By: By Peterson Onyeukwu
This year’s DC mayoral race is already shaping up into an interesting bout. Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 council member, defeated incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray in the April 1st Democratic primary amidst albeit one of the lowest voter turnouts in DC democratic primary history (below 27 percent). With this victory in hand however, Bowser intends to continue with her gains, as she, a formerly unknown citywide candidate, has come out of obscurity to take the frontrunner position in the mayoral race.
The current lineup of competitors includes sitting At-Large Council Member David Catania, who is running as an Independent and former At-Large council member who is also a repeat mayoral candidate, Carol Schwartz. Schwartz’s recent decision to enter the race caught many by surprise since most considered her political aspirations gone after her loss in the 2008 Republican primary. For the November 4th election Schwartz will run as an Independent.
On the issues, Catania has begun campaigning hard against Bowser’s record stating that Bowser’s record, while head of the Committee on Economic Development, leaves much to be desired. Of particular concern has been the committee’s work, or lack of work, building on efforts to increase affordable housing in the District. Some have commented that the rise in homeless population (some 8,000) in the District is a direct result of DC Council’s inaction. Many also have called on the council to redefine affordable housing which currently is based on the Area Median Income (AMI) which includes two of the nation’s most wealthy counties (Fairfax, VA and Montgomery, MD).
Several months ago Catania embarked on a “campaign” of sorts, holding “substantive” meetings with this Districts public schools (to include charter schools). His current number of visits (as of this writing) totals 144. This approach of getting out in front of potential voters has likely helped his chances and worked to increase his exposure to this city’s residents.
Concerns over Catania’s campaigning style were raised as flyers comparing Bowser and Catania’s record were handed out during the event. These flyers compared Bowser’s current campaign staff to that of Adrian Fenty.
Catania’s campaign has also mentioned the sort of dodgy play Bowser campaign is undertaking. Bowser has since refused any engagements with her opponents until mid-September, citing that the last day for the Board of Elections to accept challenges to the ballot is September 8th.
Voices against Catania have turned to Catania’s boisterous and non-diplomatic approach when debating certain issues. To these concerns Catania has offered that there are many issues facing the DC electorate which cause many to be outraged—himself included. Further he acknowledges that for meaningful change to come, affecting DC education and housing policy, the future DC mayor will need to be both tenacious and vociferous.
Bowser’s win in the Democratic primary signals both challenges and opportunities for her campaign. While winning 44 percent to Gray’s 33 percent, it must be noted that only 22 percent of Gray’s own ward voted in the primary (Ward 7). Only 16 percent in Ward 8 showed up to vote, which was supposedly another Gray stronghold. Many suggest much of Bowser’s win can be attributed to scandal fatigue as the district citizens get over wave after wave of scandals affecting the DC council—scandals which have left two former council members behind bars and others facing impending investigation. This fatigue caused many to stay home instead of getting out to vote. The task for Bowser is now to both unite democratic voters and convince them of her intent to hold DC council members more accountable.
Some of Bowser’s notable accomplishments include the Kids Ride Free legislation, which allowed DC students to ride the bus to school for free, and several ethics reform bills.
It is too early to know what Schwartz’s addition to the fray will have on this contest. How Schwartz will fare in this race after several years outside of political life, and after significant changes in this city’s demographics is unknown. What is known is that her involvement might be of some concern to Catania who must rely on Democrats and non-Democrats in order to win this election.
Schwartz spent a favorable 16 years on the DC council as a Republican at-large member. While a member she was known for being fiscal hawk, preventing earmarks on numerous council bills. She currently is for decriminalization of marijuana but against its legalization. She also is in favor of delaying current rezoning plans.
The expectation is that Schwartz’s bid will split the votes and make Bowser the inevitable shoe-in who relies on her title as the Democratic nominee in this majority Democratic city.
It should be noted that there will also be candidates from the Libertarian and Republican party to join the field for the November election, which has many commenting that this election will be a genuine contest and not a shoe in win for Bowser.