Democrats eye independent runs for David Catania’s at-large D.C. Council seat

Democrats eye independent runs for David Catania’s at-large D.C. Council seat

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, Published: April 9

The passing of last week’s primary elections and the apparent determination of David A. Catania to pursue a mayoral run has led a host of current and former Democrats to openly ponder independent runs for his at-large seat — including two sitting ward council members.

Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) both said Tuesday they are considering changing their party registrations, making them eligible for a seat that is required under the city charter to be held by someone who is not a member of the majority party. They join two former council candidates, Elissa Silverman and the Rev. Graylan S. Hagler, who have already changed their status from Democrats to independents in anticipation of potential runs for the seat.

Catania, an independent, has held the seat since 1997.

Wells, coming off a third-place finish in the Democratic mayoral primary, said Tuesday that he plans to take the next 30 days to “figure out the next chapter of my life.”

“Nothing is foreclosed,” the two-term council member said, but he added that it would be “extremely difficult” to launch a new campaign after a grueling mayoral run. Wells said he would give an at-large run a serious look and said he had no compunction about changing parties to do so. “I’m not a party apparatchik,” he said.

Alexander said she, too, was giving serious consideration to a citywide run — in her case, to focus on broader concerns rather than workaday constituent requests.

“The at-large [members] can focus more on their committees rather than constituents,” she said. “I really want to focus on a lot of health initiatives. . . . Ward 7 is mainly a lot of constituent concerns, and a lot of development concerns, and we’ve done a lot.”

A former chairwoman of the Ward 7 Democrats who has held her seat since 2007, Alexander said she, too, has no reservations about changing her party affiliation.

Silverman finished a strong second in last year’s special election for an at-large seat, coming within 2,800 votes of beating Anita D. Bonds, who won the Democratic nomination for a full term last week.

Silverman has left her job as an analyst at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute and changed her party status to seriously explore an independent run, which she said would highlight similar issues of campaign finance reform, electoral reform and agency accountability — along with a stronger focus on housing affordability and education.

Another encouraging sign for Silverman was the success of fellow self-identified progressives in the Democratic primary. The victories of Brianne Nadeau in Ward 1 and Charles Allen in Ward 6, she said, indicate that “voters are interested in candidates who are pushing for reform and are pushing for innovative ideas.”

Hagler was in the public eye for much of 2013 as a leading proponent of the Large Retailer Accountability Act, the ultimately unsuccessful council bill that would have imposed a super-minimum wage on some large national retail chains operating in the city.

He said the primary results last week spurred him to action. “We must end this whole pay-to-play culture, and people need to have as much voice as lobbyists have when it comes to the Wilson Building and when it comes to city politics,” said Hagler, the pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Northeast since 1992.

Hagler finished sixth in the 2007 special election for Ward 4 council member, the race won by Muriel E. Bowser, the new Democratic mayoral nominee. He said he intends to move forward with a run but hasn’t filed candidacy papers and could still change his mind.

Those candidates could join fellow independent candidate Robert White, a former aide to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who declared his intention to run in the fall, and Khalid Pitts, an activist and restaurateur who entered the race last month, as well as Republican nominee Marc Morgan, Statehood Green nominee Eugene Puryear and Libertarian nominee Frederick Steiner.

Appearing alongside the other candidates on the pick-two ballot line will be incumbent Bonds, but her election is considered a fait accompli: The Democratic at-large nominee has always easily outpolled rivals in District general elections, making the November competition most meaningful for the non-Democrats.

Yvette Alexander, Tommy Wells among those exploring at-large D.C. Council bids

Yvette Alexander, Tommy Wells among those exploring at-large D.C. Council bids

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, Updated: April 9 at 12:29 pm

The passing of last week’s primary elections and the apparent determination of David A. Catania to give up the D.C. Council seat he has held for 17 years has led a spate of current and former Democrats to openly ponder independent runs for his at-large seat — including two sitting ward council members.

Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) both said Tuesday they are considering changing their party registrations, making them eligible for the non-majority-party seat Catania has held since 1997. They join two former council candidates, Elissa Silverman and the Rev. Graylan S. Hagler, who have already changed their status from Democrats to independents in anticipation of potential runs for the seat.

