“We have seen the greatest ethical crisis in our city since the beginning of home rule, and people want that changed,” Wells told about 75 umbrella-holding supporters. “And we have seen people want livable, walkable neighborhoods.”
Wells, who arrived at the event, at the intersection of H Street and Benning Road NE, on the X8 Metro bus, also becomes the most viable white mayoral candidate in two decades in a city that has been led exclusively by African Americans since it gained home rule in 1975.
He acknowledged in an interview before Saturday’s announcement that race is an issue likely to suffuse his campaign. “There’s going to be people that will not vote for me because of my race,” Wells, 56, said. “If I become mayor, I have to be able to be sure they’re represented the minute I become mayor.”
Two other white council members, Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and David A. Catania (I-At Large), are also potential and possibly formidable candidates. But Wells has been the most open and methodical about his mayoral ambitions, launching an exploratory campaign in February that included a “listening tour” of city wards and a test of his fundraising mettle.
Wells said his exploratory haul — more than $150,000 from 500 individual donors, he said — indicates that he has sufficient fundraising capacity despite a pledge to eschew all corporate donations as part of his ethics stance. And he said he was encouraged about what he heard during his exploratory period, particularly on the racial concerns.
“When I went to wards 7 and 8, nobody brought up the color of my skin,” he said, adding that he has won significant numbers of black votes in previous campaigns. “I’ve trusted the voters before, and I’ve gotten a fair shot before, and they’ve elected me.”
Wells said he was heartened by the results of recent citywide elections, which he said demonstrated voters’ focus on integrity issues.
That included last fall’s general election, where upstart David Grosso defeated incumbent and fellow independent Michael A. Brown for an at-large council seat. In a special election last month, longtime city Democratic operative Anita Bonds, who is black, won but with a bare plurality. White candidates split more than 63 percent of the vote.
Fellow council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) entered the race last month, launching her campaign from the steps of her childhood home in North Michigan Park, and former city administrator and school board president Robert C. Bobb has taken steps to explore a run.
Wells said he respects many of the accomplishments of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), particularly his long-term planning efforts and focus on job creation. But he suggested that the mayor is “disqualified from running” because of his campaign woes, which remain under federal investigation.