“If you look at an airplane analogy, he’s been a good pilot, he’s flying the plane well, but there’s this fundamental question about whether he deserved to be in the cockpit in the first place,” said Tony Bullock, a federal lobbyist who was the communications director for former Mayor Anthony Williams.
In some ways, the election is shaping up as a repeat of the 2010 contest, in which Gray defeated Adrian Fenty. Bowser took over Fenty’s council seat after he was elected mayor in 2006, aided by an endorsement from the then-popular mayor. Former Fenty advisers are leading her campaign, and she’s raised money from donors loyal to him.
But she also says she’s learned from the mistakes of Fenty, who was accused of tuning out criticism and failing to recognize that black voters in particular had turned against him. Polls showed voters thought the city was heading in the right direction four years ago, too, but they still voted him out of office.
Bowser said it’s impossible to separate Gray’s performance in office from questions about how he got there.
Voters “want their mayor to be able to focus on the issues that affect them,” she said, and “not on his own legal battles.”
Two other councilmembers, Jack Evans and Tommy Wells, would become the city’s first white mayor if elected, but polls have shown them struggling to build sufficient support.
Some voters are siding with Bowser primarily because they think she can beat Gray. Elcindor Johnson, 43, a federal employee, said he’s undecided between Bowser and Catania. If Gray wins, he said he’d be forced to vote for Catania, who was first elected as a Republican but left the party 10 years ago and has a progressive record.
“I don’t want a mayor who is under a cloud of possible indictment,” Johnson said.