Political change, as it has in the presidential primary races and elsewhere, came to the District of Columbia’s electoral politics and its Democratic Primary June 14, Flag Day. It came with surprises — forward-looking but also looking to the past.
The net result, many observers agreed, was not a good sign for Mayor Muriel Bowser. Three incumbents — all of them considered to be the mayor’s supporters on the District Council — fell to strong challengers.
One of the newcomers was not so new and actually returning to the Council — getting a lot of love and even vindication in the process.
That would be former mayor, Council chairman and Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray, set to return to the Council — a smashing victory over his one-time protégé, incumbent Yvette Alexander, by nearly 30 percent. Gray garnered 59.96 percent of the vote to Alexander’s 33.05 percent, according to the last tally by the D.C. Board of Elections, with all precincts reporting.
An emotional Gray rightly saw it as another form of vindication, after the federal District Attorney’s office had failed to indict him earlier this year following a lengthy investigation of illegal campaign financing in the 2010 election, in which Gray defeated mayoral incumbent Adrian Fenty. A number of Gray aides were indicted. The result, most observers agree, cast a cloud over Gray and contributed strongly to his defeat in the 2014 Democratic Primary at the hands of Bowser, then a Council member.
Gray said that the voters wanted change and that the issue of the investigation is behind him. “It’s history,” he said.
At-Large Council member Vincent Orange had fallen short in mayoral campaigns, but he had always found a way to win a place on the D.C. Council. The affable Orange fell to the change winds this time, losing to Robert White, a former aide to Eleanor Holmes Norton, who easily won her seat as Delegate to the House of Representatives. White won a relatively tight citywide race with 39.7 percent of the vote to 37.4 percent for Orange. A third candidate. David Garber, garnered a critical 14.6 percent of the vote.
In Ward 8, Trayon White, who has given himself the middle name of “Ward Eight,” reversed an earlier runoff election in which he had lost to Bowser ally LaRuby May by some 100 votes. White won convincingly, with 51 percent of the vote to 42 percent for May.
Taken together, the three changes on the Council did not bode well for the mayor, who lost three members who were generally considered to be supporters.
While the two Whites — Robert and Trayon — are fresh faces on the political scene, Gray is an experienced voice with long-standing relationships with veteran members of the Council. He is somebody who knows the ins and outs of D.C. government at every level. He and Bowser are not exactly friends, all things considered. Bowser supported Alexander strongly, campaigning for her on election day.
What propelled Gray and the others was a real concern about rising crime statistics, especially homicides, which were at an all-time low during Gray’s tenure and are surging now, especially in Wards 8, 7, 6 and 5, and local jobs and housing issues — both in terms of affordable housing for middle-class residents and how to better deal with the issue of housing the homeless, where the mayor and the Council had fought over separate plans. The District is prosperous but is also in the midst of startling and fast-moving changes.
Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans kept his seat handily, running unopposed. In Ward 4, Bowser’s home ward, where she launched her political career, her former staffer Brandon Todd retained his seat with 49 percent of the vote.
This election was also notable — although not so noticeable — for being the last in the string of national primaries which wrought so much political change, especially to the Republican Party, but also saw a strong challenge in the Democratic race from Bernie Sanders. The issue already being settled, the Democratic Primary outcome in D.C. was an easy win for presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton.