MURIEL BOWSER’S victory over Mayor Vincent C. Gray in Tuesday’s Democratic primary helps lift a shadow that has hung over D.C. government. In repudiating an incumbent whose accomplishments in office were overshadowed by doubts about his integrity, voters sent a message that they expect both honesty and competence from elected officials. Ms. Bowser’s promise of a fresh start resonated with residents weary of scandal. Her balanced platform, her solid record as Ward 4 council member and a steady campaign helped her emerge from a crowded field as the most qualified challenger.
Ms. Bowser enters the general election for mayor as the presumptive favorite. The District is heavily Democratic, and historically the winner of the Democratic primary has coasted to victory in November. Ms. Bowser’s success in building a coalition across demographic and geographic lines increases the odds in her favor.
But this year the Democratic nomination may not be tantamount to coronation. If D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) follows through on his announced plans to run for mayor in November, Ms. Bowser will have a formidable opponent. A former Republican who has served on the council since 1997, Mr. Catania has forged a reputation as a strong-willed lawmaker with a knack for connecting to a range of voters. We look forward to debates between Ms. Bowser and Mr. Catania on the important issues facing the District.
Indeed, one positive result of Tuesday’s voting is that the campaign can now focus on those issues, with all their possibilities and challenges. That happened too little during the just-concluded primary. For all the candidates on the ballot and all the electioneering promises, the contest boiled down to basic questions about Mr. Gray’s veracity. Mr. Gray could not convince enough voters that he was clueless about the illegal “shadow campaign” that helped elect him in 2010 or that his accomplishments in office should matter more. The corruption scandal will not disappear, with even the mayor’s attorney conceding that Mr. Gray is likely to face federal indictment, but thankfully it will no longer dominate the city’s politics or cloud its future.
Now the candidates can talk about economic development, affordable housing, jobs, the environment, city contracting — and, most of all, schools. Under the consistent leadership of the first school chancellor of the mayoral-control era, Michelle Rhee, and her successor, Kaya Henderson, along with Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith, the city has made unprecedented progress in improving educational options for all children. Both Ms. Bowser and Mr. Catania say they want to accelerate that progress, which is commendable. Voters will want to know how they propose to do so without the kind of disruptions that, in the past, have so often set back school reform.
The prospect of issues other than ethical misconduct being debated is exhilarating, but work remains to improve city government. Tuesday’s election, with its low turnout and a winner falling short of a majority of the vote total, underscores the need for election reform. We can think of no better way for Ms. Bowser to celebrate her victory than by embracing reforms that will improve how elections are held and winners are selected.