects maybe 300, or about 10 percent of the precinct, to cast ballots by the time polls close at 8.

“You’d think what we’ve seen in the news, people would get out to either get rid of [Gray] or support him,” Hairston says.

But Hairston, who has worked DC’s elections since 1998, says he is not surprised by the complacency in a mayoral election. Even in 2010, when the Democratic primary was held in September—as usual, until this year—turnout was also around 10 percent. Hairston says there are only two things that can motivate higher voter turnout in DC.

“If it’s not Barry or a presidential election, Washingtonians do not vote,” he says.

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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.