Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells announced his campaign for mayor today, promising a crowd of drenched but cheering supporters that he would create a “livable, walkable city” and help end the “crisis of ethics in the Wilson Building.”
“I apologize for the metaphor, but today we stand at a crossroads,” Wells said from a podium set up at Starburst Plaza at the intersection of H Street NE, Benning Road, Maryland Avenue, 15th Street, Florida Avenue, and Bladensburg Road—-and near the convergence of Ward 6, where Wells enjoys strong support, and wards 5 and 7, where he’ll have his work cut out for him winning over mostly poorer and African-American voters.
Wells, who has not always been popular among his colleagues, was visibly enjoying himself as a funky song written for the occasion by John “Peter Bug” Matthews (“Tommy Wells is the man / Tommy Wells got a plan…”) welcomed him to the event, and as a dense scrum of reporters crowded around him after his speech. A diverse audience of about a hundred turned out, despite the pouring rain that let up slightly as Wells took the podium.
Wells told me before the event that he was initially thinking about running for mayor not in this election cycle but in 2018, until corruption issues in the government—-between the recent arrests of two of his former D.C. Council colleagues and the alleged shadow campaign that helped elect Mayor Vince Gray—-persuaded him that now was the right time. “We’ve seen the greatest ethical crisis in our city since home rule,” he told the crowd.
Wells pledged not to take any corporate campaign contributions or bundled contributions from lobbyists. He laid out three initiatives he hopes to undertake as mayor: cutting juvenile crime in half within 24 months, making sure every child has a good elementary school within walking distance that he or she can attend without entering a lottery, and bringing about the “next generation of a great transit system.”
“We’re gonna run the streetcar east before it goes west,” he pledged in an appeal to residents of the city’s eastern neighborhoods whose votes he’ll have to work to attract.
Wells kicked off the morning with some pre-campaigning in his home ward, before walking from Eastern Market to the X8 bus line and riding it to Starburst Plaza. The move was symbolic, given Wells’ advocacy of public transit, but there were few people around to appreciate the symbolism: When Wells and his campaign volunteers boarded the bus, there was only one other passenger on it. And during the short bus ride, the downpour began.
Wells becomes the second candidate to announce for the Democratic primary next year, following Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser, who jumped into the race in March. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans has indicated he’ll run in the primary, and at-large Councilmember David Catania may enter the general election as an independent. Gray has so far been tight-lipped about whether he’ll seek re-election.
Photos by Aaron Wiener