Muriel Bowser had to be pleased with the results of the early Washington Post mayoral poll showing her with a 67 percent overall approval rating. It shows, “In a hypothetical three-way Democratic mayoral primary, Bowser captures 50 percent support among registered Democratic voters, trailed by former mayor and current D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) with 27 percent and Attorney General Karl Racine (D) with 10 percent.”
Racine has not shown any great public interest in running for mayor. If we are fortunate he will run for re-election as attorney general. His ability and influence have made him a force in the National Association of Attorneys General where he now serves on numerous committees. He recouped millions of dollars for the people of the District and is fighting for consumer rights and affordable housing. He was one of the people most often named to have a leadership role in the Department of Justice had Hillary Clinton won the presidency.
The person who might rethink any plans he may have to run for mayor after seeing this poll is Vince Gray. He has total name recognition in the District and most people have already set in stone, for better or worse, how they see him.
I supported Gray in the 2014 primary. He was a really good mayor and deserved a second term. He got a raw deal from the U.S. Attorney. But reality in politics suggests one can’t turn back the clock. When he lost the primary to Bowser many of his supporters including me whole-heartedly supported her. I knew her since she first ran for Council and was more than willing to give her a chance as mayor.
Politicians often don’t stay the same when they win higher office, especially when moving from a legislative role to an executive one. They either fail or rise to the occasion. Bowser has certainly risen to the occasion. An approval rating of 67 percent at this stage of her first term shows a vast majority of people in the District agree.
The two issues that can crater a mayor are whether they improve education and reduce crime. In both areas the mayor’s approval ratings are above 50 percent. Because of our unusual status another area is how the District deals with the federal government. Here she is above 50 percent in approval as well.
The areas in which she is well under 50 percent are maintaining affordable housing, addressing homelessness and curbing larger political donations, or the influence of big money in politics. But those are much harder for an opponent to run on. Especially so for Gray whose record as former mayor on those issues is no better, and some would say worse. These issues have shown to be rather intractable but Bowser still has time to make a dent in them.
Many people initially thought Bowser would mimic Adrian Fenty in her approach to being mayor. Fenty had a hands-off attitude and kept a very skimpy calendar of public events. He rarely participated in weekend events and was seen by many as isolated from his constituency. Surprising, since as Council member from Ward 4 he was everywhere and ran a door-to-door campaign in all eight Wards. But contrary to what some anticipated, Bowser has been a 24/7 mayor with a focus on all eight wards. She has a seven-day-a-week schedule most would find hard to keep up with. She is out in the community from morning to night and has held budget meetings and planning meetings in every Ward and has her cabinet out in the community as well.
She has been generally successful in her cabinet choices. When replacing Gray holdovers she has chosen well. Her choices at three crucial agencies, Fire/EMS, MPD and DCPS, are all activist cabinet members, out in the community, gaining respect across racial and socio-economic lines. That alone will make it difficult to run against her. She also has a top-notch chief of staff who understands the District and gives her wise counsel both from an administrative and political point of view.
While the primary is still a year away leaving time for major mistakes or outside issues to impact the race, it seems unlikely judging by the success of her first two and a half years. One additional benefit to a calm D.C. mayoral election is Democratic activists in the District will have more time and money to help elect Democrats in Virginia and Maryland.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.