On April 1, D.C. voters will nominate a Democratic candidate for November’s general election for mayor in a city that has never — never — elected anyone other than a Democrat as its leader. Here are five reasons why you should pay attention, even if you aren’t voting in next week’s primary or November’s general elections.
Mayor Vincent Gray, former chairman of the D.C. Council and seasoned political veteran, is mired in an ethics scandal stemming from his 2010 campaign, in which he unseated previous Mayor Adrian Fenty in the Democratic primary. Long story short, Gray is accused of taking $660,000 in illegal campaign contributions from wealthy businessman Jeffrey Thompson in order to fund a similarly illegal “shadow campaign,” undermining other candidates in the 2010 race.
On March 10, Thompson pled guilty to the conspiracy in federal court, and prosecutors like U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, who is heading the investigation into Gray, have pledged to “hold accountable all of those who conspired . . . to withhold the truth from the public” and have urged Thompson’s collaborators to “come forward and own up to your conduct.”
For his part, Gray has steadfastly maintained his innocence, saying of the charges, “Lies. These are lies.” Some, like Colbert King of the Washington Post, have questioned Machen’s tactics, saying that Gray is being tried unfairly and without all the facts. While the investigation is ongoing, the scandal has been at the center of the campaign, much to the pleasure of Gray’s primary challengers, which brings me to the next reason the race is exciting.
2. It’s competitive.
Two polls this week, one from The Washington Post and one from NBC4, have the race tied, with Gray slightly trailing D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4). Bowser, a confidant and ally of Fenty, has surged to become Gray’s main challenger in just the past six weeks, previously muddled in a field of candidates that includes three of her colleagues on the Council.
At 41, Bowser is one of the youngest candidates running, and while her opponents and detractors knock her as inexperienced, it seems her message of a fresh start in the District is resonating with those weary of Gray and the political establishment. Endorsed by the Washington Post (and The Hoya’s editorial board), Bowser has mounted a serious challenge to Gray, making the race truly a toss-up heading into primary day. However, contrary to previous mayoral elections, this one will be far from over after April 1, which brings me to my next and equally thrilling reason to pay attention to this race.
D.C. has never elected a white mayor. D.C. has also never elected an openly gay mayor. D.C. has also never elected a political independent as mayor. Councilmember David Catania (I-At Large) (SFS ’90, LAW ’94) is seeking to kill three birds with one stone. A former Republican who fundraised for George W. Bush, Catania announced his candidacy earlier this month to run on the November ballot as an independent.
Much like Bowser and other mayoral contender Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), Catania is a staunch critic of Gray, especially on the issue of education, as Catania serves as chair of the Council’s education committee. As the first openly gay member of the D.C. Council, Catania played a major role in the legalization of same-sex marriage in the District back in 2009.
The tone of the race would change drastically if it were the much younger Bowser facing Catania in the general instead of Gray, but the chance of an historic election still looms as Catania continues to shape his campaign leading up to November.
4. Music Videos for Diss Tracks
This one is pretty self-explanatory after you watch this music video featuring a Gray lookalike accepting illegal campaign contributions from one “Uncle Earl,” the name believed to be used by Thompson during their meetings before the Gray’s 2010 victory.
5. The issues in the race matter to Georgetown students
It’s a tall task convincing my friends or any of my fellow classmates that they should pay attention to this race, but there are a few issues that pertain directly to us.
One is the potential for future changes to the D.C. transportation system, including the construction of a streetcar line connecting Georgetown to downtown, and farther in the future, the possibility of a Metro stop in Georgetown. Whoever is mayor will heavily influence the direction the city will take concerning improvements to its transportation system, and since complaining about the difficulty of getting into the rest of the city is essentially a sport at Georgetown, this is an issue that all students should care about.
Another concerns Georgetown’s future. The next campus plan agreement, which promises to shape the development of the university into the future, while negotiated through the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, will certainly draw the input of whoever occupies the mayor’s office. If students can’t even name the current mayor, they have no chance of having their input taken seriously by the city government when it comes to the Georgetown’s future.
Lastly, this city is undergoing an influx of young professionals flocking to high-paying jobs that only D.C. can offer, and all of us who want to continue to call the District our home after graduation should know where any mayor stands on issues like taxes, economic development and education. Yes, we can only spend four years on the Hilltop as students, but things like buying a car, finding a home and raising a family creep up on us before we know it, and many of us will probably be doing those things in D.C. Don’t wait until then to pay attention to who is shaping this city’s public policy.
Check back for 4E’s post on how to register for the election and where to vote Tuesday.