Being mayor of the District isn’t any fun. Vince Gray regularly works past midnight. The rigors of office drove Marion Barry to drugs, and Adrian Fenty to triathlons.
Running for mayor, on the other hand, must be a blast. How else to explain how many people in 2014 launched campaigns with no chance of success?
The Democratic primary field would provide a field day for a freshman psych class. There was Reta Jo Lewis, a former State Department official who ran despite having no opinions on anything outside of Foggy Bottom. She managed to beat Carlos Allen, the rapper/mayoral hopeful who probably tallied more miles on his omnipresent tour bus than he did votes.
But it was the candidates who had slightly better chances of success who really got the best out of the election.
Busboys & Poets restaurateur Andy Shallal was never going to be sworn in on Jan. 2, but running gave him a chance to pal around with the only celebrities who bothered getting involved in a D.C. mayoral primary, like novelist George Pelecanos and the guy who wrote “Puff the Magic Dragon.” As if to prove that the craziest thing that can happen in District politics always will, At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange declared, then used his campaign to fund a swanky party and glossy pictures of himself.
Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who’d already lost one mayoral campaign, blew through nearly $1.5 million making the argument that the job should work through seniority. When Evans organized a conference call just to respond to Muriel Bowser’s claim that he only knew about Georgetown, you got the sense that more than the honor of Evans’ swanky neighborhood was being defended.
Evans and Orange found their general election doppelganger in former Councilmember Carol Schwartz. Already a four-time mayoral loser who’d been ousted from her Republican at-large seat in 2008, Schwartz had kept a low profile for nearly six years. Reporters receiving the press release announcing her candidacy in June called her to make sure it wasn’t a prank.
Figuring out why she ran requires sorting through a host of Schwartz symbology: her longtime feud with rival David Catania, her yellow convertible, her persistent fans among gay men and elderly black women. But as Schwartz kicked off her campaign in front of a mostly empty Freedom Plaza, she risked demonstrating that running for office isn’t always so great for the candidate’s self-esteem.
At first, running for office looks like an exercise in self-abnegation. What’s more humiliating than hitting up friends for cash? But as 2014’s candidates learned, it can also be a grand excuse to pump up your public image—usually on some city contractor’s dime.
You can grouse about reporters and debate organizers who don’t treat you with the respect you deserve (Orange filed a lawsuit after he was excluded from one forum). You see your name all over the city, or at least every part of the city that has lampposts.
None of this year’s ego candidates won. Still, they managed to convince the city that they’re the kind of person who could be mayor, and that’s a pretty good consolation prize.