D.C. voters headed to the polls Tuesday to vote in primaries for mayor and a handful of other offices.
The most closely watched race is among the six candidates for the Democratic nomination for mayor, including the incumbent, Vincent C. Gray. The large field and the campaign financing scandal dogging Gray have kept the race fluid.
Good morning, folks! The polls are now open in D.C. Voters will cast ballots in primaries for mayor, shadow senator, council chair and a host of other offices. We will be follow developments as they happen all day and all evening on the live blog. I’ll also be live tweeting the news (@jjouvenal). The Post has a ton of resources to get you started:
And perhaps the best news: There’s no snow in the forecast (really).
— Will Sommer (@willsommer) April 1, 2014
At 7 a.m. when the polls opened, pink clouds overhead were just turning to the orange glow of sunrise on the horizon, and on Capitol Hill people were walking their dogs in sweatpants and warm coats against the 45-degree chill,or buying cups of coffee, in suits, headed for the Metro and work. At precinct 90, John W Tyler Elementary School, voters were slowly beginning to trickle in, and volunteers leapt eagerly at them to promote their candidates.
Brad Kading, a 57-year-old lobbyist for reinsurance firms, has lived on the Hill almost 25 years, and seen an incredible amount of change in the city, for the good. Back in 1991, “the street lights didn’t get fixed, bodies were piling up at the morgue, they weren’t paying Medicaid.” Barracks Row used to be empty and now is full of shops and restaurants. But over the years corruption in city government seemed to rise and fall. He said he voted for Bowser. “I think the current mayor is corrupt,” he said.
If Gray wins the primary, Kading will vote for Catania. A major campaign donor has pleaded guilty to illicit spending on behalf of Gray’s first mayoral bid four years ago. Gray has denied wrongdoing.
Nancy Kronstadt, an administrator for a law firm, said her biggest concern in the city is the schools. Lots of her neighbors move away once their kids get to a certain age, she said, bound for the suburbs where they felt their children will get a better education. She is disappointed in Gray. “I think he’s got the old-boy network. It’s time to be done with that.”
Don Peterson, 82, was one of the first to arrive, wearing a grey cardigan and corduroys. His grandchildren live on the Hill and he’s concerned about the schools, and about shelter for homeless people. He was voting for Bowser. “She seems to be above politics and favoritism, everything that, evidently, Gray is not.”
The Post’s Zach Cohen reports only a thin trickle of voters so far in one Southeast precinct:
As of 8:15, 25 people have voted in precinct 124 in Ward 8, the Congress Heights neighborhood, according to Precinct Captain Electa B. Thompson. About 2,600 registered Democrats live in that precinct, according to D.C. Board of Elections spokeswoman Tamara Robinson.
Diane Boyd, 62, voted for Gray after seeing improvements of the community in terms of education, crime and the economy.
“Across the river, on the other side, they get a lot of what they need…east of the river, we’re denied a lot. It’s not the same,” said Boyd, a contact representative for the D.C. Board.
Turnout is going to be a real wildcard in the election, as The Post’s Mike DeBonis and Aaron C. Davis reported this week. Only 14,000 voters had cast ballots through the early, two-week voting period — that’s down from 22,000 before the primary four years ago. Candidates blamed the winter’s rough weather and the timing of the election.
— Kristi King (@kingWTOP) April 1, 2014
Mayor Vincent Gray may or may not win today’s primary, but we can safely say he’s not going to win any dancing contests. See the video below and other images as the candidates headed to the polls.
— Will Sommer (@willsommer) April 1, 2014
Muriel Bowser as she arrives to vote for D.C. Democratic primary. pic.twitter.com/36OnnLfiE0
— T. Rees Shapiro (@TReesShapiro) April 1, 2014
— Martin Austermuhle (@maustermuhle) April 1, 2014
Gray arrives at Bowser’s polling place in Ward 4, lots of yelling from 2 camps, but candidates just missed each other pic.twitter.com/rGA9j1M4j0
— Aaron C. Davis (@byaaroncdavis) April 1, 2014
Down the hill from the Covenant Baptist Church in Congress Heights, Lafayette Barnes and Clifford Waddy stand by campaign signs and flyer and joke about age and giving their information to a reporter.
But Barnes is manning the table for Mayor Vince Gray, and Waddy sports a green cap emblazoned with the name of council member Muriel Bowser, Gray’s closest competitor for the mayoral election.
Barnes, 65, said he was particularly impressed with Gray’s leadership during the government shutdown earlier this year.
“He was under a lot of pressure, and … he stood up and kept the city open and provided the services residents needed,” said Barnes, a government employee.
Waddy, 67, was not as enamored of Gray. After an investigation into the ethics of Gray’s first campaign, Waddy decided it was time to vote against the man he helped put in office as a campaign volunteer and voter.
“It feels like a sense of being let down, disapointed,” said Waddy, a former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Ward 2.
Waddy said he hopes Bowser will redefine “affordable housing” to be based on the percentage of income an individual pays toward rent or mortgage rather than “tied into the regional formula.”
At LaSalle Elementary in Ward 4, the mayoral race’s top candidates each made an early morning appearance to woo voters for the District’s Democratic primary — just 20 minutes apart.
Council member Muriel Bowser said she felt that residents in the Ward 4, her home district, would make her their top choice over the incumbent, mayor Vincent Gray.
