Labor Day weekend is traditionally the launch of the next political campaign season, with politicians typically announcing next-aspiration intentions following the holiday.
In D.C., the guessing game regarding candidate composition for the 2018 mayoral race has been the subject of increasing media conjecture in recent weeks. By most accounts, it may be one of the most predictable in the city’s electoral history.
Incumbent Mayor Muriel Bowser appears likely to have an easy path seeking re-election to a second term. She is expected to have little, if any, significant opposition – or, put another way – won’t encounter a successful challenger.
While Bowser’s support is broader than deep, envious approval numbers for a mayor provoking less passion than performance appreciation are at nearly 70 percent.
Bowser has neutralized skeptics who, based on her rather lackluster tenure as a D.C. Council member, had ample reason to wonder if she was well suited for the task of the District’s top hometown spot. While she may not have won the wholehearted support of those doubters, she has successfully navigated her role in a city that plays politics as bloodletting sport.
Beating expectations and being perceived as over-performing are a politician’s best survival situation. Bowser benefits from being mayor during continued population growth filling the city’s tax coffers combined with strong private sector development generating growing civic pride, along with satisfaction regarding public safety statistics. Simply not interrupting those trajectories, while balancing such stewardship with signature efforts to facilitate affordable housing while sheltering the homeless, has proven a winning formula.
Speculation regarding challenges by former mayor and now D.C. Council member Vincent Gray or first-elected first-term D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine continue to dissipate. Neither seems disposed to enter the race – both likely recognizing their chances of besting Bowser are unfavorable.
Racine suffers low name recognition despite citywide election and evokes even less enthusiasm. He also lacks possession of a politician’s personality, in addition to appearing to genuinely relish his current role.
Former Mayor Gray, defeated for re-election in the previous Democratic mayoral primary by Bowser and subsequently elected to the Ward 7 Council seat, may desire to avenge that loss and diminish the legacy of an alleged campaign financing scandal never prosecuted but that derailed his winning a second term. Gray, however, seems smartly moving away from seeking to settle that score. He is undoubtedly looking at polling numbers indicating he would not prevail.
Others who may covet becoming mayor some day know that, in the one-party town that is Democratic D.C., “waiting your turn” is a basic tenet of advancement.
Gray’s Ward 7 constituents – and the city as a whole – greatly gain from his return to serving on the Council. The former mayor has been a strenuous and effective advocate for the often-neglected east end of the District.
More important is that Gray joins a small but critical cadre of leaders on the 13-member D.C. Council appropriately measuring matters so as to balance the competing interests of all the city’s components. Like Bowser, he learned the importance of circumspection on issues and comprehending legislative and regulatory implications, especially when affecting the business community.
Gray, also a former Council chair, serves as a vital component of a valuable “brain trust” of experienced civic leadership alongside colleagues Jack Evans of Ward 2, Mary Cheh of Ward 3, and Council Chair Phil Mendelson.
An example of this collective contribution is that all four seasoned Council members have proposed variable remedies to revise gargantuan funding and administrative requirements for planned implementation in 2020 of a massive paid leave mandate. Deliberations on what is now widely expected to produce a legislative repair also urged by Bowser that will reduce the financial burden on local businesses while not substantively affecting benefits begin in mid-October.
It may be tough for a former mayor to find complete fulfillment as a Council member, but D.C. distinctly benefits from having Gray sitting in that seat.