Her remarks Saturday and in an interview with The Washington Post indicate that the Ward 4 Democrat is designing her campaign to exploit Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s perceived weaknesses — his deliberate bearing and the federal investigation into his 2010 campaign.
“Will you go the distance with me?” Bowser, 40, asked a cheering crowd of more than 100 people Saturday. “It won’t be easy, but we need a change.”
She did not mention Gray directly but said, “Corruption has robbed us of our focus, our momentum, our need to think big and act swiftly.”
Bowser, a political confidante of former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), becomes the first candidate to officially enter the race, leapfrogging Gray (D), who could announce a reelection bid before late fall when candidates begin circulating ballot petitions for the April Democratic primary. Still more council members could enter the race: Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) has formed an exploratory campaign, Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) has said he plans to run and David A. Catania (I-At Large) is pondering a bid.
Much of her campaign, Bowser said in the interview, will concern how to “manage the growth” the city has experienced in recent years — in particular, how to reconcile the anxieties of longtime residents with the expectations of newer ones. Census figures indicate that the city has reversed decades of population loss in the past five years, leading to pressures on affordable housing and employment.
“You’ll find that a lot of people who have lived here for a long time — white and black — feel like that the growth is pushing them out or causing prices to go up, the senior citizens to get hurt,” she said. “How do we manage it to the point that D.C. is welcoming to people who have lived here for five decades or people who have lived here for five months?”
A name Bowser mentioned only in passing Saturday, but one that will hover over the entire campaign, is Fenty. Bowser’s political patron, he served as Ward 4’s council member before launching a mayoral run from the stoop of his childhood home. After winning in 2006, he endorsed Bowser to replace him on the council and paved the way to victory for her. Since then, Bowser has easily won twice.
Besides being a backer of Fenty’s initiatives, Bowser also adopted some of his trademarks: a focus on constituent services over legislative heft, a shared political team and a campaign color known colloquially as the “Big Green Machine.”
Fenty’s 2010 loss to Gray, after his alienation of broad swaths of the black community, threatened Bowser’s future as a citywide candidate, but two revelations — of illegal activity within Gray’s campaign and a separate $650,000 “shadow campaign” for him — have helped burnish her prospects. Gray has denied any wrongdoing.