This special edition of the Politics Hour combined local and national politics live from Slim's Diner in Petworth, Northwest D.C.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced on Monday that he will seek reelection in 2014. He now joins a crowded field competing in the spring’s Democratic primary. He’s also under the cloud of a federal investigation into the conduct of his 2010 mayoral campaign. WAMU 88.5 reporter Patrick Madden joins Kojo to explore what Gray’s decision means for the dynamics of next year’s fight for the future of the District.
- Patrick Madden Reporter, WAMU 88.5 News
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, "Woody Sez." We'll talk with the actors in a play exploring the far-reaching influence of the musician Woody Guthrie. But, first, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is seeking to extend his influence in the District for another four years. Gray announcing on Monday plans to seek a second term, ending many months of speculation that a federal investigation into his 2010 campaign would keep him out of the contest.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe'll now campaign despite the lingering questions about the election that put him in office several years ago. And he'll join a crowded field of Democrats competing for the party's nomination in April. Joining us to explore how Gray's decision affects the dynamics of the race and where the sweeping federal probe into corruption in the District is likely to go from here, is Patrick Madden. He's a reporter for WAMU 88.5. Patrick, thanks for joining us.
MR. PATRICK MADDENGood afternoon, Kojo.
NNAMDIMayor Gray is just now entering this race, but he's cast a long shadow over the other candidates who've been running for most of the past year. Most people assumed that he was waiting to see what the prosecutor investigating his 2010 campaign was going to do before moving forward. In the end, what sense do you have for why Gray ultimately decided to move ahead?
MADDENI think the most important -- I think what happened here was the calendar. If you looked at what candidates needed to do to be able to make the ballot, which is the April 1 ballot, you have to get 2,000 signatures to qualify by early January. And it's not easy to do that because you have a lot of folks that are out of town during the holidays. So, if Gray wanted to get in the race, he really needed to make this decision now, because it's -- he has to go pick up the petitions, which is where we all were yesterday.
MADDENWe were at the Board of Elections there as Gray picked up the petition so he can start circulating those and start getting enough signatures to make the ballot. Because, as we've seen in the past, it sounds easy -- just go get 2,000 signatures. It isn't that easy.
NNAMDIIf you would like to join the conversation, give us a call. What case do you think D.C. Mayor Gray can make for reelection, now that he's decided to join the race? Tell us what you think at 800-433-8850. Or you can send email to email@example.com. You can send us a tweet at kojoshow. Patrick, what case do you think Gray is going to make to voters for why he deserves a second term?
MADDENWell, the case he will make, and that sort of is what happened earlier today when Gray was touting all of the economic development that has occurred under his watch in D.C. And, you know, just look to the skyline: all the cranes you see, the real estate market. There are a lot of things Gray can point to and say: The District is doing great under my leadership. Economically, people are moving back into D.C. for the first time in a long time. Violent crime is down. There are a lot of different metrics that show that the city has been doing well under Gray's watch.
MADDENBut, of course, as his opponents will continue to point back to is what happened in 2010.
NNAMDIWhat do you think? 800-433-8850. What does this candidacy tell us, if it tells us anything at all, about where U.S. attorney Ron Machen's probe is headed? Some people, including me, have said that Gray really had to run if he was to avoid the inference that he had done something wrong. But does this tell us anything at all about what progress or lack thereof this investigation might be making? Does he know something we don't know?
MADDENI don't know. And I actually don't think that even Gray may know. I think that truly, that the investigation, that is an ongoing thing. And I think you're right, Kojo. I think this was probably the move that Gray ultimately had to make either way, because regardless of what happens with the investigation into that campaign and whether there are more indictments coming down the road, if Gray wanted to become mayor again, to continue his term, he had to get into the race now. So I'm not sure how much you can actually look into what's going on with the investigation with this announcement.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Do you think D.C. voters should be willing to look past the lingering questions about Vincent Gray's 2010 campaign? Or do you think the ongoing probe into that race should be a disqualifier for Gray's reelection next year? Give us a call. 800-433-8850. Or you can send us a tweet at kojoshow. From a campaigning perspective, Patrick, what kind of position is the mayor in right now? He's trying to build a campaign operation and raise money in a very short amount of time. Other candidates have been at it for several months.
