One Month to Go and Another Mayoral Forum

Amid a flurry of D.C. Democratic Party mayoral candidate forums, focus tends to get lost sometimes. Only three candidates showed up for the Penn Quarter Neighborhood Association-sponsored forum this week, but there were numerous other forums around town, as sometimes weary candidates rode the forum treadmill in advance of the April 1 primary.

At this forum were Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells and At-large Councilman Vincent Orange who made it to the mid-week morning forum for the D.C. downtown neighborhood which is actually a part of Ward 2, represented by Evans. Incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray had already declined the invitation earlier due to a conflict. Rising Ward 4 candidate Muriel Bowser did not attend either, as was the case for Andy Shallal, the Busboys and Poets restaurant(s) owner.

The forum—which often wandered into somewhat and site-specific issues pertinent to the owners and retailers of the Penn Quarter District—was held against the background of a new poll—from WRC 4—which showed Gray maintaining a still considerable lead with 28 percent of likely voters supporting him. But for the candidates chasing him, there was some movement—Bowser is opening up a lead over her fellow challengers, gaining a 20-percent support. That made for a distancing gap over Evans (13 percent ) and Wells (12 percent ) as well as Shallal (6 percent ) and Orange (4 percent ).

The Penn Quarter forum was held on a morning when yet another snow storm (brief, but full of flurries) hit Washington that morning. The candidates talked about familiar subjects. Evans continued to tout his experience (he’s the longest-serving council member by far), his expertise on matters financial, his desire to create more affordable housing for the city which is in something of a housing boom, not to mention operating at a surplus. Wells again talked about ethics—he’s the only candidate who’s not taking corporate contributions. In addition, there was talk about noise problems in Penn Quarter, commercial lighting and an apparent increase in the presence of prostitutes in the area.

The forum suffered from the absence of the other candidates. It’s hard to have a debate with a sitting mayor when he’s not there or when the person who appears to be the current leading challenger is not there.

The WRC4 Poll, conducted with WAMU-FM, the Washington Informer and Marist College, offered up similar results from the previous poll, conducted by the Washington Post—albeit with a narrower margin of a lead for Gray.

Many voters are still concerned over the cloud that hangs over the Gray campaign from his previous campaign, the indictments that resulted from a federal investigation which is ongoing and the activities of developer Jeffrey Thompson. While apologizing, the mayor has refused to talk about the issue

In the WRC poll, two-thirds of those polled said they preferred to have a different mayor this time around. That result seemed at least a little odd, as if separating voter discontent, mistrust and a willingness, a preference for someone new, to an unwillingness on a large base to support anyone else over Gray.

The poll also noted that there is support for Gray’s handling of governance, given that the city is not only on a sound financial footing but appears to be booming. Still, it’s been suggested—by the Post and the mayor’s challengers—that Gray can’t take the credit for all of that since the process of revival, educational reform and economic improvement began under Mayor Anthony Williams and continued under Mayor Adrian Fenty, whom Gray defeated in the previous election.

Once thing is certain for everyone: time is running out—with only a month to go.

Gray has to hang on to his lead and hope nothing emerges from the ongoing investigation. Bowser has to show signs—other than a Post endorsement which, it has been suggested, may backfire—that she can continue a going forward momentum. Both Evans and Wells, stuck at similar numbers from the Post poll have to find a way to move forward themselves. Orange and Shallal have to decide that they have the commitment and reasons to stay in the race.

All of them have to survive—like residents facing yet another storm or bone-chilling temperatures—what appears now to a vortex of forums.

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