The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion D.C. voters sent mixed messages in the Democratic primary

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser greets supporters after winning the Democratic nomination for a third term on June 21. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)
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Voters sent mixed messages in Tuesday’s Democratic primary in D.C. Giving the nod to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser in her bid for a third term, they signaled they wanted to stick with the stable, pragmatic leadership that has produced results for the District. At the same time, they chose decidedly left-of-center candidates for the D.C. Council who, if they prevail in the November election — as is likely — could swing the council to further extremes. That would make it harder for the mayor, if reelected, to attain her goals.

Ms. Bowser handily won her party’s mayoral nomination, holding off three challengers in a bruising campaign that hinged on the question of whether the city, after seven years of Ms. Bowser in office, and vexed with an increase in crime and other problems, needed a change in leadership. Her opponents — most prominently, at-large Council member Robert C. White Jr. — hammered the mayor for steering the city in what he depicted as the wrong direction. Preliminary returns showed Ms. Bowser just shy of 50 percent of the vote, but her win was solid and broad-based: She won in all wards of the city except for Ward 1. “Tonight, we choose a future that represents our D.C. values,” Ms. Bowser proclaimed Tuesday night at her victory party.

She will face a Republican opponent in November, businesswoman Stacia Hall, and there’s been speculation that D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine, a vocal critic of Ms. Bowser, might be considering a run as an independent. But in the heavily Democratic city, the primary typically determines the outcome of the general election. If she follows that glide path, Ms. Bowser, who has never lost an election, will be the first mayor since 1986 to be elected to three consecutive terms.

The challenges facing her are daunting. In addition to the rise in gun violence — an issue that was underscored just days before Tuesday’s primary, when gunfire erupted at a downtown music festival, killing a 15-year-old boy — the District is still reeling from the effects of the pandemic. How to bring back downtown? How to make up for student learning loss? Those are just a few of the questions the mayor will have to deal with. The challenge is likely to be compounded by a new council in which far-left progressives have cemented their hold. Besting more moderate candidates were Brianne K. Nadeau, the incumbent in Ward 1; Matthew Frumin in Ward 3; and Zachary Parker in Ward 5. We congratulate them.

Third terms can often be difficult, and Ms. Bowser’s relations with council members have already been problematic. She will need to recalibrate her “my way or the highway” approach if she hopes to continue to move the city forward. But, by the same token, the self-proclaimed progressive wing of the council would do well to pay keen attention to Ms. Bowser’s victory — and the citywide message voters were sending.