Wells, coming off a third place finish in the Democratic mayoral primary, said Tuesday he planned to take the next 30 days to “do nothing except figure out the next chapter of my life, and nothing is foreclosed.” The two-term council member said he was exhausted coming off a year-and-a-half of planning and executing his mayoral run and said it would be “extremely difficult” to launch a new campaign. But said he would give an at-large run a serious look, and said he had no compunction about changing parties: “I’m pretty disappointed in the local party,” he said, citing its failure to take stands on the election of an attorney general and campaign finance reform measures. “I’m not a party apparatchik.”

Wells said he would announce his decision by late May, no more than 45 days hence.

Alexander first publicly disclosed her intentions in a tweet to Wells Tuesday evening, after Washington City Paper had first reported on Wells’s intentions. In an interview, the seven-year Ward 7 representative said she, too, was giving serious consideration to a citywide run in order to focus more on broader concerns rather than workaday constituent requests. “The at-large [members] can focus more on their committees rather than constituents,” she said. “I really want to focus on a lot of health initiatives. I would really like to focus on that. … Ward 7 is mainly a lot of constituent concerns, and a lot of development concerns, and we’ve done a lot.”

A former chairwoman of the Ward 7 Democrats, Alexander said she, too, has no compunction about changing her party affiliation. “My views haven’t changed,” she said. “I agree with a lot of issues that aren’t necessarily Democratic or Republican. My views are just moving the city forward.” Asked how her Democratic constituents, who gave her only a 42 percent plurality in the 2012 primary, would handle a change of party, she said, “I think they know Yvette Alexander, and I’ve been pretty consistent for the last seven years. I think they know that’s not going to change.”

Alexander said she would come to a decision by June.

Silverman finished a strong second in last year’s special election for an at-large seat, coming within 2,800 votes of beating Anita D. Bonds, who won the Democratic nomination for a full term last week. Because of concerns about her personal finances, she said last year, she could not quit her job as an analyst at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute to mount another Democratic run in this year’s primary, given the extended campaign period. But now, with the general election less than seven months off, she has left DCFPI and changed her party status to seriously explore an independent run, highlighting similar issues of campaign finance reform, electoral reform and agency accountability — along with, she said, a stronger focus on housing affordability and education issues.

Another encouraging sign for Silverman was the success two fellow self-identified progressives found in last week’s Democratic primary. The victories of Brianne Nadeau in Ward 1 and Charles Allen in Ward 6, she said, “certainly indicates that voters are interested in candidates who are pushing for reform and are pushing for innovative ideas and to really problem-solve and hold city agencies accountable.” But Wells’s potential run presents a complication, as their voter bases overlap considerably. “I hope we will not be running against each other,” said Silverman, who said she was “left with the impression” after a primary-night conversation with Wells that he would not be running. Had she thought otherwise, she said, she would not have publicized her explorations without talking in more depth with Wells.

Like the others, Silverman said she has little compunction about giving up her Democratic registration. “It was not a difficult decision,” she said, given the Democratic establishment’s lack of support for her previous run, coupled with her advocacy for nonpartisan local elections. She said she expects to come to a final decision within three weeks.

Hagler was in the public eye for much of 2013 as a leading proponent of the Large Retailer Accountability Act, the ultimately unsuccessful council bill that would have imposed a super-minimum wage on some large national retail chains operating in the city. Hagler said last week he had been thinking about a citywide run for some time, but the primary results spurred him to action. “We must end this whole pay-to-play culture, and people need to have as much voice as lobbyists have when it comes to the Wilson Building and when it comes to city politics,” he said. “Right now, I feel like our entire city is at stake in terms of being overrun by unbridled development.”

The coalition from the LRAA fight, which included fellow clergy, labor unions and other liberal activists could provide a base of support to Hagler, the pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ since 1992. Hagler finished sixth in the 2007 special election for Ward 4 council member, the race won by Muriel E. Bowser, the new Democratic mayoral nominee. Hagler, too, felt no hesitation in switching his party registration, saying he registered as a Democrat mainly to vote in the typically decisive party primaries. “To say I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, that would be incorrect,” he said.

Hagler said “my intention now is to go forward,” but said he hasn’t filed candidacy papers yet and could still change his mind.

Should they choose to run, those candidates would join fellow independent candidate Robert White, a former aide to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who declared his intention to run in the fall, as well as Republican nominee Marc Morgan, Statehood Green nomineee Eugene Puryear and Libertarian nominee Frederick Steiner. Also appearing alongside the other candidates on the pick-two ballot line is incumbent Bonds, but her election is considered fait accompli: The Democratic at-large nominee has always easily outpolled rivals in District general elections, making the real November competition among the non-Democrats only.

