Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Lewis’s hometown of Statesboro, Ga. The story has been corrected.
The highest-profile declared mayoral candidate who is not a D.C. Council member put a boldface emphasis on her outsider status at her official campaign kickoff Saturday.
“I’m a different kind of candidate than you might be used to seeing,” said Reta Jo Lewis, who has spent most of her professional life in federal politics. “I do not represent one single ward, or one single constituency or one single interest. I am not all about promising the right favors to the right people.”
Lewis’s remarks won a loud, cheering response from the more than 100 supporters who gathered at the Thurgood Marshall Center in Shaw for her official kickoff. But she has lagged in fundraising behind three legislators vying for the office — Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans and Tommy Wells — and she has maintained a low campaign profile since filing candidacy papers in July.
Still, Lewis, 60, argued that her experience in the federal sphere and residents’ weariness with business as usual at city hall will give her a leg up in the Democratic primary set for April 1.
She used much of her speech to introduce herself to voters. A native of Statesboro, Ga., she described desegregating her local school in the seventh grade — “I guess you could say I was an outsider then, too” — before going on to a series of high-profile jobs in Democratic politics, including serving as a White House aide during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
More recently, Lewis served as an executive at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a senior aide in the State Department under Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Her 18 minutes of remarks were heavy on the broad rhetoric that is common in citywide campaigns, pledging to bridge the District’s many divides. “My whole career has been about inclusion,” she said, “and that’s how I plan to approach this job.”
She did raise two specific grievances with city politicians: criticizing a redevelopment plan for the former McMillan water filtration plant in Northwest and lambasting the recent decision by the D.C. Council to delay the first election of the District’s attorney general until 2018. Voters in 2010 overwhelmingly approved a charter amendment allowing for the election.
In a brief question-and-answer session with reporters, Lewis was also critical of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s plan to build a soccer stadium in Southwest Washington by trading a city-owned office building for private property on the site.
LaTanya Junior, a Shepherd Park resident who attended the rally, said she appreciated Lewis’s perspective. “It’s time for D.C. to have an outsider to diversify the thinking,” she said.
None of the other candidates, Junior said, have appealed to her: “They’re all from here. They all think the same way. I’m over it.”
Besides the three council members and Lewis, three other candidates — Christian A. Carter, Nestor Djonkam and Frank Sewell — have filed papers to run. A prominent restaurateur, Andy Shallal, and a former deputy mayor, Eric W. Price, have also said they are exploring runs. And Gray (D) has tiptoed closer in recent weeks to launching a reelection campaign, but so far has not done so.
A two-month period for candidates to gather voter signatures in order to appear on the primary ballot begins Friday.