No mayoral aspirant has clear advantage, D.C. poll finds

Mayor Vincent C. Gray is politically wounded, but none of the D.C. Council members who have shown interest in succeeding him have a clear edge should they move to capitalize, results of a Washington Post poll show.

Meanwhile, residents say that if they could vote today, they would overwhelmingly reelect Adrian M. Fenty over fellow Democrat Gray. That result comes after three operatives have pleaded guilty to crimes connected to Gray’s 2010 campaign.

See the poll results.

Fifty-four percent of city residents believe Gray should resign, according to the poll, but the mayor said he has no plans to do so and has called on the public to allow a federal investigation into his campaign to play out. Prosecutors have not said Gray was aware of or participated in the schemes.

But The Post reported in May that the scandals have led a trio of legislators to consider their mayoral ambitions — Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6). Since then, Evans and Wells have openly said they would consider running for mayor in 2014 if Gray did not step down sooner. Bowser has not publicly spoken about her intentions but is quietly exploring with advisers what a mayoral run might involve.

None holds a clear advantage over the others in the citywide electorate, the poll indicates. Asked about their impressions of each, one-half to two-thirds of residents have no opinion.

At 35 percent, residents have the highest favorable opinion of Evans, the longest-serving current member of the council, and 13 percent have a negative view of him. For Bowser and Wells, about one in four have favorable impressions, and about one in 10 have unfavorable views.

The figures among residents generally are largely the same as those among registered Democratic voters.

All told, the results show that if any of the three were to mount mayoral runs, they would have the challenge and the opportunity of introducing themselves to large swaths of city voters who are not familiar with them. Each politician is best known and best liked in his or her home area.

Riggs Park resident Lenya Gregory-Perkins, 51, called Bowser “very responsive” and “good with constituents.”

“It’s not intimidating talking to her, being a female,” she said. “She has a diverse background, she’s great with all cultures. . . . Most of all, she has integrity.”

But Gregory-Perkins, owner of a hair salon, questioned whether Bowser has the experience to be mayor. “She’s doing so much here in her ward now. . . . I don’t think that’s something that’s on her appetizer plate. Maybe on her dinner plate,” she said.

Lorraine Hill, a 63-year-old retired nurse living in nearby Lamond-Riggs, said she was impressed when Bowser showed up at the scene of a devastating fire several months ago. “There were no cameras. It wasn’t like she was going be a superstar or anything. She didn’t come like that.”

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) have citywide favorability numbers generally comparable to Evans’s. The remaining at-large council members, Michael A. Brown (I) and Vincent B. Orange (D), have previously sought the mayoralty but have not discussed any plans to do so now.

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., who has led the investigations into Gray’s campaign and into now-resigned council members Harry Thomas Jr. and Kwame R. Brown, is virtually unknown. At least three-quarters of every demographic and political group has no opinion of Machen, who is African American. Machen has been mentioned as a potential candidate, but he has disclaimed interest in political office.

Eleven percent of all poll respondents have a favorable impression of Machen; 7 percent feel unfavorably. Among the 14 percent of black residents who have an opinion of him, impressions are evenly split in spite of past accusations that federal prosecutors in the District have unfairly targeted black politicians.

The poll reached 1,002 D.C. adults via land-line and mobile telephones. Aside from Gray and Fenty, names were tested on only half the sample. The margin of error for the full poll is four percentage points, six points for the half-sample.

One political figure clearly in a position to capitalize on the Gray discontent is Fenty, whose popularity continues to recover from a low point amid the campaign.

Less than three weeks before he lost the primary to Gray, 42 percent of registered voters viewed him unfavorably. Today, that has dropped to 34 percent, and positive views have climbed from 51 percent to 58 percent. His support remains strongest among whites and the city’s wealthiest, but his unpopularity among African Americans, at 54 percent in 2010, is now closer to 40 percent.

Sixty percent of voters now approve of Fenty’s job performance as mayor, compared with 47 percent before he was defeated by Gray.

Voters say that if the 2010 election were re-run today, they would vote for Fenty over Gray by a better than two-to-one margin. Among those who voted in that race, 57 percent say Fenty would get their vote versus 24 percent for Gray.

Of those who said they voted for Gray in 2010, about one in four now say they would vote for Fenty. Nearly half would stick with Gray, and the remaining quarter had no opinion or would vote for someone else.

Fenty said after his loss to Gray that he had run his last political campaign, and he has not publicly wavered from that position as he’s pursued various business and advocacy ventures.

“Done,” he told Washingtonian magazine recently when asked about his future in politics.

Hill, a Gray voter in 2010, said that if Fenty ran today, he would have her vote, even over Bowser. That is a reversal for Hill, who said she “called him photo Fenty — loved the photographers.”

“I think he was just a bit immature . . . got a little carried away with ‘I am the mayor,’ ” she said. “That he’s backed away from the political scene shows that he is maturing.”

Judith Orvos, 52, said she’d like to see Fenty “give it another shot.” But she said she also had a favorable view of Evans: “I think he’s done a lot for the city. . . . I don’t think there’s any sniff of scandal with him or suggestion that he’s dishonest in any way or part of the current political machine.”

Evans’s political fundraising was investigated by the city campaign finance office in 2005, but he has not faced criminal probe.

Matthew Lemp, a 48-year-old courier living in 16th Street Heights, said he was a stalwart Fenty supporter and would probably vote for him again. But he said he also likes Bowser, known as a political ally of Fenty’s.

“She seems very capable,” he said. “She probably doesn’t have the kind of experience you’d want someone to have, but I wouldn’t not vote for her for that reason. . . . I would give her every chance to prove herself.”

A Fenty return, he said, “seems like it would be divisive. I’m not sure if that would be the best way for things to go. But I think he was doing a pretty good job.”

Jon Cohen and Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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