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D.C. Council will not resurrect attorney general election

D.C. Council will not resurrect attorney general election

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, Updated: April 8 at 11:35 am

The chances that D.C. voters will be voting for an attorney general this year are looking increasingly dismal.

A last-ditch attempt to put the city’s first AG election on the November ballot was derailed Tuesday, after D.C. Council members balked at a bill that would mandate an unusual all-comers voting process for the city’s top legal official.

The bill — introduced by Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who had previously voted with the council majority to delay the initial attorney general vote to 2018 — would have allowed candidates of all parties to gain access to the ballot by circulating nominating petitions later this year. The process would be akin to that used for special elections to fill vacant offices.

But several members objected to the plan at a council breakfast meeting Tuesday, including at least one member who previously voted against the delay. Cheh acknowledged after the meeting that the votes were not there.

“It’s dead,” she said. “There’s no way to revive it.”

The only hope now for an election before 2018 is a lawsuit being waged by lawyer and former attorney general candidate Paul Zukerberg that is now before the D.C. Court of Appeals. Lower courts have ruled against Zukerberg, and it is unclear what steps the high court would take to provide relief even if it found in Zukerberg’s favor.

On Tuesday morning, council members lodged several objections, including the timing, the nature of the nominating process and the lack of a runoff. The crucial opinion against the bill came from Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who had previously opposed the 2018 delay and serves as chairman pro tempore: “I think we do a disservice to people to try and force it through in November,” he told his colleagues.

Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) led the effort to put a charter amendment to voters in 2010, which called for the attorney general post to become an elected office after 2014. But the council, over Mendelson’s objections, voted to delay the initial vote to 2018, citing concerns about the office’s responsibilities and a lack of declared candidates. Mendelson did not say how he would handle Cheh’s bill Tuesday, but several members expected him to pull the bill from consideration before a scheduled vote.

Adding to the headwinds was a letter from Mayor Vincent C. Gray delivered to the council Tuesday morning, strongly hinting that he would veto the bill were it to hit his desk. Overriding that veto would require the council to muster two additional votes in favor of the proposal.

Gray’s objections largely echoes those leveled by sitting Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan earlier this year — that the Cheh bill does not comport with the requirement that the AG election be “partisan,” i.e., preceded by a party nomination process, whether through primaries or otherwise. Proceeding with the Cheh bill, Gray wrote, would “place the first elected Attorney General on dubious legal footing and threaten to create serious credibility and legitimacy problems for that Attorney General and the office.”

Top D.C. Democrat wants national party’s help against David Catania

Top D.C. Democrat wants national party’s help against David Catania

By Mike DeBonis, Updated: April 2 at 2:40 pm

Updated 6:15 p.m. with DNC comment

In a city where three out of four registered voters are Democrats, the District’s Democratic party apparatus rarely gets much of a workout in general election contests. But this year could be different, with Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel E. Bowser facing an energetic and potentially well-financed challenge from fellow D.C. Council member David A. Catania.

The challenge is serious enough that the city’s top Democratic party official said Wednesday that she plans to ask the Democratic National Committee to put serious resources into the local party to fend off Catania (I-At Large).

“We’re asking them to put resources in here,” said Anita D. Bonds, chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee and herself an at-large council member. “This is the first time we’ve ever had a challenge, you know, from a non-Democrat. … We’re going to be talking about thousands, whatever it takes.”

Speaking after a Bowser news conference where the nominee appealed for Democratic solidarity, Bonds said she has already had informal discussions with party leaders about the potential need for national party help ahead of the Nov. 4 general election. Bowser’s campaign chairman, Bill Lightfoot, told Bonds at the news conference that DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz had sent a missive to the Bowser campaign after her victory assuring it of the party’s endorsement.

“That’s the value of being a party member,” Bonds said. “You can call on your colleagues across the country, and we’re going to use all that’s available to us. This a serious effort.”

Asked whether a District mayoral race would represent an appropriate use of national funds in a congressional mid-term election year, DNC spokesman Mo Elleithee said the national party is “solidly behind Muriel.”

“Democrats are united behind her, and we’re going to do whatever we can to help make sure she’s our next mayor,” he said in an e-mail.

Catania’s campaign manager, Ben Young, said Wednesday that an appeal for national assistance “sounds like a campaign that is worried.”

“The local political establishment’s hold on the city government is about dislodged,” Young said. “Yesterday’s turnout was all you needed to know. They’re not buying it anymore. They’re staying at home.”

