Embattled D.C. Mayor Concedes In Primary

Apr 2, 2014

Last night, Muriel Bowser, Democratic mayoral candidate in Washington, D.C., won the primary election positioning her to be the next mayor of the nation’s capital.

The election took a dramatic twist three weeks ago when federal prosecutors alleged that the current Mayor Vincent Gray was aware of an illegal $680,000 slush fund that aided his 2010 mayoral campaign.

Patrick Madden, city hall reporter for WAMU, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson with details.


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This is HERE AND NOW from NPR and WBUR Boston. I'm Jeremy Hobson.

And Washington, D.C. has a new mayor-elect, sort of. Last night, Muriel Bowser won the Democratic primary election, which is usually, for all intents and purposes, the general election in D.C. She beat Mayor Vincent Gray, who was elected in 2010 in a campaign that was plagued with corruption, which Bowser alluded to in her victory speech.

MURIEL BOWSER: We believe that corruption at city hall in unacceptable. We believe that our mayor must break new ground and command the moral authority to lead.

HOBSON: Now, the race is a local race, but it is the nation's capital in a city that has seen an economic boom in recent years. Patrick Madden is city hall reporter with WAMU in Washington. He's with us now. Patrick, welcome.

PATRICK MADDEN, BYLINE: Thank you, Jeremy.

HOBSON: Well, what are people saying this morning? Is this an upset?

MADDEN: This was an interesting race because on one hand, as you mentioned, D.C.'s economy is booming, test scores are up, violent crime is down. This, for all intents and purposes, should've been a cakewalk for the mayor, Mayor Gray, who's the incumbent facing re-election. But there was a big campaign finance scandal. And about three weeks before the primary, federal prosecutors basically alleged that the mayor knew about this illegal, off-the-books shadow campaign that helped his previous race in 2010, and that changed the total dynamics of the race. And one of his challengers, who's a local city councilmember, really capitalized on it and surged to victory.

HOBSON: But D.C. is certainly well versed in the world of campaign political scandals, right? Marion Barry comes to mind.

MADDEN: Right. D.C. is no stranger to scandal, especially at the local level. We've had several councilmembers who have been sent to jail for various crimes. And, of course, we have Marion Barry who is now on the council as we speak, and he actually played a role in this race. He endorsed the mayor in the final days of the race. And actually on Twitter, Marion Barry last night, after the results came in, said that this race was decided by the U.S. attorney, Ron Machen, sort of pointing out, which many of the supporters of the mayor have said is that the timing of this in court really hurt the mayor's chances.

HOBSON: Now, there was a lot of distress four years ago when the city's former mayor, Adrian Fenty, was ousted by Vincent Gray after just one term, because he was seen as a real reformer whereas Gray was seen as more of a status quo politician who would protect, for example, people who had jobs working for the city. Is Bowser more like Gray or Fenty or something different?

MADDEN: Bowser is essentially a Fenty protege. She became a councilmember with the support of Adrian Fenty. A lot of her campaign staff were Fenty campaign staff. They have the same campaign colors - this bright green - so she really is part of the Fenty camp. And what's also interesting, if you look back, similar dynamics with Fenty. People thought the city was going - heading in the right direction. They just essentially didn't like him. With Gray, people think the city was going in the right direction. They just couldn't see past the ethics scandal.

HOBSON: Now, we mentioned in the introduction, Patrick, that D.C. has had a real economic boom over the last several years. How did that play into the race? Because the issues that come along with that include gentrification, which I know many D.C. residents who have lived in neighborhoods for a long time are very upset that they're being priced out.

MADDEN: Well, I think you nailed it right there. This race - a lot of the issues besides the ethic scandal came down to just how expensive D.C. is. I mean one of the real flashpoints in the race was the explosion of homeless families. And it's become a real sort of symbol for what's happened in the District in terms of families being placed out of the city because of how expensive it is and gentrification.

HOBSON: Patrick Madden is the city hall reporter for WAMU in Washington. Patrick, thanks so much for joining us.

MADDEN: Thanks a lot.

HOBSON: This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.