Will April 1 Be April Fools’ Day for D.C.?
March—the month of perpetual snow and cold, the month of the Ukraine and Crimea, and the month of Flight 370 and the testimony of Uncle Earl, and the death of that lawyer on “The Good Wife”—was a cruel month. Let’s hope April doesn’t get to live up to its own reputation as “the cruelest month of the year.”
April 1 is election day. That’s how cruel things are, and that’s no April Fools’ joke.
There has never been quite such an election campaign as the somewhat abbreviated, and out-of-season District of Columbia Democratic Primary campaign. In terms of the repercussions, it may not be over when it’s over, not even when the fat lady sings.
Consider this: Almost from the first month of Vincent Gray’s tenure as mayor, after dethroning incumbent Adrian Fenty, his 2010 campaign has been under investigation by the Federal District Attorney’s office. We already know the story. There’s no need to reprise the gory details. But suffice it to say that five Gray associates or friends have pleaded guilty, and people were wondering when the other shoe(s) would drop. With Gray running for re-election, but with very little time left in the campaign, the Jeffrey Thompson or Uncle Earl shoe dropped, in a plea bargain which alleged that the mayor knew about “the shadow campaign.” Now people were talking about the possibility of the mayor being indicted, although he has already said, in a defiant preamble to the State of the District address, that he would not resign even if he were to be indicted.
That’s left opponents scrambling to take advantage. But what can you say? Perhaps: “Please, Mr. Mayor, resign for the good of the city,” as some of his rivals did. That’s not happening, although tomorrow is another day. That leaves us with some people, including columnists on the Washington Post and supporters of the candidacy of Ward 4 Council member Muriel Bowser, suggesting that some of the other candidates—Tommy Wells and Jack Evans, for instance—should consider dropping out.
This suggestion—we’ve heard it a forum, seen it in a Post column—is absurd. It’s done in this ‘Let’s prevent a Gray victory and rally around Bowser” mode. It’s not that we’d like to see a Gray victory. Why should candidates like Evans and Wells, as well as Vincent Orange and Andy Shallal, for that matter, fold up their tents after spending so much energy, passion, and raising funds, and presenting themselves to the public for electoral judgement? Should they suddenly say, “Here, Ms. Bowser, it’s all yours”? There’s nothing very democratic about that. The process calls for concession after the election, not before it.
Speaking of the Washington Post, it endorsed Bowser, relatively early in the game for more impact, and that’s a newspaper’s right and obligation. It can also, as the Current Newspapers did, withdraw an endorsement, which they did to Gray after Thompson’s plea deal. But the Post not only endorsed Bowser but has offered up a steady diet of stories and reportage that seemed often like additional endorsements, seriously unskeptical, like the lengthy piece on the front page of the other day’s Post. The truth of the matter would appear to be that folks haven’t gotten very excited about any of the alternatives to Gray, although one poll indicated they’d sure like to find one.
The early election also reprised an old issue in a changing Washington: the issue of one-party rule, which is often seen as detrimental to the general good when applied in countries and jurisdictions other than ours. The Democratic primary has generally been considered to decide the election since the winner has consistently won the general election. We don’t have a two-party system in D.C., even when there’s a good or viable Republican around, such as the iconoclastic Carol Schwartz or Patrick Mara. In D.C., where there’s a non-Democratic seat guaranteed on the council, you do what Michael Brown did—you become an Independent, even though he trails donkey dust behind him. (That’s not the case for Independent for at-large-council member David Catania, who was a Republican and who will be a formidable foe for whoever survives April 1.)
Now for Mr. Gray and Mr. Barry. It’s sad to see that Gray, who has made it a point to run on a platform of “One City” in several of his campaigns, including the 2010 campaign, chose to embrace the endorsement of Ward 8 council member Marion Barry so enthusiastically. If there is anyone who habitually has the gift for scratching the city’s racial itch and dividing it along racial lines, it’s Barry, who had the misfortune of being convicted on drug charges. This time, in praising Gray as a fighter, he also managed to opine, “I think it’s up to white people to be more open-minded, because blacks are more open-minded than they are. Simple as that.” That isn’t simple. It’s something else. No doubt the endorsement will help Mr. Gray, but it also hurts.