Skip to main content

The First Mayoral Event of the Season is History

Petitions to place your name on the April 1, 2014 primary ballot for Mayor were available to be picked up on Friday, November 8th and it took only five days for the DC Bar to hold the first mayoral debate of the season. There could easily be 100 more if past elections are any indication so if you missed this one there is still plenty of time to hear the candidates. There was a sell-out crowd at the Arent Fox auditorium and they needed an overflow room to accommodate everyone. A very nice snack and dessert buffet and drinks were provided after the debate.

Six candidates participated and most of the candidates looked familiar. The moderator and three media questioners were also familiar having done this often before. It may actually be appropriate for some of the debates to have citizen moderators and different questioners. Maybe someone from the blogosphere or even community leaders. That could change the tone of the questions. The familiar candidates were Councilmembers’ Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Vincent Orange and Tommy Wells. The new faces were Andy Shallal, owner of Busboys and Poets and Reta Jo Lewis, attorney, diplomat and businesswoman.

The elephant in the room was the unanswered question: will Vincent Gray toss his hat into the ring for a second term? It appeared that Wells thought so as he spent time attacking the Mayor even though he wasn’t there and came off appearing a little nasty based on the comments of the people sitting around me. The two who seemed most comfortable with their answers were Evans and Orange but then they have both gone through this before and lost. It seemed that Lewis was very nervous and Shallal hadn’t really prepared but then he only decided to run the day before. Bowser joined all the candidates in rolling off a string of platitudes in response to all the questions asked but she did speak of the ethics bill she stewarded through her committee. Evans spoke of legislation he is proud of including the Housing Trust fund. He reminded people that he has been on the Council for 22 years and whether that is a positive in the voters eyes remains to be seen. Wells spoke of his background as a social worker and his time on the school board before education reform. They all agreed that education, jobs and affordable housing were crucial issues to deal with in the next administration. But at this time none of them had concrete initiatives on what they would do differently about those issues than what is being done now. At one point Wells blamed the Gray administration for not being able to purchase the new streetcars on time and then added that the trains weren’t purchased on time either seeming to forget that Metro is not under the Mayor’s office and the Mayor can’t be held responsible for not ordering the trains.

They were asked if they would keep Chancellor Kaya Henderson and in answering the question they all talked about education initiatives and forgot to mention Henderson. Only Evans remembered at the end and said he would keep her. Evans was the only one to mention the ARTS and committed to continue his efforts to make DC the number one Arts city in the nation. Wells was the only one on the panel to tout his support for ending the pay-to-play politics in the District but did neglect to mention that the Mayor and his Attorney General submitted a bill to do just that which has languished in the Council for more than a year. Orange suggested it is time to end outside employment for all Councilmembers and touted his support of raising the minimum wage. Wells talked about the bill he has introduced to raise the minimum wage and all the candidates agreed they were for raising the minimum wage in the District.

All in all it wasn’t a stellar performance by any of the candidates but then you couldn’t tell that by the emails that came out from their campaigns touting a big ‘win’ for their candidate. I think it is still early and the candidates will all get better at honing their answers to questions in 30-60 second sound bites as the debates continue.

I think the eventual winner will be the candidate who can tell voters what he/she thinks needs to be done and then how they intend to do it. How they will pay for the new initiatives they want to implement and what the impact that will be on all the voters of the District.

The reality is that the City is doing really well and yet we still have a whole set of problems that need to be dealt with. The next Mayor, whoever that is, is very lucky and will enter office with a balanced budget, triple A bond ratings and $1.5 billion dollars in a reserve fund. So the question on voters’ minds has to be where do we go from here?