While Bowser plays down her ties to Fenty, her inner circle includes many Fenty supporters


Muriel Bowser laughs with her campaign strategist, Tom Lindenfeld, while greeting guests at the Democratic unity breakfast at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church on Friday. (Amanda Voisard/For the Washington Post)

Here is Muriel Bowser, strolling into a church basement in Southeast Washington filled with loyal Democrats, who are giving her the ovation earned by the party’s freshly minted mayoral nominee.

Also here on Friday morning is Bill Lightfoot, her campaign chairman. And Tom Lindenfeld, her political strategist. And Phinis Jones, a key fundraiser. And Joshua Lopez, a hard-charging field operative.

All the campaign’s men — milling about the room, slapping backs and shaking hands three days after victory — have one thing in common: Four years ago, they occupied the same or similar roles in Adrian M. Fenty’s losing reelection campaign. And Bowser’s primary win Tuesday had the unmistakable flavor of a restoration — a sense that the band is back together, this time with a new frontwoman.

“It is a tight group,” said David Jannarone, a real estate consultant who was Fenty’s director of development and now serves on Bowser’s finance committee. “We do have some new people and new ideas, but there’s not a lot of those people. She’s been very strategic in who she plugs into the organization.”

Bowser, during her year-long campaign against incumbent Vincent C. Gray and in her first days as the Democratic nominee, has often sought to transcend the Fenty associations that have been attached to her since the former mayor endorsed her to fill the D.C. Council seat he left in 2007.

“My name is Muriel Bowser, and this will be the Bowser administration,” she told a reporter who asked her whether her mayoralty would represent a “do-over” of Fenty’s.

But her efforts to separate herself from her former patron are at odds with the makeup of her inner circle of campaign advisers — which, with some exceptions, is composed of former Fenty supporters. And that could complicate her efforts to close old political wounds among D.C. Democrats as they anticipate an unusually bruising general-election fight.

“I’m hopeful that she doesn’t make the mistakes that Adrian made,” said Barbara Lang, a Gray supporter who recently stepped down as chief executive of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. “Adrian locked everybody out, me included. . . . She’s got to do some special outreach to bring in people who were not part of the Adrian posse, if you will.”

Other Bowser campaign figures who are closely identified with Fenty include businessman Ben Soto, their shared campaign treasurer; consultant John Falcicchio, who volunteered fundraising help as the Bowser campaign brought in $120,000 in the final week before the primary; LaRuby May, a nonprofit development executive; Stephanie Scott, who was District secretary under Fenty; Terry Lynch, a longtime community activist; and businessmen Max Brown, George T. Simpson and Warren Williams Jr., who are serving on Bowser’s finance team.

Some of them are hopeful for a return to Fenty’s governing philosophies.

Williams, a real estate developer, said part of his motivation in vigorously backing Bowser was his belief that Gray had dropped the ball on a series of public-housing redevelopment plans he had pursued under Fenty.

“I just felt a greater priority needed to be placed on getting things done,” he said.

But for some inside the John A. Wilson Building, the names and faces have rekindled unpleasant memories of the Fenty administration, which was criticized for its lack of consensus-building in the name of Fenty’s “as fast as humanly possible” mantra.

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who lost the primary to Bowser but is now endorsing her, said incoming mayors must “control the arrogance” of the people around them. “You get a lot of, ‘We want this, we’re in charge,’ ” he said. “I’ve seen that with every administration that comes in. It’s off-putting to those of us who are here.”

Bowser has gone to great lengths to portray herself as a politician with a much softer touch than Fenty. “Our styles have often been different,” she said Wednesday. “I also had a bird’s-eye view of the things that went right during those four years and the things that went wrong.”

And erstwhile Fenty loyalists are happy to agree. “They’re two totally different individuals with totally different styles of governing,” Williams said. “Muriel will take a step back and listen to her advisers and things of that nature in a way I’m not sure that Mayor Fenty did.”

Brown, a former top aide to Mayor Anthony A. Williams who was an active fundraiser for Fenty, called it a “fallacy” and a “media-driven narrative” that Bowser is a Fenty clone. “It’s delusional to think she is anything but a 41-year-old woman from Ward 5 who is driven and ambitious and is helping this city be great.”

That Fenty’s legacy continues to flavor mayoral politics in the District is made somewhat ironic by the fact that he now spends much of his time in California and, by all accounts, has no interest in playing any current or future role in city affairs. (He did cast a primary ballot during early voting, according to election rolls.)

Bowser said many elements of her campaign team have remained unchanged since her first council bid, in 2007, and have been battle-tested under both her and Fenty. “It’s a great team,” she said, adding: “And the candidate wasn’t bad.”

She does have key advisers who are not closely identified with Fenty, notably Brandon Todd, who left a post in Bowser’s council office to serve as her finance director; Everett Hamilton Jr., a public relations executive who has advised her on communications strategy; and her brother, Marvin Bowser. Her campaign manager, Bo Shuff, is a veteran Democratic operative but a newcomer to District politics, and her field team includes several young recruits without ties to prior campaigns.

While an us-against-the-world attitude defined Fenty’s posture toward his opposition, political necessity is likely to expedite Bowser’s outreach.

She has sought to play down the significance of an independent challenge from at-large council member David A. Catania, saying in a Friday radio interview, for instance, that the news media have a vested interest in making the race seem more closely matched than it is. But given Catania’s ability to raise big sums for his past council runs, her campaign is faced with adding significantly to the roughly $1.5 million it has already raised.

J.R. Clark, a lawyer and lobbyist serving on Bowser’s finance committee, said trying to bring on supporters of and donors to her erstwhile Democratic rivals is an “obvious starting point.”

“There are a lot of folks who supported the mayor, who supported Jack,” he said. “There are those who were looking for a different outcome, or who were at least betting on a different outcome, who are going to be excited to be part of the Bowser campaign now.”

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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