NNAMDIYou know, this April 1 primary, he was very controversial because people feel, well, it's April Fool's Day, too. It's very, very soon in the calendar. But they were not able to get it changed, which is one of the reasons why he had to go and pick up his petitions now. He said the real campaign won't be starting till January. But what do you think?
MADDENI mean, I think there are two ways to look at this. On one hand, Gray is the incumbent. He is the mayor and, with that, all of the advantages whether it's just being able to really set the agenda, having, you know, the biggest microphone in town. You know, if you look at Gray's schedule, every day it's a ribbon cutting or some new opening of some building. So I don't think the timeline is as important to someone running as an incumbent as it would be to a challenger who really has to get out there, raise money, get their name recognition.
MADDENI think Gray has a lot of built-in advantages, you know, running for mayor.
NNAMDIOutside of the official campaign operation, who can the mayor count on in his view to be his core constituency? You know, how much of the sentiment that carried him to victory -- how much of the coalition that carried him to victory over Adrian Fenty still exists?
MADDENI don't -- I think everything is different now. I think, if you look at where Gray is, who is backing him now, I mean, he has sort of done a little bit of a 180. The business community is now very much in support of Mayor Gray. And you can look at recent decisions, whether it's the so-called living-wage bill with Ramada -- not Ramada...
MADDEN...with Wal-Mart, which he vetoed, or even the most recent decision with the minimum-wage bill that Gray says he'd like to cap it at $10, not $11.50 or $12.50, like some council members are pushing for. So, if you can go back four years, Gray was sort of running more as the pro-labor candidate...
MADDEN...the anti-Fenty. I think that's changed now. Gray is now the incumbent. The business community appears to be lining up behind him. I think that's where he is now. And, of course, one of his candidates, Vincent Orange, has sort of also done the 180, where he now is the pro-labor candidate and in the past was more of a business-friendly candidate.
NNAMDILet's talk about the anti-Fenty thing for a second, because with this probe having being going on since the last three years or so, it's always been in the news but Adrian Fenty himself has not. He has left town. He's undertaken another career. And so a lot of the people who voted for him, one has to wonder now, where their sentiments lie -- if they still see Vincent Gray as the anti-Fenty, or if they, like the business community feels: Oh well, he seems to be running the city the way we'd like to see it.
MADDENRight. And even with school reform, you can say Gray has been a strong supporter of Kai Henderson, who is continuing the Michelle Rhee effort. But on the other hand I think that a lot of those Fenty voters will probably be, you know, there is a natural sort of connection with Muriel Bowser. And so I think that is one place where, I know from the Bowser campaign's perspective, that's where they're going to be targeting. They're going to want all of those Fenty voters to sort of build their base around Ward 4, you know, a lot of the same issues.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Our guest is Patrick Madden. He's a reporter for WAMU 88.5 who covers District politics. Here is Aday in Washington D.C. Aday (sp?) , you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ADAYHey, thank you Mr. Nnamdi. A long time listener, first-time caller.
ADAYActually, I was just going to say, initially, I was really skeptical about Mayor Gray when he was going to run. But I think he's done a good job over the past four years. I think it's been balanced. I think he has been for the people and also for business. And I think he should be given four more years to complete what he started.
NNAMDIWhen you say you were a bit skeptical about him at first, why?
ADAYI thought he was just running because he was anti-Fenty because, you know, a lot of people just didn't like Mayor Fenty then. And this Chairman Gray then just seemed like, you know, the best thing against Mayor Fenty. But over the past four years, I think he's really shown his quality and his capability. And I think we should give him four more years to complete it, because personally I think the District is in a very good place right now. Although I think everything goes back to Mayor Williams.
NNAMDINo, Aday, I'm using you as the test case here. Were you a Fenty supporter?
ADAYYes. Against, yes, when he ran. Yes, I was.
NNAMDIWhen he ran against Gray you were a Fenty supporter, and...
ADAYYes, because I thought he was young. I thought he was vibrant. I thought he was what the city needed. But then, when he got into office, I thought he was completely for the -- pro-business and didn't care about the people. And...
NNAMDIOh, so in the last election, you were a Gray supporter.
ADAYYeah. When the last election, I was a Gray supporter. I was a Fenty supporter in the first election, when he first ran.
