With a little more than two months until the April 1st primary, D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (Ward 4) was the mayoral candidate of choice among Ward 8 residents at the January 18th “Electing a Mayor” Candidates Endorsement Forum. Bowser won more votes than the other eight candidates still vying for the seat – including incumbent mayor Vincent Gray. The event was organized by the Ward Eight Democrats organization.
The poll was held at Turner Elementary School and only registered Democrats of Ward 8 were allowed to participate. Of the 307 ballots eligible for counting, Bowser received 127 votes (41 percent of the votes). Vincent Gray received 94 (31 percent of the votes). Four years ago, Gray won the Ward 8 Democratic Committee’s endorsement over then-incumbent Adrian Fenty by 80 percent. Ward 8 later proved to be a stronghold for Gray when voter support helped him comfortably sweep the Democratic primary by 82 percent.
Although Bowser won the plurality – more votes than any one else, but less than half the total votes – she did not manage to capture the official Ward Eight Democrats Inc. endorsement. Campaign Manager Bo Schuff said the organization’s 60 percent endorsement threshold was very high. “Elections aren’t about winning 60 percent,“ said Schuff. “If you parallel this to April 1st, I would be happy to win by 30 votes out of 300 – that’s a 10 percent margin.” Shuff attributed the win to a good grassroots outreach strategy. “We didn’t do any big thing. We knocked on doors, we made phone calls, we talked to our voters, we identified them and we got them to show up, and that’s what it’s going to take to win on April 1st,” said Schuff.
Ward 8 Democrats President Natalie Williams says there won’t be another opportunity to win the organizations official endorsement and that poll results send a strong message about where Ward 8 stands when it comes to the fast-approaching primary. “It’s safe to say we’re split on who we want to see as the next mayor,” said Williams. She said now it’s up to individual delegates to throw their support behind their preferred candidates. “I think the candidates should know that they’ve got work to do here in Ward 8,” Williams said. “If this [poll] is reflective of what the Ward 8 voter is thinking, then all candidates need to get out, get to their people and get them to the polls.”
Christian Carter announced the end of his bid for mayor during the forum’s opening statements. Democratic Council member Vincent Orange (At-Large) received 40 votes, while restaurant owner Andy Shallal and Council member Tommy Wells (Ward 6) tied with 13 votes. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans received 10 votes and Reta Jo Lewis, former Special Assistant to President Bill Clinton, received 2 votes and entrepreneur Carlos Allen did not receive any votes. There were also 39 challenged ballots, which will require verification of residency by the DC Board of Elections and Ethics in order to be counted.
The polling place was open for about two hours as WUSA 9’s Bruce Johnson moderated the forum, which was, at times, disruptively loud by audience members. While candidates took questions on topics like violence, gentrification and property taxes, attendees yelled over candidates, and at times, one another. Ward 8 residents Eugene and Rhashida Wilkerson said they knew where some of the tension was coming from.
“There aren’t too many opportunities for the (Ward 8) residents to express their frustrations, especially when you get a number of the council members together,“ Rhashida said of the forum’s relentless hecklers. “I didn’t necessarily agree with the disruptions, but I understand the frustrations.”
Neither Rhashida, nor her husband Eugene went to the forum with favorite candidates. They didn’t they cast votes in the straw poll. They just went to hear the candidates. Eugene said he hopes to go to at least one other forum where he might be able to better hear what each has to say – especially regarding taxes, education and unemployment. “This is an important election. It’ll decide which way the city is going to go,” said Eugene.
The Wilkersons say this year they’re trying to engage in local politics more than they have in the past. Between the two of them so far, Shallal, Wells, Orange and Bowser all have raised good agenda points. Both Euguene and Rhashida say the most important thing for voters to do is arm themselves with information and build an opinion from a range of sources.
“I would just urge [voters] to really research the candidates and really learn how they voted about issues that are most concerning to them,“ said Rhashida. “Don’t just take today.”
“What their individual records are, what they’ve done in their particular wards,” Euguene continued “and base [your opinion] on that. If you just take one forum, you’re doing yourself a disservice.”
Muriel Opens Ward 8 Campaign Office
On Saturday January 25th Councilmember Bowser opened a campaign office in Ward 8. This is the campaign’s second office and is located at 1916 Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. SE. Bowser said, “Our campaign is committed to talking to, and more importantly, hearing from residents in all 8 wards of the city.” To date, Bowser is the only candidate in the race who has had an official office opening east of the river. Her main campaign headquarters are located off of Georgia Ave. NW in Ward 4. Ward 8 resident Doris Grimes, attended the office opening and said, “I’m glad to see a candidate investing in this part of the city.”
Bowser campaign manager, Bo Shuff said, “There’s energy all over the city behind electing a new mayor and we want to be able to make it easier for residents who don’t live near our main headquarters to come in and share that energy with the campaign.”The office opening is just one of the small things Bowser’s campaign is doing to show they are ready to govern all the residents in the District. During the mayoral forums Bowser has said that once she is elected she will create a new position that will focus specifically on wards 7 and 8. “I’ve pledged to name a Deputy Mayor for East of the River Affairs because I know we need to put action and investment behind rhetoric and follow through on the promises we make. This office is just the first step in a long effort.”
Over that same weekend, her campaign also held a Women for Muriel event at the Woman’s National Democratic Club. The event, which was hosted by various women leaders from across the city, brought in a crowd of over 200. It was slated to be her biggest fundraiser to date.