The D.C. mayoral race formally went underway Nov. 8, with candidates beginning to circulate petitions to get their names on the ballot. Absent from the pool of nine contenders, however, was incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray.
Candidates thus far include D.C. Councilmembers Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Vincent Orange (D-At Large) (LAW ’88) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis and Busboys and Poets restaurant owner Andy Shallal. Three lesser-known, Democratic, candidates – former D.C. councilmember candidate Frank Sewell, perennial mayoral candidate Nester Djonkam and businessman Christian Carter – have filed paperwork to run as well.
The first debate of the mayoral race, sponsored by the D.C. Bar Association, was held Wednesday evening before a live audience at the downtown offices of the Arent Fox law firm, located at 1717 K St. NW.
Candidates must collect at least 2,000 signatures from registered Democrats in the District in order to get their names on the ballot for the Democratic primary in April; there are currently no declared Republican candidates.
Gray’s delayed pursuit of re-election coincides with a pending criminal investigation of allegations of corruption related to his 2010 victory over incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty in the Democratic primary.
“He has not given a timeline for running,” Gray spokeswoman Doxie McCoy wrote in an email. “When he decides, he will make some sort of announcement.”
The investigation into Gray and other District officials has brought campaign ethics to the forefront of other candidates’ platforms.
During the debate, Wells criticized Gray for what he deemed rampant government corruption.
“We’ve had probably the greatest amount of corruption in our government in the history of home-rule,” Wells told The Hoya. “The way that you lose ground in the city, in any jurisdiction in the world, is if you have a corrupt government.”
Bowser’s campaign expressed a similar sentiment.
“The obvious criticism of this current mayoral administration is on the topic of ethics,” Bowser campaign Chairperson William Lightfoot said. “Muriel is the champion and leader of the ethics reform legislation, which has now created an independent board, and for the first time, councilmembers who have misdeeds are being punished.”
Shallal announced his candidacy Tuesday with a speech at Ben’s Chili Bowl. To Shallal, his outsider status and small business experience are seen as assets in his campaign.
“We’ve had four members of our city council either indicted or under possible indictment, and maybe even more,” Shallal told The Hoya. “We’ve had a mayor who’s under a cloud of possible wrongdoing. I think being an outsider is not a bad thing.”
A populist message of unity and inclusion lies at the heart of Shallal’s campaign, and he stressed the importance of creating a singular vision for city government.
“A great city is able to say it’s great for everyone. A great city and a great leadership can bring the voices of the voiceless into the room, and I think those voices are hardly ever heard,” Shallal told The Hoya. “What happens when you uplift people that are not oftentimes heard, and not often visible, it makes all of us better, it makes the entire city better. So it’s not just about helping people on one end, it’s about helping everyone.”
Reta Jo Lewis, former White House aide to President Bill Clinton (SFS ’68), officially launched her campaign Nov. 2. Like Shallal, she considers herself an outsider.
“I’m not beholden to anyone except the residents of the District,” Lewis told The Hoya. “The biggest issue as I have traveled around this city is that people are looking for someone who is not part of the status quo. People are not looking for more of the same, they’re looking for someone who has the ability to put the residents first.”
In addition to government corruption, the economy has been a main point of discussion in the early stages of the race.
“Under the current administration, although we see a lot of cranes up and buildings going up, those have been in the pipeline for the last several years,” Lightfoot said. “At the current time, there’s very little that’s directly being planned to develop an economic plan and engine for the city.”
Lewis said that she has the public and private sector experience in regard to the D.C. economy needs.
“I’ve seen the best practices in cities around the country and across the world, and I have the experience and relationships to grow our city and make D.C. a city that works for everyone,” Lewis told The Hoya.
Evans’ platform has also focused on the economy.
“The top message for our campaign is to continue the economic development that the city has seen thus far and to continue to translate that progress to areas that need it the most. By that, we mean to create jobs for people in this city,” Evans’ Campaign Director Jermaine House said.
In the latest campaign finance report, released Oct. 10, Evans, whose ward includes the Georgetown area, emerged as a frontrunner, having collected $768,000 throughout his entire campaign.
“What sets Jack Evans apart is his experience. Jack has been a councilmember for 22 years, and in February, he became the longest-serving D.C. councilmember in the history of the D.C. Council,” House said. “So his experience is far more vast than all of his opponents in the race.”
Lightfoot, however, warned that Bowser, who declared her mayoral aspirations in March and was the first candidate to begin collecting petition signatures, has also been raising a large amount of money.
“She’s had a head start,” Lightfoot said. “She’s been walking throughout the entire city and knocking on doors, calling people and asking them to put yard signs up and they’re doing so. … She’s raised more money than any other candidate and she has more money in the bank.”
Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15), president of the Georgetown University College Democrats, said that students want candidates who will directly impact their day-to-day lives. Tezel authored a viewpoint in The Hoya in June urging students not to support Evans, who opposed the university in negotiations over the 2010 Campus Plan.
“I am looking for a candidate that promotes better resources for tenants, particularly for Georgetown students who often have to navigate landlords that might not have Better Business Licenses,” Tezel said. “I’m going to also be looking for a candidate who prioritizes expanded transportation options for Georgetown residents.”
Orange’s campaign could not be reached for comment.