The recent announcement that a D.C. Council member is likely to run for the city's top political spot in 2014 has generated a great deal of discussion.
"I have not [officially] announced that I am running for mayor, but I am strongly considering a run," said Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6). Wells, who attended the Palisades Parade on July 4 in the well-heeled Northwest community, said that many residents told him that the D.C. Council is corrupt and they asked him if he would run for mayor.
"It's pretty clear that people are upset with the ethics of this council and I am humbled that they want me to run for mayor."
The Rev. Anthony Motley, a longtime black political activist who lives in Southeast, said that he's not stunned that Wells is considering a run for mayor. "Anybody can run," Motley, 63, said, nonchalantly. "We live in a democracy."
Wells' consideration, given the fact that the next mayoral contest isn't until 2014, does come as a surprise to some political observers, and the current mayor, Vincent Gray, a subject of a federal investigation into his 2010 mayoral campaign, has not been charged with any crimes. If Wells, 55, succeeds, he would become the first white to be elected mayor since the U.S. Congress voted to establish Home Rule in the city in 1973.
However, since 1974, white candidates have run for mayor but have failed. Carol Schwartz, who served on the D.C. Council from 1985-1989 and 1997-2009, ran for mayor in 1986, 1994, 1998 and 2002, as a Republican.
D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) ran for the Democratic Party nomination for mayor in 1998 but only polled 10 percent of the vote, losing to Anthony Williams, who eventually won the general election.
In 1990, David Clarke, the chairman of the D.C. Council, ran in the mayoral Democratic primary but lost to Sharon Pratt Dixon.
David Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Northwest, said that the "time is ripe" for a viable white candidate for mayor.
"I think it could happen," Bositis said. "The population is changing and while it depends on the quality of the candidate, a white candidate who can appeal to black voters could certainly win."
The 2010 census reported that the District is 50.7 percent black, the lowest level it has been since the 1940s and the white population is 38.4 percent. Demographers have noted that young whites are moving into the city in large numbers and taking over previously predominantly black neighborhoods.
Bositis said that cities like Baltimore have elected white mayors with large black populations. He said that Wells has a chance if he supports policies that are favorable to blacks.
Wells represents Ward 6, the only political jurisdiction that is located in all of the city's quadrants. Whites constitute 47 percent of the population while blacks are 42 percent, with the rest Latino, Asian and Native American, according to the website, Neighborhood Info DC.
Wells is known on the D.C. Council as an ethically-minded legislator who is working to make the city more "bikeable and walkable" and is pushing streetcars for some major thoroughfares. His crowning legislative achievement is the passing of the "bag tax" in 2009, which assesses five cents for plastic bags in the District.
Nick McCoy, a black political activist in Northwest, said that he thinks the city is ready for a white to lead it and "it is time."
"I think so but for some people, there is a real question of whether D.C. is ready to elect a non-person of color [for] mayor," said McCoy, 36. "This is not a conversation we in the city would have had a few years ago."
McCoy said that he would have to look at Wells platform "just like I would look at anyone else's." Wells, said McCoy, has not sponsored any anti-black legislation, and that's all right with him.
McCoy, however, said that he does have a preference when it comes to which white could be the next mayor.
"I would look at Phil Mendelson as mayor," he said, referring to the new D.C. Council chairman.
Angela Moore, who is the owner and artistic director of A&A Productions, LLC in Southeast, said that she would "advocate for all races to go for government offices" but would still prefer a black mayor.
"I would vote for a qualified African-American candidate for mayor in 2014 who would work for the people of D.C.," said Moore, 28. "I would love for the mayor to be African American."
Motley said that he wishes Wells luck in his mayoral quest.
"The election will come down to who can get their troops out to vote," he said. "If he can do that, more power to him."