The Debate Watcher is an ongoing feature reviewing this yearâ€™s D.C. mayoral candidate forums.
The Hosts:Â The Ward 4 Democrats of Washington D.C.
The Venue:Â Paul Public Charter School
The No-Shows:Â None, perfect attendance
The Moderator:Â Bruce Johnson, reporter and anchor for WUSA 9
The Crowd:Â 652 ballots cast
The Winner:Â Muriel Bowser, 322 votes; Vincent Gray, 223 votes; Andy Shallal, 33 votes; Vincent Orange, 23 votes; Tommy Wells, 21 votes; Jack Evans, 13 votes; Reta Jo Lewis, 8 votes; No endorsement, 7 votes; Carols Allen, 0 votes.
The Endorsement:Â None. Bowser won 49 percent, but not the 60-percent threshold required for the ward endorsement.
The Stakes:Â Coming offÂ Bowserâ€™s win last month in the Ward 8 straw pollÂ andÂ Grayâ€™s powerful showing last week in fundraising, both campaigns claimed momentum going into Wednesday nightâ€™s candidate forum and endorsement.
Gray won the Ward 4 poll over incumbent Adrian Fenty four years ago, and nearly three out of five people in the wardÂ voted for GrayÂ in the 2010 election. But it would have been an embarrassment for Bowser to lose on her home turf.
The Topics:Â The first question was, â€śWhat would you do for Ward 4?,â€ť and that theme carried the night, with voters most animated over longtime ward issues, including redevelopment of the old Walter Reed facility. Schools, taxes, and ethics also featured prominently.
The Upshot:Â There was no upset. Bowser won a plurality and almost a majority. She knew her audience and hit all the right notes on ward issues. But Bowser also seized on a moment when she followed Gray on a question about the cityâ€™s budget surplus to highlight citywide problems with homelessness, schools, unemployment and high-profile failings by the fire department.
Gray won consistent applause steering the conversation back to the cityâ€™s list of accomplishments under his watch, including rising bank balances, new development and school test scores.
Unlike in previous debates, however, when the mayor refused to engage his council challengers, Gray was put on the defensive Wednesday byÂ the issue of homelessness, which elicited the most animated confrontation between Gray and his challengers to date.
The Moment of Truth:Â The Districtâ€™s record budget surplus of $1.75 billion â€śgives Ward 4 the reputation of being one of eight wardsÂ .â€‰.â€‰.Â that is part of a city that is doing phenomenally well fiscally, ladies and gentlemen,â€ť Gray said.
â€śYes, we have a surplus,â€ť Bowser said picking up the microphone, â€śbut we have children and families that are living in our recreation centers. We have a surplus, but we have people that canâ€™t get a job all across our city because our schools have failed them, and we donâ€™t have job training that works. We have a surplus, but we canâ€™t seem to get the number of our ambulances that respond to our citizens.â€ť
The Crowd Favorite:Â Grayâ€™s base clearly liked him getting fired up for the first time. A couple dozen of his supporters leapt to their feet in applause when he shook his finger at his challengers, saying that those on the council share the blame for the homeless problem for thwarting his proposed reforms.
â€śThere is nobody up here who is going to tell me how to do this,â€ť he said. â€śWhat I need, ladies and gentlemen, what I need is the legislation that we put in front of the council last year.â€ť
Notes:Â Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal came in a distant third in the voting, pulling in marginally more votes than three of the incumbent council members. Evans and Wells will get a chance to turn out core supporters when debates move to their wards.