“CAREFULLY.” THAT was the word that kept cropping up in Muriel Bowser’s answers at a news conference held the day after she convincingly won the D.C. Democratic primary for mayor. Given that the next nine months promise to be an unsettled time for District government and politics, it was reassuring to hear her call for caution. We hope that other officials who are caught up in the dynamics of this unusual political year don’t lose sight of the need for the public interest to trump other considerations.
Tuesday’s early primary in which Ms. Bowser, the Ward 4 council member, defeated Mayor Vincent C. Gray creates an extended lame-duck period for the executive as well as the two D.C. Council members, Jim Graham (Ward 1) and Tommy Wells (Ward 6), who will leave office in January. Past primaries have been in September, so this is uncharted ground for the District.
Moreover, past primaries have generally produced a presumptive next mayor who can legitimately begin the transition process. This year Ms. Bowser faces a credible challenge in the November general election from council member David A. Catania (I-At Large). Polls show Ms. Bowser starting with a significant advantage but, as she acknowledged at Wednesday’s news conference, nothing can be taken for granted. Adding to the churn is a mayor who faces possible indictment in a federal investigation and who, as evidenced by his failure to follow convention in placing a concession call to Ms. Bowser, may not be inclined to reach out to his successor.
So, as council member Anita D. Bonds (At Large) candidly told The Post’s Mike DeBonis, the next few months at the Wilson Building could be “hell.” In addition to dealing with ongoing issues such as the homeless crisis and turmoil in the fire department, the mayor and council must adopt a budget for next year. That always contentious process may become even more politically charged than usual. Ms. Bowser vowed to dig “deeply” into the mayor’s proposed budget, released Thursday. Mr. Catania has put the administration on notice that he plans to challenge some of its educational priorities, and the departing council members may see this as their last chance to fund their interests.
It is important that D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson set the right tone for budget deliberations so that there is thoughtful review and effort to reach consensus. It may be that some decisions — and here we are thinking of Mr. Gray’s controversial plan to build a medical center in Southeast — should be deferred, since it may be impossible to separate out the politics and more study will be needed.
By the same token, it’s important to stress that Mr. Gray is the mayor; his term does not end for nine months and it is to be expected — as he rightly stressed to his senior staff — that his administration will stay on the job, work hard and continue to have an imprint on the city.