Robert C. Bobb, a former D.C. city administrator and school board president, has taken discreet steps to explore a run for mayor, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.
Working since late March to engage a campaign manager and other political aides, Bobb has focused on a mayoral candidacy in 2014, according to the people familiar with his moves, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to maintain their political relationships.
Bobb sought to play down his efforts, saying that the political conversations should not be interpreted as a prelude to a mayoral run.
“I would characterize it as not anything other than I want to be a political voice in town,” Bobb said. “I want to watch and see what’s going on with all these races. I want to see where everything is going. There’s a lot of races coming up in April.”
District voters next year will elect a mayor, attorney general, D.C. Council chairman and six council members. The primaries will be April 1.
So far, Bobb is the most prominent non-elected official who is said to be weighing a run for mayor. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) entered the race last month. Colleague Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) has formed an exploratory committee, and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) also has said he plans to run.
The incumbent mayor, Vincent C. Gray (D), has not announced whether he will seek a second term, though advisers say he is privately considering it. Amid a lengthy federal investigation into his 2010 campaign, however, a reelection effort could face obstacles.
Bobb, 67, entered the District political scene in 2003, when he was hired out of Oakland, Calif., to serve as city administrator under Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). That post put Bobb in charge of the day-to-day workings of the District government for more than three years.
After building a reputation for decisiveness — and a willingness to circumvent rules to get things done — Bobb sought the presidency of the District’s Board of Education in 2006. He won with 44 percent of the vote against a former deputy mayor and three other candidates.
But he immediately clashed with the new mayor, Adrian M. Fenty (D), over Fenty’s plan to seize control of the D.C. Public Schools from the Board of Education. In a high-profile incident, Bobb asked Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) to place a hold on the takeover legislation.
After the Fenty schools overhaul stripped the board of most of its power, Bobb played a background role in District education reforms. He did not seek reelection in 2008.
In 2009, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) appointed Bobb to the role of the emergency financial manager for the Detroit school system, a position he held until June 2011. He continued to maintain his District residency and occasionally appeared at local political events.
Bobb has since started a consulting firm that specializes in municipal financial management, and he also has been active in local real estate and government contracting deals. He took a more visible role in public affairs last year after Gray appointed him to chair the board of the government-controlled Children and Youth Investment Trust, which has been under close scrutiny since the group was used to divert more than $350,000 in a theft scheme orchestrated by former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D).
Speaking on “The Politics Hour” on WAMU (88.5 FM) in February, Bobb acknowledged that he wanted to “become a part of the political scene here in the District.”
“I want to look at all of the options that are in front of me,” Bobb said. “I’ve been in local government. I really enjoy the District of Columbia. I love the city. I know where its potentials are.”
Bobb hinted that he would not be shy about associating himself with Williams, who by many accounts remains a popular figure in the city. A December 2011 Clarus Research Group poll had Williams beating Gray by 15 percentage points in a hypothetical mayoral race.
“His accomplishments now are fully understood,” Bobb said. “I see the fruits of . . . the foundation that was laid by former mayor Williams and the way that he administered the government.”