He added that Catania expects to attract the support of “high-profile Democrats” (consultant and pundit Hilary Rosen is among the first) and that it would be an “odd position” for the DNC to oppose a candidate with a strong record on same-sex marriage, health insurance coverage and other Democratic-oriented issues.

Said Bonds, who is planning a Democratic “unity breakfast” Friday for Bowser: “It doesn’t sound like I’m scared. It sounds like we’re bold and determined, and we’re going to be working to make this a reality.”

DC HBX Press Release: DC Health Link Enrollment Tops 40,000

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

DC Health Link Enrollment Tops 40,000

Approximately one-out-of four individual enrollments occurred in the final week prior to the March 31st deadline.

The DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority today released new data showing strong enrollment activity through DCHealthLink.com as of March 31st. Since the marketplace opened for business on October 1, DC Health Link has enrolled 40,234 people. This includes District residents who enrolled in private health plans and in Medicaid, as well as people with coverage through their employers. In the final week alone, more than 2,000 people enrolled through the individual and family marketplace — accounting for over 21% of all individual enrollments in private coverage.

Enrollment

As of March 31, 2014, 40,234 people have enrolled through DC Health Link in private health plans or Medicaid:

  • 9,838 people enrolled in private health plans through the DC Health Link individual and family marketplace;
  • 17,489 people were determined eligible for Medicaid coverage through DC Health Link; and
  • 12,907 people enrolled through the DC Health Link small business marketplace.

Open enrollment for individuals and families officially ended March 31, 2014; however, the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority announced March 26th that it will continue DC Health Link enrollment past the March 31st deadline for individual and family coverage. Individuals who need in-person or telephone help will have through April 15th to enroll. People with an online account with DC Health Link who have not selected a health plan will also have through April 15th to enroll in a private health plan. One-on-one help can be obtained at these sites or by reaching out to DC Health Link Assisters or brokers – a list of which can be found here.

“We are proud of our efforts to enroll everyone who needs affordable, quality health coverage through DC Health Link,” said Diane C. Lewis, MPA, chair of the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority Executive Board. “Our mission is to get everyone covered.”

The March 31st deadline does NOT apply to small businesses, individuals and families losing other coverage or those eligible for Medicaid. A complete list of circumstances that allow a person to enroll after open enrollment can be found here.

Demographic Information for People in Qualified Health Plans through the Individual Marketplace

Young residents continue to be the highest enrollment group in private individual coverage. The largest population enrolled in private coverage through the individual and family marketplace is 26 to 34 year olds who make up 39% of enrollees; the second highest is 35 to 44 year olds (21%).

Age of Enrollees in Qualified Health Plans – Individual Marketplace

(Does Not Include Medicaid and SHOP)

Age Number Percent
<18 641 6%
18-25 665 7%
26-34 3,854 39%
35-44 2,038 21%
45-54 1,415 14%
55-64 1,159 12%
65+ 66 1%

Metal Level of Coverage Selected in Qualified Health Plans – Individual Marketplace

(Does Not Include SHOP)

Metal Level Covered Lives Percent
Catastrophic 387 4%
Bronze 2,870 29%
Silver 2,469 25%
Gold 2,163 22%
Platinum 1,949 20%
Total 9,838 100%

Health Link Contact Center Data

Since October 1, 2013, the Contact Center received 86,011 calls. Generally the highest call volume is on Mondays and Tuesdays and the lowest call volume is on Saturdays. In March, the DC Health Link Contact Center (855-532-5465) extending its hours to include Sunday service. The call volume tripled from an average of 500 calls per day in early March to more than 1,600 daily the last week of the first open enrollment season with a high of 4,419 on March 31st.

DC Health Link Website Traffic

Since October 1, 2013, 62,079 individual accounts and 10,340 small business accounts have been created. In the same time period, DCHealthLink.com had more than 255,000 visitors. In the last week of March alone, 8,207 individual accounts were created.

Two new members will change the face of the D.C. Council

Two new members will change the face of the D.C. Council

By Victoria St. Martin, Updated: Wednesday, April 2, 12:01 PM

Community activist Brianne Nadeau has defeated incumbent Jim Graham in the D.C. Council Ward 1 race, ending his 15 years of service in a rapidly changing corner of the city after a nasty campaign that featured dueling accusations of ethical lapses.

