“Today, I’m walking in Marion Barry’s footsteps,” Bowser said at an election night celebration, referring to DC’s fabled “mayor for life,” who served four terms. “Tonight we choose a future that represents our DC values.”
Tuesday’s result shows that the city’s Democrats still favor Bowser’s dovish stance, which has at times led them to clashes with an increasingly left-leaning DC council over issues such as paid parental leave for workers and tax increases for wealthy residents. Trayon White and Robert White both ran to Bowser’s left several key issues, making them the preferred choice of many in the city’s progressive bloc.
Phil Mendelson, left-leaning candidate wins DC Council primary
In the race for DC Council chair, Phil Mendelson won the Democratic nomination ahead of challenger Erin Palmer, according to AP forecasts. Councilor-in-Office Brianne K. Nadeau and DC State Board of Education Representative Zachary Parker should both win in Districts 1 and 5. Brian Schwalb won the Democratic nomination for DC Attorney General; and Incumbent Anita Bonds beat three other candidates to keep her seat at large, according to the AP. Incumbent Eleanor Holmes Norton should win the Democratic race for DC’s congressional delegate.
In heavily Democratic DC, the primary usually determines the outcome of the November election for most races.
The win for Bowser, whose approval rating is down slightly this year from 2019, according to a February Washington Post poll, also puts an end to speculation that voters may have been ready for a change after nearly a decade with her at the helm. The Post poll found that a majority of residents approve of Bowser’s work performance — but most respondents said she hasn’t done well in tackling what they see as the city’s biggest problems: crime and housing costs.
Wendell Felder, the leader of the Ward 7 Democrats, was unequivocal on Tuesday when he said he voted for Bowser, although he acknowledges there is still room for improvement. Felder said he was impressed with Bowser’s leadership, saying how “they ruled the city amid a pandemic and how she fought back against the President [Donald] Trump card.”
“I think she’s a battle-hardened leader and just what the city needs right now,” Felder said.
Late Tuesday night, Bowser walked into a packed Franklin Hall in northwest Washington to the pounding bass of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” — a song written about DC native Duke Ellington. Campaign workers and volunteers alike flocked to be the first to congratulate her, chanting, “Four more years!”
Outside, motorists honked their horns in celebration.
“She didn’t take it for granted,” said Cherita Whiting, who works in Bowser’s office and used some of her vacation days to support her boss’s campaign. “I felt like she deserved it the whole time, but you don’t know what’s going to happen until everyone comes in and votes.”
Brian Schwalb Wins DC Attorney General Primary, AP Projects
Those who supported Robert White and Trayon White said they were looking for a fresh face at the city executive office.
Zakiya Williams-Tillman, 31, said it was time for a change after voting for Bowser in her last two campaigns. She commended Bowser for her efforts in building affordable housing units, though she remains concerned that Bowser hasn’t done enough to prevent longtime residents from being evicted from the city.
“I’ve been here since I was 18,” said Williams-Tillman, who voted for Robert White. “I thought we had hope with her but I didn’t really like the work she did.”
In a concession speech Tuesday night, Robert White, widely regarded as the most viable of Bowser’s three opponents, delivered an impassioned concession speech to a packed hall of supporters. He congratulated Bowser and said he would continue to work with her as a council member.
White did not rule out another run for mayor in the future.
“I say keep hoping. People who know me know this isn’t the first time I’ve fallen,” said Robert White, appearing to refer to his failed 2014 bid for a seat on the DC Council. “I never stay down.”
Trayon White’s election night watch party in southeast Washington was quieter than his staff had hoped; When the results came in, Trayon White said he was proud of his campaign and called his first citywide election “the hardest thing he’s ever done”. He called Bowser to congratulate her and later showed up at her party, where he shook her hand.
Bowser has announced that she will use her third term to help DC return to pre-pandemic vibrancy while advancing her initiatives to bring more grocery stores and restaurants to neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, where residents also have the fewest opportunities for fresh food, following recommendations from a new task force aimed at boosting black homeownership.
To achieve her goals, she must work with a council that appears to be even further removed from her centrist policies. Parker in Ward 5 has been embraced by progressive groups, and Nadeau, who has championed liberal causes, fended off a challenge from a moderate candidate to win the Democratic Ward 1 nomination. And in Ward 3, Matthew Frumin, running as a Progressive, leads a crowded race to succeed Councilor Mary M. Cheh.
Councilors Mendelson and Bonds, more centrist incumbents, won against challengers running to their left.
Known to many DC voters as a consistent if private leader, Bowser has largely avoided scandal in her two terms and selectively thrust herself into the national spotlight, such as when she crossed the street in front of Trump’s White House in Black Lives Matter Plaza ‘ and that addressed public hours following the Jan. 6, 2021 riot in the Capitol, when information about the incident was still scarce.
Residents have largely praised their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, although some have been frustrated by mistakes that hampered the city’s initial rollout of the vaccine. She has also fulfilled a campaign promise to demolish DC General’s homeless shelter and replace it with smaller shelters across the city while drastically reducing the number of homeless families in the district – although she has acknowledged she needs to do more to end homelessness curb of single adults.
And while housing affordability is a top concern for voters, during her tenure Bowser has poured more than $1 billion into the city’s main tool for housing production to deliver on her promise to build 36,000 new homes in the city by 2025 , including 12,000 affordable units. However, her opponents have claimed that she is putting off too much on developers and that the new construction has pushed some longtime residents out of town.
Many voters have criticized Bowser over the years, but enough agreed Tuesday that she was the best candidate to advance the city’s interests, including the ongoing fight for statehood.
“I think she has grown into the role really well and has expressed strong support for district initiatives over those of the federal government,” said attorney Kim Katzenbarger. Katzenbarger said it was important to elect leaders who would resist the “continuous federal erosion” of the district’s efforts; Republican congressmen have frequently attempted to interfere in the city’s affairs, even threatening to limit DC’s ability to govern itself.
Others pointed to Bowser’s leadership of the city’s schools; When Imma Filstrup, 44, moved to DC 22 years ago, she didn’t think public schools would be an option for her children. But then Bowser took over, she said, and the system began to improve, in her eyes.
“I remember thinking that once people have kids, they move out of DC because the school system isn’t good here, and I don’t think that’s true anymore,” Filstrup said, adding that their daughter was in A longtime Bowser supporter, Filstrup also said she prefers stable leadership, especially as the city faces a rise in violent crime.
“She’s done well enough to have confidence in her going forward,” she added.
Nazmul Ahasan, Gaya Gupta, Vanessa G. Sanchez, Perry Stein, Rachel Weiner, and Daniel Wu contributed to this report.