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The Wilson Building won’t look very different next year based on the results of the District’s Democratic primary contests held on Tuesday.
Voters effectively handed incumbent Mayor Muriel Bowser and several D.C. councilmembers four more years in office after an election season that was high on spending and low on drama. Bowser faced no viable opponents but raised more than $2.5 million in campaign donations, while the councilmembers in contested races fended off fresh challengers, many of whom ran progressive, grassroots efforts.
Barring any general election upsets, which are extremely rare in a city where three-fourths of registered voters are Democrats, that means Bowser, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen all get to keep their seats.
Bowser is poised to become the first District mayor to win a second term since Anthony Williams did so in 2002. She remains broadly popular, but has less support east of the Anacostia River than in other areas of the city.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh ran unopposed and were also re-elected in the Democratic primary. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Shadow Senator Michael D. Brown bested two first-time candidates. (See the uncertified vote totals and percentages across the board here.)
The biggest cliffhanger of the night was Initiative 77, a controversial referendum to eliminate the tipped minimum wage in favor of a one-wage system by 2026. Voters approved the measure 55 to 45. If it becomes law, it would gradually increase the tipped minimum wage that businesses are required to pay restaurant servers and other tipped workers—regardless of tips—to $15 per hour.
But the Council could repeal or tweak the initiative, as it has done with other initiatives in the past. A majority of the Council, Bowser, and Racine have said they oppose the measure. (Learn more about how this process could play out, how the vote broke down, and people’s reactions here.)
The primaries were also notable for how paltry turnout was compared to previous years. Fewer than one in five registered D.C. voters—17.6 percent—cast ballots: 84,517 total. Ward 3 had the highest turnout rate (22 percent), while Ward 8 had the lowest (7.7 percent). In 2016, a presidential election year, the primary turnout rate was 21.7 percent; in 2014, another mayoral election year, it was 26.9 percent.
City Paper sent reporters to several of Tuesday night’s election parties. Below are scenes and some local color from those events.
Mayoral Race: Bowser Vows to Make D.C. Better for All Babies
Mayor Muriel Bowser sailed to a predictable second-term primary victory Tuesday.
On a stage at Town Danceboutique, in front of several hundred cheering supporters—many of them city workers, appointees, and community leaders—Bowser invoked her recently adopted daughter in her victory speech.
“I talked this over with Baby Miranda,” Bowser said of her child, who has not yet made a public appearance with her new mom. “We need a D.C. that she can raise HER family in,” the mayor said, promising to make the District better “for all Baby Mirandas.”
Earning 83 percent of the vote against two little-known candidates, Bowser said she began preparing more than a year ago to be a two-term mayor, the first since Anthony Williams won back-to-back terms in 1998 and 2002. Bowser said it would be good to be a second-term mayor because “all the mistakes a new mayor makes, we wouldn’t have to make them again.”
Public and private polling showed that Bowser’s approval rating was high despite a rising homicide rate in parts of the city and a series of school crises that, had they occurred last year, likely would have drawn serious opponents into the race. The mayor made only scant references to those problems, saying, “When we find a problem, we don’t hide it, we fix it.”
In another hint at the nagging effects of gentrification on long-time African-American citizens, Bowser said she would focus more on affordable housing and job training. “I wouldn’t have run for mayor to run a city I wouldn’t recognize,” she said in reference to the city’s changing demographics.
While guests dug into a buffet of spanakopita, beef and chicken satay, and mini spring rolls, a crowd of about 25 to 30 protesters blocked 8th Street NW outside of the nightclub, chanting against Bowser’s failure to address homicides and police behavior in mostly poor areas of the city. D.C. police blocked off the street and let the demonstration continue. One protester later disrupted the mayor’s speech but was drowned out by chants of “four more years.”
In an interview, Bowser said she was disappointed that Initiative 77 passed. The mayor said she believed voters did not fully understand the impact of the vote on the city’s huge restaurant industry. Many activists say the mayor and D.C. Council likely will revise the initiative or repeal it outright once it passes routine congressional review.
Former Mayor Adrian Fenty arrived at the party wearing a “Bowser” green cap and waved to the crowd when Bowser called his name. Although Bowser celebrated victories by all the incumbent councilmembers, only Ward 4’s Brandon Todd and Ward 3’s Mary Cheh came to the mayor’s party. —Tom Sherwood
Council Chairman and Attorney General Races: “Pragmatism” Pays Off for Mendelson While Racine Touts Vote Totals
It wasn’t Clarendon bros but District pols who filled the second floor of the Brixton on Tuesday for a primary-night party that the campaigns of D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Attorney General Karl Racine jointly hosted.