“We are really excited about the opportunity to serve Ward 1,” Nadeau said late Tuesday. “It’s been a long campaign.”

In the at-large contest in the Democratic primary, incumbent Anita D. Bonds held onto her seat with a commanding victory. Although she has been in the post for only 15 months, Bonds won by a more than two-to-one margin over her nearest challenger, Nate Bennett-Fleming.

And in the third competitive Council race of the reason, Charles Allen overwhelmingly defeated Darrel Thompson in the Ward 6 contest to replace Tommy Wells (D), who gave up a chance at re-election to run for mayor. Wells came in third place Tuesday, after Muriel Bowser and incumbent Vincent C. Gray.

All results are based on numbers posted by the D.C. Board of Elections, which shows 100 percent of precincts reported across the city.

In Ward 1, Graham, a four-term incumbent, struggled to weather the ethical issues that had dogged him for the past two years. In the end, Nadeau, a former Advisory Neighborhood Commission member, surged from a thicket of potential candidates.

Questions about Graham’s conduct began circulating in 2012, when he was found to have improperly intervened in a Metro contract on behalf of a campaign contributor. In the case, an independent investigation found that Graham “acted in a manner contrary to Metro’s standard of conduct” when he tried to persuade a businessman to withdraw from a development project. In exchange, investigators found, Graham promised to support the businessman’s bid for a D.C. lottery contract.

In February 2013, a D.C. ethics board considered the same matter and found that Graham “engaged in conduct that adversely affected the public confidence in the integrity of government.” Even so, the board said it had no authority to sanction Graham because the contract was from 2008 — outside the board’s mandate to impose penalties.

The D.C. Council reprimanded Graham after the ethics board’s report; the council also revoked some of his powers over alcohol issues as head of a council committee. Graham became the second council member under home rule to be reprimanded by his colleagues; Marion Barry faced a censure from the council in 2010.

In the days leading up to the primary, Graham questioned the size of his opponent’s interest-free home loan. He alleged that Nadeau, a public relations consultant, solicited and received special consideration for a loan to buy her Northwest Washington condominium.

Council members Wells and David Grosso (I-At Large) endorsed Nadeau’s candidacy, a rare move by council members, who usually stay out of competitive contests.

With Wells running for mayor, the race for the Ward 6 seat pitted Allen and Thompson, two relative newcomers.

Both brought previous experience in government: Allen is Wells’s former chief of staff and Thompson is a former deputy chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Both Allen and Thompson promised to improve the condition of schools and provide more affordable housing for young families and older residents.

Allen’s supporters said Thompson’s national exposure is impressive but did not trump Allen’s knowledge of Ward 6 constituents. Thompson raised more than $196,000 for the contest.

In the race for the at-large seat, Bonds faced Bennett-Fleming as well as John F. Settles II and Pedro Rubio. Bonds, 68, held the seat vacated by Phil Mendelson when he became council chairman.

Bonds sponsored the Senior Citizen Real Property Tax Relief Act of 2014, which Gray (D) signed into law in March. But her detractors accused her of not doing enough beyond that measure.

Mendelson, who was opposed by Calvin Gurley for chairman, handily won re-election Tuesday.

In Ward 5, incumbent Kenyan McDuffie won nearly 80 percent of the vote in his race with Kathy Henderson and Carolyn C. Steptoe.

And in Ward 3, Mary Cheh was unopposed.

Council member Bowser becomes Democratic nominee for D.C. mayor

Council member Bowser becomes Democratic nominee for D.C. mayor

By Paul Schwartzman and Aaron C. Davis, Published: April 1 | Updated: Wednesday, April 2, 12:21 AM

Muriel Bowser, the seven year District council member, won the Democratic nomination for mayor Tuesday, vanquishing incumbent Vincent C. Gray, whose quest for re-election was crippled by a federal investigation into his victorious campaign four years ago.

Bowser, largely unknown to voters beyond her home base of Ward 4 when she began her campaign a year ago, will face David Catania, the Independent council member, in what is to be the District’s first competitive general election in nearly 20 years.

With more than 70,000 votes counted, Bowser led Gray by 44 percent to 32 percent.

As the results trickled in, Bowser, 41, appeared before a crowd of supporters assembled at her campaign party in Ward 8, all but declaring victory and congratulating her supporters. “I know a thing or two about winning a race,” Bowser said. “You go to all eight wards, you talk to a lot of energetic people.”

