December 7, 2013

NO SOONER had D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) revealed his decision to seek his party’s nomination for another term then At-Large Council member David A. Catania (I) announced he will explore a mayoral run in the general election. The events of last week underscored the political volatility of the 2014 contest for mayor. A crowded field of candidates and a continuing federal probe of corruption in Mr. Gray’s first mayoral campaign probably mean the uncertainty will continue.

Under the city’s altered election schedule, the Democratic primary will take place April 1 — little more than 100 days from now. With more than 10 candidates collecting signatures to get on the ballot, the contest promises to be the most competitive since 1998 when Anthony Williams, the city’s chief financial officer, vaulted to a surprising victory over six other candidates.

Who qualifies for the April 1 ballot and who decides to stay in the race are still unfolding, but it is apparent that voters will be able to choose from candidates with a range of experiences, strengths and visions. Included are several members of the D.C. Council — Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) — a successful businessman and a former Clinton administration official. There are candidates in this mix with substantial records and legitimate claims on voters’ consideration.

Mr. Gray has gotten the most attention by virtue of his incumbency and the months of speculation about whether the ongoing probe by the U.S. attorney of the tainted 2010 election would keep him out of the race.

Mr. Gray is tying his bid for reelection to the proposition that the city remains headed in the right direction. The mayor can fairly claim credit for first-term accomplishments, notably the continuation of school reform. But he diminishes his stature when he fails to share credit with his two predecessors for the strong foundation they bequeathed. And he seems to have forgotten that he defeated incumbent Adrian M. Fenty (D) by arguing that results weren’t enough. Trust was critical, he said then. N ow, he refuses to discuss the circumstances of his 2010 campaign; four top Gray campaign aides have pleaded guilty to felonies.

Next year’s election comes at a critical time for a city that — even as it has seen progress in education reform, crime reduction, neighborhood revitalization and government services — faces enormous challenges. Public schools are on the mend, but appalling numbers of students still can’t read or do math on grade level. D.C. may be hip and inviting to young professionals, but there are too many underserved neighborhoods with struggling residents. And while the growing population is something to be celebrated, it means new demands on housing, roads and other infrastructure. The changing nature of the city requires strong, committed leadership.