Both incumbents emerged victorious—Mendelson trounced first-time candidate Ed Lazere, and Racine ran unopposed—but focused on different kinds of political victories in their remarks.
“I think this election was about where the electorate is, and I think where the electorate is is not to the far left,” Mendelson told supporters, describing his campaign as emblematic of “pragmatic progressivism.” Lazere, a veteran advocate for low-income families, ran to Mendelson’s left and called for “bold action” to address gentrification, homelessness, and education.
Clapping his hands, Racine led boisterous cheers of “Mendo! Mendo! Mendo!” at several points. The attorney general showed his competitive side when he yelled “6,000 up,” referring to how many more votes interim tallies showed he had scored citywide over Mayor Muriel Bowser. (Ultimately, Racine received 67,964 votes to Bowser’s 58,431.)
Asked about that exclamation, Racine said he was not the type to settle for second place. Later on, speaking to the crowd, he said, “If you think we’ve done a great job over the past three and a half years, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” Racine then called President Donald Trump, whom his office is suing, “the tyrant in the White House.”
Notables who stopped by the party included Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, At-Large Councilmember Robert White, At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray, Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White, and former mayoral candidate and former At-Large Councilmember David Catania. —Andrew Giambrone
Council Chairman and At-Large Councilmember Races: Losing Progressive Candidates Celebrate Their Winning Cause
Busboys and Poets’ Brookland outpost was the place to be for D.C.’s new progressive movement, as it played host to a joint election night party for Council chairman candidate Ed Lazere, at-large candidate Jeremiah Lowery, the DumpTrump-Dems4Action D.C. Democratic State Committee slate, and the local chapter of Restaurant Opportunities Center United, the group responsible for the divisive but ultimately successful Initiative 77.
Both Lazere and Lowery lost to incumbents, but defeat did not hang in the air. The restaurant’s event space buzzed with more than 100 supporters declaring a victory with the results of Initiative 77. Early on in the campaign season, it was evident that Lazere, Lowery, and ROC-DC had joined forces to appeal to far-left voters. All received joint endorsements from a number of progressive groups, including DC For Democracy, Jews United For Justice Campaign Fund, and the Trans United Fund.
“We didn’t win tonight, but we know that our movement is bigger than elections,” Lowery said in his concession speech, adding that this election “isn’t it for me,” but hinting that voters may see him on the ballot in future elections.
Lazere was equally gracious in his speech, focusing on issues he said he would continue to fight for—affordable housing, homelessness, schools, and supporting D.C.’s most vulnerable populations.
“What I found while I was out on the campaign trail was that people are happy that the city is doing well, but they’re also really troubled about how the city is changing and what it is becoming,” Lazere said.
Lazere didn’t say whether he’d run again, though earlier in the evening, when asked, he told City Paper that a future run for office is “to be determined.” “People are looking for their leaders in the city to tackle the city’s biggest challenges and do something about it,” he added.
But the big winners of the night were ROC-DC, and people soaked in the celebration. Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal spoke to the crowd and said he will do do everything he can to persuade the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser to uphold the ballot initiative.
Diana Ramirez, the director of ROC-DC, told City Paper that ROC’s “next strategy is to be completely honest and just tell [the Council]: ‘Look, who are you going to listen to? The big-business lobby, or your constituents, or the will of the voters?’”
Or, as ROC-DC’s Trupti Patel put it more bluntly in her passionate and pointed speech, “Enjoy tonight, because tomorrow the war begins. We have to protect 77.” —Matt Cohen
At-Large Councilmember Race: Anita Bonds Wins and No One Audibly Cheers
At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds’ win was a foregone conclusion by 9:00 p.m., when the bar and dining room of the National Democratic Club—a dimly lit, Holiday Inn version of a gentleman’s lounge—held about two dozen patrons. A handful were cranky, wizened imbibers barking orders at the waitstaff, unaffiliated with Bonds’ campaign.
The decision to hold her watch party at a members-only club stood in stark contrast to the livelier public parties her colleagues threw Tuesday.
