At Unity Breakfast, Vincent Gray hesitates to embrace Muriel Bowser


Gray speaks to reporters at Friday’s Democratic Unity Breakfast, before later nearly snubbing nominee Muriel Bowser. (Mike DeBonis/The Washington Post)

Friday morning’s Democratic “Unity Breakfast” was billed as a chance for members of the District’s dominant political party to set aside their differences and look ahead to a potentially vigorous general election mayoral contest.

But if there was going to be a grand gesture of conciliation between outgoing incumbent Vincent C. Gray and newly crowned nominee Muriel E. Bowser, it wasn’t quite on offer. Gray was noncommittal Thursday about offering Bowser his support ahead of her likely Nov. 4 contest with D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), and it didn’t appear much had changed Friday morning.

Prior to the lengthy program at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church in Ward 8, Gray and Bowser worked the crowd of about 200 but did not greet each other. And when Gray, who had to leave the event early, delivered 10 minutes of remarks, he did not acknowledge Bowser by name.

Instead, Gray used his remarks to lambaste a quirk of District government —  that two of the council’s five citywide seats are reserved for members of the non-majority party (i.e., not Democrats). The set-aside, Gray said, made the council a “training ground” for the likes of Catania to launch citywide runs against Democrats.

“It is time to fight, Democrats,” Gray said, referring to Bowser only once, via pronoun.

And after Gray concluded his remarks, rather than step down and greet Bowser, who was seated in front of the podium, he exited to the side of the stage and made a beeline for the rear entrance. There he was met by reporters, including WRC-TV’s Mark Segraves, who asked Gray, “Why did you not shake Muriel Bowser’s hand at the Unity Breakfast?”

“It was not intentional, Mark,” he said. “Don’t make a story out of this, because there is none. … Don’t make a story out of this. You will, because I’ve seen you do it before.”

A Post reporter noted that he had not mentioned Bowser by name. “I’m going to go back and do that,” he said. “I’m going to go back and do that.”

While D.C. Democratic State Committee Chairman Anita D. Bonds was addressing the crowd, Gray returned to the center of the room and embraced Bowser, sharing a few words out of earshot before leaving.

The crowd cheered and applauded, and Bonds interrupted her remarks.

“There we go! Muriel Bowser! Vincent Gray!” she said. “I don’t need to say anything else.”

Bowser, asked whether Gray had expressly offered his support, described the conversation like this: “He said, ‘Congratulations,’ basically,” she said. “It was hard to follow what he was saying.”

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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