Around midnight, Gray appeared on stage at a hotel on Capitol Hill, thanking supporters, touting his accomplishments, and conceding defeat. He complained about the date of the April 1 primary, saying he hoped that it is changed because the wintry weather made campaigning difficult.

“It’s hard to be motivated,” he said. “It’s hard and it’s complex.”

Challenging an incumbent wounded by scandal, Bowser sought to assemble a coalition that cut across the city, a strategy adopted by former Mayor Adrian Fenty, Bowser’s political mentor who lost to Gray in 2010.

Gray, 71, whose “One City” campaign slogan evoked the promise of racial unity four years ago, largely confined his campaigning to his political base – the black neighborhoods that supported him in overwhelming numbers four years ago.

But whatever support the mayor received in those wards Tuesday was not enough to overcome Bowser’s broader outreach.

Prior to the results, Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), a Gray supporter, told reporters that Bowser was a difficult opponent because she did not rile Gray’s supporters in the way that former Mayor Adrian Fenty had during the 2010 race.

“We don’t have the same kind of anti-Fenty attitude,” he said. “We ought to have the same Muriel Bowser attitude, because she’s a protégé of Adrian Fenty. Fenty is written all over her campaign.”

With turnout low and voters expressing muted enthusiasm for the candidates, Gray and Bowser spent the day sprinting across the city, rallying supporters and struggling to push voters to the polls.

At Shepherd Elementary School in Shepherd Park, both showed up to greet voters as dusk settled over the precinct. The sidewalks were crowded with candidates and their supporters, hugging voters and addressing those casting ballots by name.

“Can you get two more of your friends to vote?” Bowser said. “It’s going to be tight. ”

But voters seemed less than eager to choose in a race that is shaping up to be closer than any mayoral election since 1990.

At THEARC in Southeast Washington, in a part of the city considered a stronghold for Gray, only 143 voters had showed up to cast ballots by 6 p.m. — about 16 percent of the 883 who voted in the same precinct four years ago.

A few miles away at River Terrace Elementary in Ward 7, Gray’s home ward, turnout was also looking low: 390 people had cast votes by 7:15 p.m., just 62 percent of the 628 who showed up in 2010.

For most of his mayoralty, Gray has been wounded by an ongoing federal investigation into his 2010 campaign. Bowser and six other relatively unknown Democratic challengers have struggled to capture voters’ attention.

“There wasn’t anyone I was really enthusiastic about,” said Barbara White, a 77-year-old former editor, who said her vote was still in doubt before she entered a Northwest polling place.

White ended up voting for D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (Ward 6), one of the seven candidates challenging Gray, a field that also included council members Jack Evans (Ward 2) and Vincent B. Orange (At Large), restaurateur Andy Shallal, former state department official Reta Jo Lewis and musician Carlos Allen.

(Live Updates: D.C. Primary Election)

In the District, a Democratic stronghold, mayoral contests typically end with the Democratic primary. This year, however, the Democratic nominee will face council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) in the general election.

Gray led by double digits in polls early in the year, but his ability to keep voters focused on his stewardship of the city’s growing economy was shaken in early March when businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson pleaded guilty to illicit campaign funding, including on behalf of Gray’s 2010 campaign. Gray has denied any wrongdoing in his dealings with Thompson.

“There’s been a lot of dirt dug up on him, but nothing’s been able to stick,” Debra Knight-Harvin, 52, said Tuesday at a polling place in the former Bertie Backus Middle School in Northeast Washington.

A bitter contest since Gray announced he would seek reelection in December, the campaign was rife with tension Tuesday morning as both the mayor and Bowser traveled to the same polling place in Bowser’s ward, where supporters from both sides shouted at each other.

“We’re confident that the residents are frustrated with much of Mayor Gray’s office and they are going to come out to vote,” said Bowser, dressed in a blue suit and a green scarf, as she stood outside LaSalle Elementary School on Riggs Road in Northeast.

Gray, arriving about 20 minutes after Bowser had departed, slipped one of his campaign’s blue T-shirts on over his dress shirt and danced in front of supporters to the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

“We’ve gotten people back to work,” Gray told reporters, noting that the unemployment rate had dropped by four percentage points since he took office and saying that he helped guide the opening of new Wal-Marts in the District. “We’ve brought fiscal stability back to the city.”

As the candidates sought to rally supporters, their campaigns dispatched armies of volunteers and paid workers to turn out the vote.

