In the spring of 2014, D.C.’s mayoral race heated up. However, it wasn’t the voters stoking the flames, but none other than sitting U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, who fired a proverbial cannon into the race.
Machen told the world that then-Mayor Vincent Gray was about to be indicted. Gray had led most polls and was expected by many to defeat his challengers, including Muriel Bowser, though she had been gaining on the incumbent even before Machen’s interference.
In December 2015, long after the damage was done and Bowser was in office, new U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips announced finally that there would be no indictment of Gray, who would eventually return to District politics and unseat Yvette Alexander and win the Ward 7 Council race.
“Everyone knows that I’ve been weighing a run,” Gray said of this year’s mayoral race. “I know that there isn’t a lot of time left, but we will see.”
With about four months before the June 19 primary, there’s little time for the former mayor to toss his hat into the ring.
To date, 10 Democrats have entered the race, with the winner to face off in November against the lone declared Republican, Lois Tett of Northwest.
With the specter of Gray hovering over the race and the popularity of Bowser, Benjamin Nadler of Northwest said he intends to drop out of the race. He declined to discuss the Gray factor.
His departure leaves James Butler of Northeast, Quincy Carter of Southeast, Victoria Gordon of Southwest, Ernest E. Johnson of Northwest, Art Lloyd of Northeast, Fidelis Malachi Pietrocina of Northwest, Jeremiah D. Stanback of Northeast, Michael Christian Woods of Northwest, and Bowser as the Democratic Party’s candidates.
Bowser spokesman Malik Williams said the mayor isn’t taking anything for granted.
“We’re proud of the record Mayor Bowser has built from raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2020, lowering the unemployment by over 1 percent, with even bigger drops in Wards 7 and 8 and making a historic $100M annual investment in affordable housing,” Williams said. “We remain focused on creating more pathways to the middle class for our residents.”
Woods, whose just 19 and studies political science and Africana studies at George Washington University, said he’s up for the challenge and the job.
He said affordable housing, homelessness and food deserts are primary motivators of his campaign.
“There are lingering issues within D.C that I want to make sure are resolved. Our community issues oriented campaign focuses on interacting and working with the community and residents of D.C in order to effectively and efficiently address their issues and concerns,” said Woods, a Texas native who works in the George Washington University branch of the NAACP.
“Food insecurity is the biggest issue facing D.C.,” he said. “There are food deserts throughout D.C. that impact numerous communities and I believe access to food is a basic human right and necessity. Therefore, our campaign is focused on eliminating food deserts and alleviating food insecurity.”
Woods, an intern for the NAACP political action committee in the District, said he considers himself to be a public servant, not a politician.
“I am the candidate that truly cares about the needs of the residents,” he said. “When I interact with the residents, their interest and concerns are my top priority.”
Woods said if Gray does enter the race, it would signal at least a slight change.
“He will become another major candidate for me to rise above,” he said of Gray. “It will also be interesting to observe the dynamics between Mayor Bowser and former Mayor Gray.”
Regardless, voters should take his candidacy seriously, he said.
“I have the passion and compassion that is required to be a public servant and lead all of D.C. towards a better future,” Woods said. “I am here to serve. I am the role model for my peers and the succeeding generations to be the change you want to see in the world and not be afraid to stand up for something and make a difference. I want to work with the communities and residents in D.C. I want everyone to know that they are welcome to contact me to express their interest and concerns as we move always forward.”
Butler, a Ward 5 commission whose platform includes rent control and helping the homeless, is noted by associates as a confident leader and a humble listener who’s responsive to the needs of the community.
“I’ve been an active city resident for many years and, as a current commissioner, I see first-hand in so many ways how the District is leaving people behind,” Butler said. “I don’t feel our current way of doing things is a sustainable path for four more years. If we continue to go this direction, we will only be a city of rich people. … We must ask ourselves, is that what the nation’s capital should be? Or should it be a city that includes everyone?”
Regarding the homeless, Butler said the lack of affordable or income-based housing continues to be a major issue facing the District.
“It can’t be said enough that the District’s homelessness problem won’t be easily solved,” he said. “It goes without saying that there are many ways that people become homeless. If a single person or the breadwinner of the family loses a job, becomes sick, has addiction issues or mental or behavioral health problems, this challenge can easily put a person or family on the street.
“The problem won’t be solved simply by managing the problem,” Butler said. “Most people don’t realize that the District spends more money managing homelessness that it would cost to simply end it.”