“The race for D.C. mayor is Muriel Bowser’s to lose,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) flatly declared over lunch this week. Hard to dispute that. Bowser, the winner of the Democratic primary on April 1, is running in a city replete with Democrats. As of June 30, according to the D.C. Board of Elections, Democrats accounted for 76 percent of the city’s registered voters.
A party-line vote in November guarantees a Bowser victory.
Bowser’s chances are bright on the fundraising front, too, with $720,000 cash on hand, according to her June 10 financial report. Her strongest likely opponent, D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At Large), reported only $351,000. Bowser’s got a lot of juice going down the stretch.
Former council member Carol Schwartz, who switched from Republican to independent last year before declaring her candidacy last month, was not required to file a June 10 financial report. Schwartz’s fundraising must share time with her attempt to gather the 3,000 signatures needed to get on the November ballot. Closing the money gap will be a tough slog for Schwartz, who doesn’t much care for that side of campaigning, anyway.
Bowser is not only well-heeled, she also enters the final phase of the campaign with party leaders lined up behind her. Most of her major opponents in the primary — council members Tommy Wells (Ward 6), Vincent Orange (At Large) and Jack Evans (Ward 2) have endorsed her. The lone holdout: Mayor Vincent Gray.
Bowser and Gray may have a kiss-and-make-up session before November, but at the moment neither seems interested in puckering.
Bowser probably can win without the mayor’s endorsement, so long as Democrats don’t sit on their hands. Huge numbers of them did just that in the primary, causing the election to register one of the lowest voter turnouts since home rule began. The paltry 27 percent turnout reflected two problems: depressed voter morale brought on by a seemingly never-ending corruption probe and the limited appeal of the Democratic mayoral candidates.
Bowser represents herself on the campaign trail as the symbol of a new day in D.C. politics. And she’s trying to energize the party’s base to get out and vote and, above all, not defect to the other side.
Which gets us to Catania and Schwartz.
Never bosom buddies, their final break occurred over Catania’s instigation of Patrick Mara to challenge Schwartz’s reelection bid in the 2008 Republican primary. Mara won with 59 percent of the vote. Schwartz and Catania have been in a state of undeclared war ever since.
Schwartz maintains that she entered the mayor’s race because of a perceived leadership void in government and says she is not motivated by vengeance. Many longtime city residents, Schwartz said in her June 9 campaign announcement, are being “left behind or pushed out,” adding that “our glorious diversity is being threatened.”
Based on party registration, Catania and Schwartz have an uphill climb against Bowser. The three, however, have something in common that helps level the playing field: Each lacks executive experience.
Voters have no way of knowing how skilled Bowser, Catania and Schwartz are in governing and management, since all three have careers in which they have run little more than their mouths.
How will a Bowser, a Catania or a Schwartz hold up under the stress of overseeing a $10 billion budget, directing a workforce of more than 32,000 people, grappling day to day with a 13-member council and deciding from among an endless list of competing claims?
Their intelligence is not at issue. But competence and persuasion skills matter as well. That is where mayoral candidate forums are useful.
Voters deserve to see the candidates engage in debates where ideas and solutions are discussed and differences and disagreements get aired. Because of Bowser’s refusal to debate her opponents until they are qualified for the ballot by the election board — something that won’t occur until late August — voters are being deprived of that public debate about the city’s future.
Running out the clock, however, may not be a bad Bowser strategy.
After all, as Mendelson said, the mayor’s race is Bowser’s to lose.
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