Opinion writer

Before taking on independent candidate David Catania, Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser better spend some quality time shoring up her party’s base.

A shop steward in a local supermarket told me recently that the April 1 D.C. Democratic Primary was the most difficult election he ever faced.

“Usually on Election Day, I’m encouraging workers to get out and vote,” he said. “But I was so disgusted with the way [city politicians] have been behaving that I couldn’t support any of them. . . . This year, and for the first time, I didn’t vote.”

That sentiment helps explain the low primary turnout, which fell shy of 27 percent. Many voters, like that shop steward, didn’t stay home because of indifference. They were turned off by corruption. Those voters looked at the quality and leadership differences among the candidates — especially the officeholders — and couldn’t find one worth supporting.

Voter alienation, not David Catania, is Bowser’s No. 1 challenge.

Support for that conclusion can be found in the numbers.

The mayor’s race was flooded with veteran politicians: D.C. Council members Jack Evans (Ward 2), Bowser (Ward 4), Tommy Wells (Ward 6) and Vincent Orange (At Large), plus Mayor Vincent Gray. Conventional wisdom suggested that each would draw strong home-base support.

Didn’t happen.

In Evans’s Ward 2, only 24 percent of Democrats turned out, and half voted for Bowser. Evans drew a paltry 18 percent.

The results weren’t much better for Wells in Ward 6. Turnout there was only 30 percent, and Bowser beat Wells in his own backyard, 37 percent to 32 percent.

Only 22 percent of Ward 7 voters, and 16 percent of Ward 8 voters, supposedly Gray strongholds, showed up. Citywide, Gray got about a third of the votes.

Bowser won her ward with less than half of the vote — 46 percent — on turnout of 28 percent. Worse, she lost her own voting precinct — 65 — which favored Gray, 48 percent to her 44 percent.

Orange received 2 percent of the citywide vote.

Only about one-fourth of Ward 1 Democrats bothered to vote, and they tossed out longtime council member Jim Graham in favor of newcomer Brianne K. Nadeau, 59 percent to 41 percent.

Ongoing political scandal is taking a heavy toll on the city’s electoral process. Voters, sickened by the corruption, are showing their disaffection by abandoning the ballot.

Still, some D.C. politicians don’t seem to get it. They strut around town, behaving as though their reputations are untouched by the wrongdoing of former council members, now convicted felons, Harry Thomas Jr., Kwame Brown and Michael Brown.

They fail to understand that city elections have been sullied by the corrupt campaign practices of businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson and his cohorts Eugenia C. Harris, Lee A. Calhoun, Stanley Straughter and Vernon Hawkins, all of whom have pleaded guilty to charges involving illegal contributions to D.C. campaigns.

Maybe it’s the reserved parking spaces at the Wilson Building that blind those politicians to voters’ low regard for them. Or maybe their fawning staffs block the scorn. Or perhaps it’s the outsized attention they draw from the media.

Bowser needs to show that she understands the alienation and that she knows how to fix it. So, too, Catania.

Because even as the campaign unfolds, dominos will keep falling.

This week, that chain reaction toppled Kelvin Robinson, a former council candidate and chief of staff to mayor Anthony Williams.

Robinson, previously known by the pseudonym “D.C. Council Candidate B” in the Statement of Offense in the Thompson case, pleaded guilty to receiving more than $33,000 in illegal contributions from Thompson.

Additional dominos may include “D.C. Council Candidate C” and “D.C. Council Candidate D.”

According to an order by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly unsealed this week, “The facts as set forth in the Statement of Offense make clear that [council candidates C and D] were integral to the elements of the conspiracies to which Defendant Thompson is pleading guilty.” The Statement of Offense, signed by both the government and Thompson, contends that secret payments by Thompson were made to the campaigns of council candidates C and D.

The judge allowed the government to continue to use pseudonyms to identify C and D because “their disclosure could hinder the ongoing grand jury investigation.” Are C and D poised to fall?

It’s inescapable. The dark shadow of past corruption hovers over the 2014 elections in the form of Thompson.

And he’s not a stranger to either Bowser or Catania. Both have received campaign contributions from Thompson or his companies. So have several others.

But Catania can rightly claim that he got the ball rolling against Thompson when the council’s health committee, which he chaired, ordered an audit of the 2005 books of Thompson’s company, Chartered Health Plan. That’s when Thompson’s illicit financial empire began to unravel.

Meanwhile, Bowser, in a Democratic “unity fundraiser” last week, stood side by side with council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) as he declared to wild cheers, “We’re gonna kick David Catania’s ass.” Is that how Bowser shores up the base?

Read more from Colbert King’s archive.