Murmurs about Racine’s future had reached a crescendo in recent weeks, particularly among speculators who have long grouped him among the most compelling potential challengers to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who is expected to seek a third term. But Racine — whose name also has been floated frequently for federal appointments — remained noncommittal as recently as last month, asserting that he had not decided whether to run for mayor, seek a third term as attorney general or leave public office altogether.
He filed paperwork in March 2020 to seek reelection, saying at the time that he wanted to continue his work as attorney general but also would not rule out running for mayor or seeking a job in a Democratic presidential administration or in the private sector.
“It’s not that those other opportunities didn’t pique my interest — they certainly did. I just have a strong gut instinct that tells me that elected office, at this point in my life, is not the best fit,” said Racine, 58. “And after working hard with my colleagues to build an independent Office of the Attorney General that’s quite formidable, I think it’s time to allow someone else to build upon that foundation.”
Racine said he is focused on carrying out the remaining 15 months of his term and called it premature to discuss exactly what he will do afterward. But his decision not to run for public office may open the floodgates on a 2022 D.C. election cycle that, thus far, has seen several council-level campaign announcements yet fewer credible challengers for mayor and attorney general.
Asked about the timing of his announcement, Racine said he hopes it will provide some clarity for candidates who may still be on the fence and pave the way for a competitive race to determine who will next head the 700-plus-person office.
Lawyer Ryan Jones, a solo practitioner from the District, filed paperwork in April to run for attorney general, according to D.C. campaign finance filings. No other candidates have filed paperwork to run for the position.
D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), a former prosecutor and one of the longest-serving members of the city’s legislature, has also been said to be interested in the job. An individual with direct knowledge of McDuffie’s thinking who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations said last week that McDuffie would not run again for his Ward 5 seat and that he was seriously considering a run for attorney general.
“Mayor and attorney general are two positions where the people in the District of Columbia deserve to have a rich pool of competitive candidates from which to choose,” Racine said. “It’s vital that the next attorney general has the leadership capacity and legal skill set to continue to run an independent office that can be accountable to the people — and that will focus on using the law to help our most vulnerable residents.”
Racine, a Haitian immigrant, grew up in the District and entered politics full time at 51, beating out four other competitors to become attorney general. He previously served as a public defender as associate counsel to President Bill Clinton and was the first African American managing partner at the Venable law firm.
He sparred with a newly elected Bowser just months into his tenure, when Racine accused her of attempting to dilute his office’s power by trying to consolidate some legal responsibilities with attorneys on her staff. Since then, he has worked within the confines of his office’s unique limitations (because D.C. is not a state, adult felony prosecutions in the District are handled by the U.S. attorney’s office) to revise D.C.’s juvenile justice system, exploring alternatives to prosecution, such as mediation, that focus more on treating the underlying trauma that can lead to crimes.
In recent years, Racine’s had an increasingly higher profile. In the District, he has gone after negligent landlords and remained focused on consumer protection, bringing cases against DoorDash and StubHub, among others, for actions that he said exploited District workers and residents. Other cases he has pursued — against Facebook, the Roman Catholic clergy in D.C., Amazon and President Donald Trump — helped bring him national attention, even when they did not go anywhere or got held up in the courts.
Last year, he was tapped to lead the National Association of Attorneys General, a nonpartisan post he has used to urge the nation’s attorneys general to put their differences aside in combating hate crimes and extremism.
“The statute that created the independent Office of Attorney General also for the first time made clear that the office was to utilize its resources to act in the public interest,” Racine recalled. “Changing the scope of the office, the character of the office, it was not an easy change — and my colleagues were extraordinary in fulfilling the mission of being an independent office.”
In a statement after Racine’s announcement, McDuffie praised the attorney general for his work over the years, adding that he “zealously protected the interests of our government as well as our city’s most vulnerable residents, holding countless bad actors accountable.”
Racine has been a political force in D.C. His influence is visible on the D.C. Council, where several members — including Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) and Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) — have ties to his office. While he will not compete for public office in 2022, Racine said he is not ruling out remaining in the public sector or seeking an elected position in the future.
In the short term, he plans to be “extremely active” in D.C. politics, helping to identify, mentor, endorse and campaign for candidates “who embody the values that we need,” he said.
Those individuals, Racine said, would “focus the city’s resources on our most vulnerable residents at a time with increasing crime, increasing economic divide between the haves and have-nots and a stunningly intense level of displacement of longtime residents, especially people of color.”