News & Politics

Muriel Bowser Wins DC Mayoral Primary

Vince Gray concedes very low-turnout election, blaming early primary schedule.

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.”

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.