That election may prove a bigger test of whether city voting power has shifted permanently. The at-large race was complicated not only by Brown’s tarnished image and weak campaign, but also in that it was a battle of independents in a majority-Democrat city. (Orange, the Democratic candidate, won reelection to the other at-large seat handily, outpolling Grosso in six of eight wards.)
A Democratic primary — which excludes tens of thousands of independent, Republican and other-party voters — would likely have been a tougher one-on-one challenge for Grosso, who, like Brown, is a former Democrat. And it’s possible that the center of political gravity might shift back in future, nonpresidential election cycles.
Burger noted that growing numbers of Ward 6 residents live in new condominiums or apartments near Nationals Park and in NoMa — pockets of newcomers with little history of voting in off-year local races.
“Every year isn’t a presidential race, and a sea change only happens when you push the wave along,” Burger said. “But it shows there is a base there that can be engaged and can be worked with and can grow.”
In any case, a candidate’s appeal in Ward 4 — the turnout leader in most local elections in the past decade — will remain pivotal, as it did Tuesday.
Muriel Bowser, the ward’s Democratic council member, said she was “not entirely surprised” with Tuesday’s result, based on the conversations she’d had with voters in her ward, not because of demographic shifts.
To assume those shifts were responsible for Brown’s loss, she said, “you would be assuming . . . that only people who moved to the ward recently were voting for [Grosso], and I don’t know that would be the case.”
In one key precinct — encompassing the Shepherd Park and Colonial Village neighborhoods, a multiracial, high-turnout area rich in civic-minded residents — Brown won about 400 fewer votes than in 2008 and was narrowly outpolled by Grosso.
“Michael grew up in that precinct,” she said. “That’s tough.”