D.C.’s mayoral primary day: Eight wards, many different decisions

D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser captured the Democratic nomination for D.C. mayor on Tuesday. PostTV talks to her supporters and Mayor Gray's defenders about what the city would look like under a Bowser administration. (Theresa Poulson and Gabe Silverman/The Washington Post)

Across the District, voters headed to the polls Tuesday for the Democratic mayoral primary, offering a glimpse of the city’s racial and economic diversity and its spirited political views.

7:30 a.m.

Hendley Elementary School in Ward 8

Tiffany Thomas, 32, had come to vote straight from her overnight shift at a hospital where she works as an emergency room medical technician. “I see things every day you can’t make up,” she said. “Kids high on PCP, stabbing victims, shooting victims, rapes, people sick, homeless, mentally ill.”

She grew up in Columbia Heights and in Southeast Washington, where she lives now. She wanted to be a registered nurse but was sidetracked by trouble as a young adult. She saw friends die or get locked up. Then she found an EMT training program at the University of the District of Columbia, and she is training to be a paramedic. She said she voted for Mayor Vincent C. Gray despite the allegations by federal prosecutors that he knew about an illegal 2010 “shadow” campaign. The city’s economy, she said, is headed in the right direction. But Thomas, who welcomes the influx of residents, said, “The people who built this city are not able to pay rent and have to pick low-income areas to live.”

8:30 a.m.

St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Ward 7

Pete Burden, a fifth-generation Washingtonian who grew up during the era of segregation, has seen change. He remembers when Hillcrest and Fort Dupont were mostly white areas, and Georgetown and Foggy Bottom were mostly black. After desegregation, Burden, now 73, sent his son to Wilson High School, unthinkable 20 years earlier.

Burden who retired two years ago as a recreation specialist at the Deanwood Recreation Center, said he prefers leaders who talk “with people” as opposed to talking “to them.” He prizes Gray’s common touch. That Gray, 71, grew up in Washington, east of the Anacostia River, matters to him. When Burden dies, he said, he’ll be buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Northeast, where many of his relatives rest. “It’’ll be like a family reunion,” his grandson told him.

10:30 a.m.

Watkins Elementary School in Ward 6

Dan Teich landed in the Washington area 11 years ago, not long after finishing his training as a veterinarian. He hasn’t missed an election since he moved into the District eight years ago. His top issue? “Integrity,” he said, which is why he voted for D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (Ward 6), who emphasized ethics and refused to take corporate contributions.

Teich works at a veterinary clinic on 14th Street NW, and he owns a condo unit on Capitol Hill in a building filled with young professionals and empty-nesters. He said his neighborhood has changed for the better, especially around Eastern Market. “It’s not overly yuppified,” he said, like the neighborhood where he works. Teich wants his own clinic some day, but the cost of starting a business in the District “is ridiculous.” The viability of small businesses ties into what he values most about city living: character. He worries about “the loss of local business, the loss of local color,” he said. “It means ‘generica.’ A Subway sandwich on every corner.”

2 p.m.

University of the District of Columbia, Bertie Backus building, in Ward 5

Although her children attended private school, Delores C. Harris said she cares deeply about public education in the District. Harris, 71, a retired administrative analyst for IBM, had her deepest exposure to D.C. public schools when she enrolled two grandchildren while her daughter and son-in-law were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was a hard experience for everyone. “No one understood what they were going through,” said Harris, who lives in Riggs Park in Northeast and whose daughter and son-in-law made it home safely. A school connection prompted Harris to vote for Muriel Bowser on Tuesday. Harris has known the Ward 4 D.C. Council member since Bowser went to elementary school with one of Harris’s children. “She is a fresh start,” Harris said. “She is not corrupt in any way. She grew up here. She’s seen it all.”

1:40 p.m.

4th Police District headquarters in Ward 4

Reginald and Phyllis Wheat, lifelong antiques dealers, emerged from casting their ballots with a split decision. Reginald, 70, chose Gray, and Phyllis, 65, opted for a candidate she didn’t want to name. But they were unified on one thing: gentrification in Brightwood, where they bought their three-bedroom home 40 years ago. “Anyone black is moving out, whites move in,” Phyllis said. “You heard it said that Prince George’s is Ward 9? Well, that’s true.”

The Wheats said that they got lucky buying in Brightwood so long ago but that soaring rents forced them to abandon their leased storefront 10 years ago and base their business out of their home. With grown children and a healthy business, the Wheats said they mainly fret about the lack of grocery stores in the neighborhood. Their hope? That a Wegmans comes soon.

2:30 p.m.

Chevy Chase Community Center in Ward 3

Kai Blagburn walked out of the community center, excited about the vote he’d cast for political newcomer and restaurateur Andy Shallal. Except for his time attending Temple University in Philadelphia, the 26-year-old has lived in the District most of his life. His father, Tom Blagburn, was a highly respected director of community policing and youth gang intervention for D.C. police before he died in 2009 of pancreatic cancer.

Kai, a physical trainer who works in Silver Spring, lives with his mother in Chevy Chase. “Vince Gray had this ‘One City” campaign, but that’s deceptive,” he said. “We’re a city divided. The schools are struggling. There’s a homeless epidemic.” He grew up, he said, in “the best part of D.C.”

5:15 p.m.

Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Ward 2

Linda Wilson, 59, a private school math teacher who lives north of Georgetown in Burleith, feels lucky to be a member of what she calls the city’s “privileged class.” Still, Wilson said she worries that her two grown children — at Harvard and Oxford universities for graduate school — won’t be able to live in the city because the real estate is too expensive. “They’ll have to move to the suburbs,” she said.

Wilson moved to the District 15 years ago from Baltimore, where the disparities between the haves and have-nots are not as exaggerated, she said. “I worry about people at the bottom,” said Wilson, who voted for Muriel Bowser because she believes the city needs a mayor of color to ensure income inequality doesn’t get any worse.

6:30 p.m.

Rita Bright Family and Youth Center in Ward 1

In the heart of the dynamic corridor along 14th Street NW, Aubrey Gemignan headed to her one-bedroom condo unit after casting her vote for Tommy Wells and the after-school programs he supports. The 35-year-old NASA photographer, who’s single and grew up in Falls Church, graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University and, most recently, spent six years working for an international humanitarian nonprofit group in Arlington. She worries that idealistic young adults are being priced out of her neighborhood.

“Developers are taking over here,” said Gemignani, who bought her home two years ago with assistance from Manna, which helps finance real estate purchases for people with low-to-moderate incomes. “I’m worried there won’t be as many opportunities like that for other people like me.”

Annys Shin has been a staff writer at the Washington Post since 2004.
Ian Shapira is a features writer on the local enterprise team and enjoys writing about people who have served in the military and intelligence communities. He joined the Post in 2000 and has covered education, criminal justice, technology, and art crime.
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