Bowser’s forces assembled at a parking lot near Nationals Park, where dozens of newly hired canvassers — many responding to Craigslist ads that promised $100 for the day — were loaded into more than 50 vans and dispatched to neighborhoods to knock on prospective voters’ doors.

The canvassers planned to make three rounds of stops at homes already visited over the weekend by Bowser campaign workers, hoping to push them to the polls.

Gray’s campaign dispatched nearly two dozen 50-seat buses to transport voters to polls, and it also sent staffers and volunteers to apartment buildings, senior citizen centers, Metro stations and shopping centers.

Asked late Tuesday afternoon how the results would turn out for the mayor, Chuck Thies, his campaign manager, said, “It’s a coin flip.”

Earlier, Gray stood outside St. Timothy Episcopal Church on Alabama Avenue in Southeast Washington, in a precinct where four years ago, a crush of nearly 1,500 voters sided with him by a margin of more than 4-to-1.

The sun was shining, and an SUV with his blue campaign signs sat idling across the street, blaring the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”

There was just one problem. The sidewalk was empty. As in other campaign stops of the day, Gray and his traveling band of supporters far outnumbered voters.

Wells, meanwhile, appeared at Capitol Hill’s historic Eastern Market a little before 10 a.m. to cast his vote.

“We’ll just have to see (the results) at the end of the day,” he said. “It’s a pretty day,” so weather shouldn’t keep anyone away. If turnout is low, he said, it will be because the council kept the primary on April 1 rather than delaying it until June, as he had favored. “It’s the incumbent-protection plan,” he said of the April date.

Shortly after 10:30 a.m., at the usually busy polling place at Shepherd Park Elementary School, voting was sluggish. The school, in one of the highest-voting precincts in high-turnout Ward 4, is typically hopping on Election Day. But it wasn’t so late Tuesday morning, where only a handful of voters moseyed in and out over a half-hour period.

After the morning rush had subsided, only 295 voters had cast ballots at the precinct, which saw 1,822 Democrats vote in 2010. (Another 268 voted there early this year.)

Gray won 63 percent of the vote in this bellwether precinct in 2010, upending incumbent Adrian M. Fenty in his home ward. But many of the voters trickling out of the school’s gymnasium said they were ready to go in another direction.

Phyllis Caudle-Green, 59, said she voted for Gray over Fenty four years ago but was supporting Bowser this time.

Bowser, she said, struck her as “capable and competent” and represented a rare opportunity to put a black woman in the city’s top office. “We’re at a crossroads,” the retired investment banker said. “I just think it’s time to go in a new direction.”

Caudle-Green said she settled on Bowser only in recent weeks, after new corruption allegations were aired against Gray.

“I don’t necessarily think the mayor is guilty,” she said. “I just don’t think we need that distraction.”

But Hugo Word, an 82-year-old former patent examiner, said he was sticking with Gray, because his experience and performance as mayor outweighed the accusations against him. “He knows the system,” Word said. “He’s moving the District forward.”

Phyllis Matthews, 75, who voted at the former Backus Middle School, still favored Gray.

“I don’t care for [Bowser], period,” said the retired worker for the city’s parks and recreation department. “She has an attitude I don’t particularly care for, woman to woman. I would vote for Hillary [Rodham Clinton] without batting an eye, but I would not vote for that lady.”

The corruption allegations against Gray, Matthews said, did not outweigh his long record of service to the city: “I believe Vincent Gray told the truth, and if he didn’t, shame on me.”

Loyalties were split, however, inside one North Michigan Park household.

Sherwood Marable, 67, opted to stick with Gray, while wife, Helena Marable, 60, went with Bowser.

“I want more of the same,” said Sherwood Marable, who retired from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “I like everything Vincent Gray’s been doing.”

His wife said she was looking for a change: “We need a female in the office now, a female viewpoint,” said Helena Marable, who worked for a health insurance company. As far as the corruption allegations, she said: “My feeling is he’s guilty. He’s crooked and there was a cover-up.”

Her husband begged to differ: “To me, they are allegations until they are proven in a court of law. ”

Helena Marable said the mayoral race has been the subject of some marital discord, but she said she expected it to end Tuesday. “That’s why we’re here together,” she said. “When it’s all said and done, we’ll still love each other.”

Emma Brown, Robert Samuels, Susan K. Svrluga, Zach Cohen, Mary Pat Flaherty, Hamil R. Harris, Marc Fisher, Michael E. Ruane and T. Rees Shapiro contributed to this report.

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