D.C. Council member Tommy Wells exploring mayoral bid

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells said Friday that he is likely to be a candidate for mayor in 2014 and is organizing a staff and his message for a contest that could pit him against several colleagues.

Wells, a Democrat who represents Ward 6, said he decided to state his intentions to explore a campaign after he received an outpouring of support as he moved across the city over the July 4 holiday.

“A lot of people are saying, ‘Tommy, are you going to run?’ ” Wells said. “People have been asking me to run, so I said, ‘Sure.’­ ”

Wells first confirmed his plans Wednesday in response to a question from Davis Kennedy, publisher of the Northwest Current, at the annual Fourth of July parade in Palisades, according to Wells’s advisers.

Wells is the first potential candidate to issue a statement about his intentions, but the two-term council member said he has no interest in undercutting Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D). Wells, 55, said he remains a firm supporter of Gray’s agenda and would not relish his downfall.

As a federal investigation into Gray’s 2010 campaign continues, some have speculated that Gray could be forced from office before his term expires in 2015, triggering a special election. But Wells said he is not anticipating such an election and is instead focusing on building citywide support for 2014, when Gray may decide not to seek reelection.

“I’m clearly talking and meeting with people to talk about running,” Wells said. “There is a lot of political uncertainty, and people are looking around saying, ‘Who do we want to be the mayor?’ . . . But right now, I am 100 percent supportive of Vince’s agenda.”

Wells, who joined the council after a career as a social worker and head of the District’s Consortium for Child Welfare, would become the city’s first white mayor if elected.

On the council, Wells has carved out a portfolio as an aggressive advocate for ethics reform and policy changes to encourage his vision for a “livable, walkable” city. In 2009, he authored legislation for the city’s 5-cent tax on disposable shopping bags.

Wells is taking a leading role in overseeing the effort to gather more than 20,000 signatures to seek a referendum on the November ballot that would ban corporate donations in city political campaigns. The effort could provide Wells with a significant amount of voter data that could help him guide his mayoral bid.

But though Wells remains popular on Capitol Hill and in pockets of Northwest and Northeast Washington, he remains untested before a citywide electorate. Wells will have to convey what his self-described “progressive” views mean for the black middle-class voters who often decide elections in the District.

Ronald Williams, a top Wells political adviser, said Wells has set a $2.5 million fundraising goal based on “grass-roots donations.”

“That is why we are starting now,” Williams said.

Within a few weeks, Wells will probably pull together key supporters and community leaders to begin refining his strategy. He may name as many as eight co-chairs for his campaign, one from each ward. Williams said that will enable more residents to take ownership in the effort while boosting “transparency.”

“Me and Tom are talking about how we change the landscape of political campaigns and get the message out,” Williams said.

D.C. Council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) and Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) are also thought to be considering mayoral bids.

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said the situation will probably “complicate things” on the 13-member council because of “all the angling.” But Graham said his colleagues should not assume that Gray will not seek reelection if the U.S. attorney clears him of wrongdoing related to his 2010 campaign.

“If Gray is running for reelection, can all of these guys run?” Graham said. “I doubt it, and those ranks will thin pretty quickly.”

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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