The crowd was a mix of legislative aides, exhausted Council staffers, and friends, many sporting cerulean T-shirts with Bonds’ name stamped across the front. Bonds held court in the middle of a long dining table just to the side of the bar, greeting guests in groups of two or three. By the bar, conversation trickled along. Someone mentioned Black Lives Matter’s protest of police brutality outside Bowser’s watch party; it was met with an eye roll.
Time passed slowly. Revelers refreshed the D.C. Board of Elections website on their phones for results, though when the Associated Press called the race for Bonds around 9:20 p.m., there was no audible celebration. Bonds fielded congratulatory calls on a cell phone.
City Paper approached Bonds to say hello as the party started to fill up. She initially shook this reporter’s hands, but her face fell when the reporter identified her outlet. “I’m not too happy with City Paper. Its coverage of me hasn’t been very fair,” Bonds said before a handler interjected.
This reporter took that as her cue to abandon the party, a hive of whispers and handshakes. —Morgan Baskin
At-Large Councilmember Race: Gracious in Defeat, Marcus Goodwin Encourages Future Voters
At Democratic at-large council candidate Marcus Goodwin’s election party, the disappointing news was out before the first appetizers were served. With more than 10 percent of the vote totals reported, he trailed the incumbent, Anita Bonds, by double digits. Goodwin gathered about four dozen supporters and volunteers around 10 p.m. to deliver a concession speech.
“I’m inspired,” Goodwin said, addressing a family-like atmosphere that took up a quarter of the Florida Avenue NW restaurant HalfSmoke. A dozen of his volunteers were high school students, some still too young to vote, or recent graduates. Goodwin, 28, said he pulled manpower from city schools and his alma mater, St. Albans School. He believes he’s tapped into a “new era in youth political engagement.”
The loss did not taint the mood for his army of young fans, who munched on chicken wings and took in the scene. Goodwin spent most of the night snapping pictures and back-slapping supporters. “So many people our age are for Marcus,” said 16-year-old Tillman Lanyi, a sophomore at the School Without Walls.
“He’s fresh, young, educated,” said Tyjuan Brown, a campaign worker. “Marcus has a lot of value,” he added, pumping his fist.
Goodwin pointed to another run in the future, paraphrasing an apparent quote from Winston Churchill: “Politics and war are a lot alike, except in war you only die once.” —Cuneyt Dil
Ward 1 Councilmember Race: Kent Boese Likes Puns
At 8:45 p.m., Kent Boese is en route to his election night party at El Tio Tex-Mex Grill in Columbia Heights. About 20 of his supporters are already there. His husband, Brian Maxwell, and his neighbor Ellen Hughes are sharing a pitcher of beer with their friends. They’re not sure what kind of beer it is but they know it’s been a long, hot day. Hughes, a pre-K teacher during the school year, says she got to the polling station at 7 a.m., worked until 2 p.m., went on to another polling station, and repeated the process until about 7:58 p.m., when she and Maxwell watched the last voter run frantically toward the polls.
Greg Boyd, who is also running for the Ward 1 Council seat, stands nearby. He’s running as an Independent—his stated affiliation since 1980—so his name wasn’t on the primary ballot. Results aren’t in yet, but it’s pretty clear that Boese won’t win. “If Kent had won, I may have dropped,” says Boyd. He lists Boese’s accomplishments as an ANC Commissioner, as well incumbent Brianne Nadeau‘s failures as a councilmember. “You know what really won this election?” he says. “Apathy. Low turnout.” He’s not wrong.
By this time Boese has arrived. He says he’s enjoyed the experience of running, but that it’s too early to say whether or not he’d do it again. He is committed to being an advocate for the people of Ward 1 either way. Of his campaign slogan, “It’s All About the Boese, No Trouble,” a play on the Meghan Trainor song, he says “I like puns.” “Life is too short to be serious all the time.”
About 15 minutes later, on the sidewalk outside The Midlands Beer Garden, passerby hear a brief “whoop” from inside. The papers call Nadeau winner of the Ward 1 race. She currently has 49.1 percent of the vote to Boese’s 25.5 percent. In her speech, she thanks her husband, mom, daughter, and campaign volunteers. A crowd of about 25 are there to listen. She says she’s proud of keeping promises she made four years ago, and “even more proud about how we did that. We did that work by bringing people together … We did that work by focusing on our similarities rather than our differences.” When she’s done, the crowd erupts in a “four more years” chant for about 20 seconds. —Alexa Mills