D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine. Photo by Darrow Montgomery.

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D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine may not officially be running for mayor (yet?), but he laid out his platform Thursday in a targeted convocation speech at the University of the District of Columbia.

In fewer than 15 minutes, Racine declared the District to be two cities, one wealthy and one that struggles every day. Racine decried the District’s income disparity, the displacement of African American citizens, severe food insecurity, and staggering health inequities.

In the soft, measured tones of the practiced lawyer that he is, Racine ticked off the issues but stopped short of solutions except to say, “solutions cannot discriminate.”

But will he run?  Racine has been mentioned as a potential mayoral candidate since 2018, when he instead chose to run for his second term as attorney general. At a forum last March, he said two terms as attorney general “are enough … let somebody else do it.” 

On the Sept. 17 edition of the WAMU Kojo Nnamdi Politics Hour, Racine said he was frustrated with his current, Hamlet-like indecision on a 2022 mayoral bid. “With respect to my current political plans, I, too, kinda get frustrated with my own self,” he said. “I would like to make a final and firm decision and make it public. Here’s the deal, I’m not there yet.”  Racine said his options remain three: run for a third term as attorney general, run for mayor, or return to private practice as a lawyer. “It would be most accurate to say, all of the options are on the table,” he said.

Many political observers expect Mayor Muriel Bowser to seek a third term and to make that announcement before the end of the year. If Racine wants to challenge her, those observers suggest, Racine is running out of time to establish his own mayoral campaign for next June’s primary. Others say Racine could run a shorter, fast-paced campaign similar to the first race former Mayor Anthony Williams ran in 1998.

In his speech at UDC, Racine clearly staked out a progressive recitation of problems.

With the District population nearing a white majority after more than a decade of change,  Racine said the District has “the most intense level of displacement than anywhere in the country…” The auditorium crowd burst into loud applause to show its agreement.

On food insecurity, Racine said tens of thousands of people here everyday wonder where their next meal may come from, including one in seven children “who have a hard time securing a meal.”

On criminal justice, the District’s top lawyer declared, “on a per capita basis, D.C. has the highest incarceration rate in the country relative to other states.” Crime and punishment could boost Racine in two ways.  The high homicide rate and gunfire incidents could be a drag on Bowser’s campaign. And as attorney general, Racine has set up a competing social program—Cure the Streets—to address social causes of violence separate from the mayor’s own neighborhood safety efforts.

On a fourth major category Thursday, Racine attacked health disparities in the city across the board. “We know about health disparity … but we know as a result of COVID, all the disparities … came into full focus, right, with nearly 80 percent of the deaths in the District of Columbia from COVID-19 falling on the shoulders of African Americans.”

Maybe-candidate Racine summarized, “So whether it’s poverty, criminal justice, food insecurity, housing, we have significant problems in the District of Columbia…..solutions cannot discriminate… solutions must engage.”

Ah, engage. There’s the rub so far.  The platform remains in search of the candidate willing to engage.