Vincent Orange Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Ward 7 isn’t the only D.C. Council seat up for grabs in next week’s Democratic primary. Along with Ward 2, where Councilmember Jack Evans is running unopposed, three other races are on the ballot—and by extension, so is the power of Mayor Muriel Bowser, who backs all the incumbents.

At-Large 

In late May, at-large hopeful Robert White worked the kind of tony Ward 3 fundraiser crowd where people are mostly concerned that a new public pool will take up their tennis court space. White knocked down his two challengers for the citywide seat—incumbent Vincent Orange and fellow challenger David Garber.

For Garber, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner who’s struggled to gain a position in the race despite an early start, White had a putdown: no “resume.” He was even harsher with Orange.

“They don’t vote for him because they love him,” White said, suggesting voters in Orange’s base cast their ballots out of a sense of obligation. “He doesn’t have Marion Barry status.” 

With the few endorsements Orange hasn’t already garnered himself, White looks like Orange’s leading challenger. The trouble for people who would like the ethically compromised Orange off the Council is that White’s lead on Garber doesn’t amount to much. And with contested ward-level races in Wards 7 and 8—Orange’s reliable wards—the incumbent should perform even better. Every vanload of seniors brought to the polls by Yvette Alexander and Vince Gray contains more votes for Orange.

Once again, Orange looks set for another victory with help from vote-splitting challengers. In another bad sign for anti-Orange, good-government types, White and Garber have entered the stage of the campaign where they argue about who promised to drop out. 

In a three-way appearance on WAMU’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show, White claimed Garber said he’d bail; Garber countered that White was making it all up. Orange, wisely, stayed out of it. 

Ward 4 

Brandon Todd walked into the Ward 4 Council seat last year, thanks to a split field of challengers and support from former Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser. This time, he’ll probably do the same. 

Todd is not always a model candidate: Last year, he dealt with revelations about his youthful bankruptcy over clothing debts; he also resorted to Googling for an answer when asked during a debate which historical figure inspires him. 

His opponents aren’t doing much better. Leon Andrews, Todd’s lead opponent, came in third in last year’s special election and has managed to swing many of his former rivals over to his campaign. Still, he’s struggled to break away from the latest field of challengers enough that he had to ask one debate moderator to call him by the right name.

Ward 8 

The District’s closest primary race couldn’t get through 24 hours of early voting without some sort of intrigue. When news reached the Ward 8 campaigns just before midnight that someone had broken into a voting site, supporters of both incumbent LaRuby May and leading challenger Trayon White raced to the scene.

For White’s supporters, the break-in was proof of the malfeasance they’ve claimed was afoot since their candidate lost last year’s special election to May by fewer than 100 votes. The fix was in for Muriel Bowser favorite May, they said. Even police officers, who are of course ultimately Bowser’s employees, couldn’t be trusted. Waiting outside, White demanded a “full-fledged investigation.” 

It might not have to go that far: According to the Metropolitan Police Department, the teens made off with a fire extinguisher.

Even if this wasn’t quite Watergate, the campaigns’ reaction to the burglary shows how intense the Ward 8 race has become. For May, it was one thing to win Marion Barry’s old seat—it’s proving much harder to keep it.

May’s backers fret about a replay of the 1994 and 1995 elections in Ward 8, when a mayor-backed candidate replaced Barry in the seat by just one vote, only to lose to a less crowded field a year later. 

White has certainly managed to trim the ballot this time. While he and May faced a dozen other names last year, they’re the only two competitive candidates now. Barry’s son, who ran last year, endorsed White this time around. When this year’s race was just starting, Stuart Anderson, another former candidate now backing White, said anyone who tried to run this time around would be hearing from White’s campaign. 

Walking down the streets of Congress Heights, it’s clear where White gets his support. Everybody seems to know him—small business owners, teens hanging out in the street, people pulling over in their cars. Is that a high turnout demographic? Who knows. May, on the other hand, can count on a treasury that was 10 times as large as White’s as of March.