Nearly all of the Democratic candidates that won or lost their races in Tuesday’s D.C. primary attended a “Unity Breakfast” at a church in Ward 8 Friday morning to pledge their support for Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser.
Several of the speakers at the breakfast gathering, including unsuccessful mayoral candidates Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), called on the more than 200 people attending the event to work hard to prevent a “non-Democrat” from being elected mayor.
Gray and Evans were among the few who identified the non-Democrat as D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), who has announced he is running for mayor in the November general election as an independent candidate.
“We cannot tolerate a non-Democrat,” said Evans, who came in fourth place in the primary behind Bowser, Gray and Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).
Evans praised Bowser as an excellent candidate, saying she emerged from the primary campaign “battle tested and battle ready” for her face-off against Catania in the general election campaign. He predicted Bowser would win the general election.
“And David Catania will not only not be mayor he will not be on the Council anymore,” Evans said, drawing loud applause from the audience.
Gray raised eyebrows among some attending the event by reiterating his praise for Bowser’s successful campaign but stopping short of directly endorsing her and not mentioning her by name during his speech.
However, Gray made it clear that he would not be supporting Catania, who more than a year ago called on Gray to resign as mayor over the campaign finance scandal associated with Gray’s 2010 election campaign that most observers believe led to Gray’s defeat by Bowser.
In a comment likely to anger Catania supporters, Gray said Catania has benefitted from a requirement imposed on the city by Congress in the 1970s that requires two at-large seats on the City Council to be reserved for a non-majority party candidate, which effectively prevents Democrats from competing for the two seats.
Although Catania first won his seat on the Council as a Republican against Democrat Arrington Dixon in a 1997 special election, he competed in subsequent years for the at-large Council seat designated for a non-Democrat.
According to Gray, the non-Democratic seat requirement served as a “training ground for somebody now to be a candidate” for mayor in November. On a separate issue, Gray criticized Catania for raising objections to a school funding issue during a meeting on Thursday in which Gray briefed members of the Council on his fiscal year 2015 budget.
“As a good Democrat, I refuse to sit there and stand here and allow somebody who’s not a Democrat to dictate what will happen in terms of democratic values for our children,” Gray said. “That’s not right.”
Ben Young, Catania’s campaign manager, said the comments about Catania at the Unity Breakfast held at Mathews Memorial Baptist Church in Ward 8 were an indication that the local “Democratic establishment” is worried.
“The local political establishment bears little resemblance to the larger electorate,” he said. “David has always enjoyed large Democratic support, for obvious reasons. He has a better record on democratic values than any of the people who spoke today,” said Young. “And that’s why he’ll win in November.”
Added Young, “This is the most significant threat to the local political establishment that we’ve had. So they’re going to circle the wagons. That’s to be expected.”
In her remarks at the breakfast event, Bowser reiterated her campaign themes of unity and efforts to ensure that all residents benefit from the economic development in the city. She did not mention Catania in her remarks.
“We’re going to talk about a city that will continue to be an inclusive city, whether you’re white, black or Latino, whether you’re gay or straight, whether you live on the east side or the west side, whether you’re rich or poor or like most of us, just scratching to stay in the middle,” Bowser told the gathering.
When asked by the Blade at the conclusion of the event what message she had for LGBT people who supported Gray in the primary, Bowser said she plans to reach out to LGBT Gray supporters.
“I will say to them I’m their nominee and I’m going to talk to them every step of the way,” she said. “We’re not going to step back from any progress that we’ve made. And I want to hear what issues remain and we’re going to work on them.”
Asked if she supports and would continue to move ahead with transgender rights efforts initiated by Gray, including health insurance coverage for gender reassignment surgery for transgender residents, Bowser said “absolutely.”
“We won’t be backing off on any of the progress we have made for full equality in all of our institutions,” she said.
Asked if the election outcome would have an impact on his policies toward the LGBT community, Gray said, “We’re going to continue for the next nine months to have the same level of strength that we had before” on LGBT issues.
Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who lost his re-election bid to Democratic challenger Brianne Nadeau, was one of just a few of the Democratic primary candidates that didn’t attend the Unity Breakfast. Graham couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
In her remarks at the podium during the Unity Breakfast, Nadeau thanked Graham for his years of work on behalf of Ward 1 residents. She told the Blade after the event that she thought a scheduling conflict may have prevented Graham from attending.
“I’m looking forward to being an ally and champion for the entire LGBT community and I’m grateful for the support I had in the primary and look forward to building more going into the general election,” she said.