Washington’s Gray Loses to Bowser in Primary Amid Probe

Washington city council member Muriel Bowser won the Democratic nomination for mayor, defeating incumbent Vincent Gray, whose 2010 campaign has been under federal investigation.

Bowser received 44 percent of the vote, beating seven other candidates, according to city election returns, with all 143 precincts counted. Gray, who came in second with 32 percent of the vote, conceded the race in a speech early today.

“We believe that corruption at city hall is unacceptable,” Bowser, 41, told supporters gathered at her headquarters. “We believe that our mayor must break new ground and command the moral authority to lead.”

The District of Columbia is dominated by Democratic Party voters and the winner of the primary usually faces little opposition in the general election. An independent council member, David Catania said he’s running for mayor, creating the potential for a more competitive general election in November.

The race was shaped by an investigation into Gray’s 2010 election. Federal prosecutors last month said he was aware of a scheme to secretly funnel more than $660,000 to his last mayoral campaign. The disclosure aided Bowser, who said it cast doubt on Gray’s ability to run the city.

Gray, 71, lost even as the city is enjoying economic gains, aided by federal government spending. It amassed a record surplus of $1.75 billion by the end of September, which helped to keep it running in October when the federal government shutdown left the city unable to use other funds.

Restaurants, Condos

Washington, a federal territory under the control of Congress, has waged unsuccessful efforts to win statehood.

The city’s 2013 population of 646,000 was up 44,700 from 2010, an increase of about 7 percent, according to Census data. New restaurants, condos and offices are reviving parts of the city. The average price of single-family homes sold in Washington increased 13 percent in the year ended in September to $713,000, according to the city’s chief financial officer.

“The amount of work we have done over the last three and a quarter years has been nothing short of phenomenal,” said Gray, who trumpeted a drop in the city’s employment rate and the strides made in preschool education as he made his concession speech. “If I am going to be in this job for another nine months, I am going to work extremely hard.”

Bowser has served on the Council for the past seven years. During her campaign, she has said she would increase affordable housing and improve poorly performing schools.

City’s Image

Such issues were overshadowed in yesterday’s election by the federal investigation. Susan Manes, 64, a retired Senate employee, said it cast doubt on Gray’s trustworthiness and ability to lead.

“We have this beautiful, booming city,” said Manes, a resident of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, who voted for Bowser. “How can the city continue to grow and attract new citizens and attract new investments if the city is perceived as having a government for sale?”

On March 10, businessman Jeffrey Thompson pleaded guilty to election law violations, including running a “shadow campaign” on behalf of Gray. Prosecutors and Thompson say Gray was aware of the scheme. The mayor denies that he knew about it and says he did nothing wrong.

In 2012, two Gray campaign aides pleaded guilty in connection with payments made to another 2010 mayoral candidate to stay in the race and attack then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Bond Ratings

The cases were the latest to tarnish the city’s image. Three one-time council members since 2012 have admitted to charges for accepting bribes, stealing taxpayer money, or violating campaign finance laws.

Washington’s general-obligation bonds -- backed by the city’s promise to repay, instead of specific funds -- carry the third and fourth-highest ratings from Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s, respectively. As recently as the late 1990s, the debt carried a junk credit rating, a sign of fiscal distress.

Turnout was spotty in the primary, with about 22 percent of the city’s 369,000 registered voters casting ballots in the mayoral race, according to the board of elections.

Willis Goldbeck, 71, an educational policy consultant who voted for Bowser and lives in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, said he’s concerned that Gray may be indicted.

“There’s just too much implication of wrongdoing in his past,” said Goldbeck, who voted for Bowser. “I don’t think that’s a reasonable basis for sound leadership of the city. If there’s going to be a change, I’d prefer a change of choice.”

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