Vincent Gray will attend Ward 4 straw poll ‘under protest’


The second Democratic Party endorsement vote of the 2014 mayoral campaign has Mayor Gray raising concerns. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Three and a half years ago, the endorsement vote held by Ward 4 Democrats was a watershed moment in the 2010 mayoral race. Up to that point, with a little more than a month till Primary Day, incumbent Adrian M. Fenty was seen as vulnerable to a challenge from D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray but not yet at dire risk of being tossed from office after a single term.

That changed after Fenty, a former Ward 4 council member and Crestwood resident, was soundly beaten by Gray in the straw poll on his home turf. Gray became the clear front-runner, and on Primary Day, he went on to outpoll Fenty by nearly 20 percentage points in what has traditionally been a bellwether ward.

So, forgive now-incumbent Gray for taking the outcome of this year’s endorsement vote, set for Wednesday evening at a Brightwood charter school, quite seriously. With the incumbent Ward 4 council member, Muriel E. Bowser (D), among his challengers, his campaign is questioning the preparations for the straw poll, including one of the organizers’ ties to Bowser.

“We are going to continue to compete, but we are doing so under protest,” Gray campaign manager Chuck Thies said Monday.

Early last week, according to e-mails he provided, Thies pressed the co-chair of Wednesday’s event, David Morrow, for details on the voting procedure, which he calls “vague and subject to interpretation.” He also inquired about the participation of fellow co-chair Stacy Burnette, a lawyer who serves as the Ward 4 Dems’ general counsel and who has also given donations to Bowser’s council and mayoral campaigns.

“Will Ms. Burnette recuse herself and will she provide in detail her role in organizing the endorsement process to date?” Thies asked, among five other questions. “Your answers are respectfully requested today.”

Thies said he never heard back from Morrow, Burnette or anyone else. The lack of detail in the election plans, the lack of response and Burnette’s potential conflict of interest, he said, have “tainted the process” and introduced the possibility that the election could be “chaotic.”

His objections, he insisted, were not an attempt to cloud a potential Bowser (or Tommy Wells or Jack Evans or Andy Shallal or Vincent Orange or Reta Jo Lewis) victory. “My problem is, what if we win and it is chaotic?” Thies said. “To me it is not a question of winning or losing. My concern is the integrity of this process.”

Reached Monday, Burnette said that she is not aware of any rule, regulation, law or other ethical stricture keeping her from helping to plan a mayoral debate. “I’m an attorney. I would have looked that up,” she said. “I didn’t see anything.”

And if there were such a rule, she said, it might become awfully hard to organize a straw poll or candidates forum in this town: “A significant number of people in the District of Columbia have contributed to one campaign or another.”

Members of the D.C. Democratic State Committee will be counting the ballots, she said, reprising the role they played in last month’s Ward 8 endorsement vote, in which Bowser outpolled Gray but failed to win an endorsement. She referred questions about the event to Morrow, who returned an initial e-mail seeking comment Monday but did not provide responses by Tuesday morning.

Voting begins at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Paul Public Charter School, 5800 8th St. NW. A candidates forum moderated by WUSA-TV’s Bruce Johnson will also take place from 7 p.m. until voting closes at 8:30 p.m.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · February 4