“We’re confident that the residents are frustrated with much of Mayor Gray’s office and they are going to come out to vote,” said Bowser.
Gray won Ward 4 in the 2010 election over then-mayor Adrian Fenty. But Bowser noted that voters in the area had chosen her to be council member three times.
“We feel strong in Ward 4,” Bowser said.
Bowser traipsed through muddy grass in high heels to greet voters.
Gray arrived about 20 minutes after Bowser had departed to visit other polling precincts, averting what could have been a tense encounter between the top candidates. Supporters outside LaSalle engaged in dueling chants before the candidates arrived, shouting “four more years,” to cheer on Gray voters, while Bowser’s fans yelled “all eight wards,” a nod to her promise to address issues of all constituents in the city.
Gray, wearing a blue campaign t-shirt over a button-down dress shirt, danced to the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams in front of supporters.
“We’ve gotten people back to work,” Gray told reporters, noting that the unemployment rate had dropped by 4 percentage points since he took office and helped guide the opening of new Wal-Marts in the District. “We’ve brought fiscal stability back to the city.”
Gray hugged school children as they arrived for class at LaSalle and also greeted voters.
–T. Rees Shapiro
— MurielBowser (@MurielBowser) April 1, 2014
It’s still very early on primary day, but some initial signs are pointing to a certain apathy among voters. From The Post’s Marc Fisher:
Only 68 voters had shown up at Precinct 32 in Chevy Chase by 10 a.m., the lowest turnout in memory, poll workers said. A lone D.C. firefighter stood outside the polling place handing out Gray flyers to the rare voters who came along. Wesley Methodist Church is usually a magnet for candidates and campaign workers but there were none positioned there Tuesday, a sign of the oddly quiet campaign in Ward 3 this season.
“The big mystery in this race is Ward 3,” said Chuck Thies, Gray’s campaign manager. “Nobody’s got it. Nobody worked it hard. Most years, there are yard signs everywhere. This year, hardly any.”
The Post’s Zach Cohen finds tepid interest in the race at a Southeast D.C. precinct:
About 71 people had voted at the Ward 8, Precinct 114 voting place at Union Temple Baptist Church in Historic Anacostia as of 10 a.m., according to precinct captain Robert Hairston. About 3,400 Democrats are registered to vote in the precinct, Hairston said.
Those figures contrast with more than 800 people who voted in the same precinct during the last mayoral primary.
DCist’s Matt Cohen said few voters have turned out at Garrison Elementary this morning:
Been to Garrison Elementary a few times this morning and it’s been pretty empty every time. pic.twitter.com/6xmCrbui0T
— Matt Cohen (@Matt_D_Cohen) April 1, 2014
Gray rolled up his campaign T-shirt like a half-shirt to cover his campaign insignia, as required by electioneering rules. He joked with a poll worker, asking if it was “alright if he votes for number six?” a reference to his spot on the crowded mayoral ballot.
She giggled and added a standard disclaimer. “Should you make a mistake, bring it back to me, and I’ll give you another.” Gray responded: “Oh, I won’t make a mistake with that one.”
Gray’s was roughly the 125th vote at the Washington Seniors Wellness Center off Alabama Avenue.
At earlier stops, Gray stood waiting, making small talk with volunteers or pacing sidewalks and waving to passing motorists as the morning got off to a slow at many precincts.
Outside his polling station, Gray said he was encouraged by the “enthusiasm” he had received from a handful of supporters. “I didn’t think that it would be hugely heavy,” Gray said of the turnout, given the early April primary date.
Aides to Gray said they were banking on the temperature warming to bring out a surge of voters later in the day.
— Tommy Wells (@TommyWells) April 1, 2014
At Capitol Hill’s Eastern Market, mayoral candidate Tommy Wells was leaning his tall frame down to tap the electronic screen.
“It’s a pretty day,” so weather shouldn’t keep anyone away, Wells said. If turnout is low, he said, it will be because the council kept the primary on April 1 rather than delaying it until June, as he had favored. “It’s the incumbent-protection plan,” he said of the April date.
He had several strong supporters there, including a professor of history and government hurrying off to class, who had voted for Gray in the last election. His wife Mai Fernandez, 50, who works for a national nonprofit helping crime victims and voted for Fenty last time, was putting a “Wells” sticker on her jacket.
The biggest issues for her are education, she said, and trying to get corruption out of city government. She supports Wells’s stance on decriminalizing marijuana, on gay marriage, how he has worked to make schools and the community better, she said.
“He’s been great,” she said. [But when asked about the council race, and whether she would vote for Wells’s former chief of staff, Allen, she said, “No comment.”]
After about 20 years on the Hill, she said, it has changed from a place where people ask her, “‘Why would you want to live there, that’s where people get murdered!’ to ‘Oh my God, they have the BEST schools!’”
They have a child at Brent Elementary – which in recent years has had an enormous waiting list — and love it, she said. “All the changes have been good. Coming here, we had rotting-down storefronts,” and now crime is down, the sense of community is strong, they have shops and restaurants, and “schools where people are breaking down the doors to try to get their kids in,” she said.
Wells seemed to be enjoying talking with all his supporters in the bright sunshine. After voting, he said lightly, “I read all the literature, I saw the endorsements, and the Huffington Post put me over the top. If the Huffington Post endorsed him, I decided he must be a true progressive. So I went with Tommy Wells.”