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The Deanwood Recreation Center in Ward 7 looks brand new, until you look at the photos on the walls. The pictures reveal that the facility is at least half a decade old, because they depict a time when Vince Gray and Yvette Alexander were still friends.
Pictures from 2010 show Gray and Alexander palling around at the facility’s opening, all smiles. Alexander stands at the podium, and then-D.C. Council Chairman Gray stands behind her.
Those pictures are faded now, and so is whatever amity the two pols once had. On Monday night, the former allies jousted at the rec center for an endorsement from the LGBTQ-focused Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.
Gray had one hand in a sling (rotator cuff surgery) and the other on his cheek, looking like Alexander’s endorsement pleas made him regret ever backing her to replace him in the seat nine years ago. When Gray ran out of time on his own speech, Alexander filled in for the moderator and cut in: “Stop!”
Alexander lost the club’s June primary endorsement to Gray, garnering just 30 percent of members’ votes. She was doomed before she even showed up, thanks to her (unsuccessful) 2009 vote against gay marriage. But just to be sure, Gray campaign workers at the door handed out copies of a years-oldWashington Post article that quoted Alexander saying businesses shouldn’t be forced to participate in gay marriages.
Alexander again didn’t help her cause when she misstated the gender of Deoni Jones, a transgender woman murdered in 2012. While touting her support for legislation named after Jones, Alexander repeatedly referred to the deceased woman as he/him—not exactly the kind of thing that wins Stein voters over. One Gray supporter who’s transgender promised the crowd that her candidate had never misgendered a transwoman.
The Stein vote might not be an omen for Alexander’s chances, since it was open to club members who live outside of the ward. But after a bruising spring for Alexander, it’s emblematic of her re-election woes: a bad situation compounded by her own mistakes.
Alexander ditched Gray after his 2014 mayoral primary loss to Muriel Bowser, meaning she’s allied now with Bowser. But Bowser’s picks this primary are curiously fragmented in their endorsements. At-Large incumbent Vincent Orange touts an endorsement from similarly Bowser-favoring (and uncontested Ward 2 incumbent) Jack Evans, for example, but doesn’t have similar endorsements from the likes of Alexander, Ward 8’s LaRuby May, or Ward 4’s Brandon Todd.
Alexander flapped in the wind Monday night, as only a few Bowser affiliates—Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity Courtney Snowden, for example—endorsed her. Given the club’s open membership and establishment nature, though, Bowser-affiliated councilmembers and staffers likely could have swung the election her way.
Instead, Alexander was blasted by a series of Stein members who were still steamed over her gay marriage vote—and not swayed by her claim that she, and the ward, have since “evolved.”
Alexander’s headquarters in an office space attached to a Benning Road NE Shell station could be a metaphor for her campaign: She’s in a weird position.
When LL went to Alexander’s campaign kickoff at her new headquarters last month, he found maybe 15 volunteers waving over gas station visitors to meet the councilmember. The windows were plastered with pictures of Bowser, but the only “Bowser” LL saw at the time was Joe Bowser, the mayor’s father. Across town that day, Todd’s campaign showed off dozens of supporters at their own event.
Gray’s campaign has capitalized on the apparent lack of enthusiasm for Alexander’s bid. After an Alexander campaign meeting last month at Sala Thai—the ubiquitous Ward 7 campaign stop, thanks to the ward’s lack of sit-down restaurants—Gray campaign treasurer Chuck Thies taunted Alexander on Twitter with a picture of the meeting that appeared to show her talking to just two other supporters.
Alexander and Thies—Gray’s longtime pitbull in the media—engaged in a drawn-out exchange. Gray himself appeared blissfully unaware of the argument.
Gray shouldn’t be doing this well. He lost his mayoral seat because of a federal investigation, and new revelations about both the shadow campaign to elect him and alleged illegal payments to his son were coming out as recently as last month. On Tuesday, one-time Gray friend and shadow campaign operativeVernon Hawkins received a six-month prison sentence after prosecutors complained he took a “soldier’s plea” to protect Gray and his son.
That day, Alexander’s campaign blasted out an email reminding voters that Gray and Hawkins were friends. This was the latest in a series of campaign messages about Gray revelations, the most recent of which accused Gray of being a bad father for allegedly using his son as a bagman.
“The Vince and Vernon show is over because Vernon is now going to jail,” Tuesday’s email read.
It’s hard to imagine that having much effect in Ward 7, where Gray won by more than 60 percent in 2014 when the illicit effort to get him elected was much more in the news. But Alexander, who endorsed Gray back then, claims that she isn’t swayed by the end of the federal investigation.
“‘Not charged’ does not mean that you’re innocent,” Alexander says.
Not to be outdone by her former mentor, Alexander has a budding intrigue of her own these days. The collapse of the DC Trust has raised questions, first reported by the Post, about Alexander’s relationship with a nonprofit run by former Phoenix Suns NBA player Jerrod Mustaf. Alexander once served on the nonprofit’s board, making her recent promise that they would get their grants despite the Trust’s collapse eyebrow-raising.
Both the Post and Gray’s campaign, which has called for an investigation of Alexander’s relationship with the nonprofit, describe her relationship with Mustaf as “close.”
Mustaf says Alexander wasn’t paid for her position on his board.
“Of course not,” Mustaf says. “They supposed to pay us, which didn’t happen neither.”
The lack of public polling on ward-level races makes it hard to gauge the public’s support for Alexander. Alexander commissioned a poll on the race from longtime District pollster Ron Lester, but refuses to release it.
Meanwhile, Gray’s campaign commissioned a poll from prominent firm Public Policy Polling last month, and it puts him nearly 30 percentage points ahead of her. When LL asked Alexander about the PPP poll, she inaccurately claimed that 2014 white mayoral hopeful David Catania, who received less than 15 percent of the vote in primarily black Ward 7, used the same polling firm.
“I’m not going down without a fight,” Alexander tells LL.