NNAMDIOkay. I want to hear from Fenty supporters in the last election, the 2010 election, to see what their institutional memory says about Adrian Fenty and about Vincent Gray. Now, but, Aday, thank you very much for your call. What does this mean, Patrick for the other candidates in this race? Some of them said they would only run if Gray did not run. Some of them have said they actually think he's done a good job running the city but that the questions about his 2010 campaign should be disqualifiers for reelection. Is it likely that any candidates will drop out now that Gray is in?
MADDENThat remains to be seen. The initial statements from the campaigns -- there's nothing to suggest that anyone will be dropping out any time soon. I do think that Gray's entrance into the race changes the narrative of the race in a number of ways. But, on the other hand, you know, if you go back to that first debate we had at the bar association a couple weeks back, I mean, every answer that the candidates were giving was about what Gray was doing wrong or why he shouldn't run. So I think, even before Gray entered the race, he was still the main focus of the candidates running.
MADDENSo I think the message is still going to be the same, that we can do better than Gray, from the other candidates' perspective.
NNAMDIAre there any candidates who seem to benefit, maybe, from Gray entering the race?
MADDENI think, definitely. I think Tommy Wells. You know he's made a big case about Gray, about ethics, campaign finance reform, a lot of...
NNAMDIThis will help him to focus his message even more.
MADDENI think so. I think he draws the clearest, perhaps, contrast, when you talk about, you know, because his big issue so far has been campaign finance and ethics. And those are two issues, which will always come up when you're talking about Gray and what happened in 2010.
NNAMDIYou mentioned Muriel Bowser earlier. She replaced Fenty as the Ward 4 Councilmember and a lot of people felt she was an heir apparent to Fenty. I don't know how that sticks four years later. Any ideas?
MADDENI mean, four years is a long time, right? But at the same time, if you look at a lot of the folks surrounding her initial campaign, a lot of them used to work for Fenty. So I think she's going to have that core group around her. And that's a good thing. I think if you have people that still are perhaps a little angry about how things turned out four years ago, I think that is a very motivating factor to get people to work for you, especially when we're talking about gathering signatures. It's going to be cold outside for the next couple of weeks.
MADDENSo it'll be good to have those supporters and volunteers who have a lot of motivation to go out there and help their candidate.
NNAMDIThen there's Ward 2 Councilmember, Jack Evans, who everyone assumed would have the support of the business community, but positioned himself by opposing the living-wage bill with the, I guess, activist and labor-union community. How does Gray entering the race now affect Jack Evans, given that Gray may be able to muster some support from the business community?
MADDENRight. And I mean, I think with Evans' candidacy, I mean, he clearly, when he made that vote on the living wage thing, that surprised a lot of people because people have always assumed that Jack Evans was always going to be sort of the candidate who was most closely aligned with, say, the business interests in the city. You know, he represents Ward 2. He's, you know, worked with Patton Boggs. He's always had a strong affiliation with those groups. I mean I think the business groups are going to give their support and their money to who they think has the best chance of winning.
MADDENSo I think if Evans proves to be a viable candidate, he may find that a lot of groups are lining up behind him. I think ultimately that's going to be the decider. We haven't really seen any polling yet. We don't know where these candidates all stand. I think early on a lot of it's just name recognition. And so I think it is a very crowded race. I can't imagine anyone having more than say 30 percent at this point. So, I mean, a lot can happen.
NNAMDIVincent Orange, who seems to be positioning himself as the person who's going to stand up for the little guy here.
MADDENRight. Vincent Orange is now, you know, the person who is pushing for a living wage, other pro-labor policies. So, again, everything -- everyone is trying to stake out their claim, their niche that will help differentiate themselves in this crowded race.
NNAMDIThe speculation therefore has ended over whether he's going to enter the race now that he has entered the race. That shakes things up for everybody in the race. We’ll be watching over the course of the next few weeks, especially after the year is over to see how this develops. And we'll be relying on Patrick Madden to help us do that. Patrick, thank you so much for joining us.
MADDENThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIPatrick Madden is a reporter for WAMU 88.5. He covers district politics. When we come back, "Woody Sez." We’ll be talking with the actors in the play exploring the far reaching influence of musician Woody Guthrie. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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