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District races heat-up ahead of election

Wednesday - 3/5/2014, 6:30pm  ET

Audio: Ward 1 election heats up

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WASHINGTON - The races for mayor and D.C. Council are heating up, with the District's typically decisive primary just one month away.

The crowded Democratic primary for mayor features incumbent Mayor Vince Gray and council members Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Vincent Orange and Tommy Wells, along with Carlos Allen, Reta Jo Lewis and Andy Shallal.

"It makes the debates very unwieldy, particularly at the debates where all the candidates are there. It's a given, particularly on the big issues like public safety and education, economic development and income inequality that almost all the candidates are going to want to talk, so it makes it hard for people in the audience to get a sense of how the candidates differ, and it makes it hard for there to be a real debate," NewsTalk on Newschannel 8 host Bruce DePuyt says.

Gray has touted his accomplishments, including the improving economic situation in much of the city and continued changes in the school system. But he is the focus of a long-running investigation into a so-called "shadow campaign" that prosecutors say helped him win the office in 2010.

"Having a crowded field tends to work to the incumbent's advantage because whatever anti-incumbent sentiment there is… that block of the electorate gets divided up into, usually, pretty small pieces, so somebody with even 25 or 30 percent is going to be tough to beat in an environment like this," DePuyt says.

Councilmember Muriel Bowser has been a close second behind Gray in recent polls, and recently garnered the endorsement of the Washington Post editorial board for her views on education, public safety and economic development. The Post said it could not consider Gray because of the lengthy investigation into his last campaign

Councilmember Jack Evans has touted his long-term experience in District government. He had a fundraising advantage at the beginning of February.

Councilmember Tommy Wells has tried to focus his campaign on ethical issues among D.C. leaders.

Shallal owns Busboys & Poets, Lewis is a former State Department official and Allen is probably best known for being accused of crashing a White House party. Allen ran as an independent four years ago, and won just 2,279 votes in the general election.

"The polls are creating a general sense of where the race stands, and the second poll is interesting because it sort of establishes Muriel Bowser as the main challenger. That's potentially perilous for people like Jack Evans and Tommy Wells who are in double digits, but low double digits. They risk being that their supporters will start to flake away and say well if this is going to be Gray versus Bowser, I better start to focus on which one of them I like the most or dislike the least," DePuyt says.

No other parties have competitive races in the primary. Bruce Majors is running unopposed for the Libertarian nomination.

Councilmember David Catania (At-large) has formed an exploratory committee to look at entering the race for mayor in the general election, but the independent has not gone any further yet.

"A lot of people suspect that he's more likely than not to get in," DePuyt says. "If he does, this race is setting up to be historic," DePuyt adds.

Since Catania has won District-wide elections before, it could create the first competitive general election for mayor since 1994, when Marion Barry returned to the mayor's office by beating Republican Carol Schwartz 56 percent to 42 percent.

"This race, if it ends up as Catania versus Gray or Catania versus someone else, will be the most competitive general election mayoral battle D.C. has ever had," DePuyt says.

The League of Women Voters has just posted their guide to all of the races in April's primary election. Candidates' responses to questions about their views can be seen here.

Election Day is April 1, with early voting running from March 17 through March 29.

All voters are allowed to vote early. Voters who need to register to vote or change their registration before the election must postmark their applications or submit them in person by Monday, Mar. 3. Voters can also register at the polls with valid identification, a bank statement, a lease, a utility bill or a government issued document showing the voter's name and address.

Absentee ballots for the April 1 election must be requested by March 25. The ballots must be postmarked by April 1 and received by April 11.

Voters can confirm their polling place and registration with the Board of Elections or register to vote online.

D.C. primaries are closed, meaning voting is limited to voters who are registered members of the party whose candidates they wish to help select.

In addition to the race for mayor, there are competitive Democratic races for an at-large council seat and for the council seats representing wards 1 and 6.

In Ward 1 in Northwest, four-term Councilmember Jim Graham is facing challenger Brianne Nadeau.

The ward includes Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and other neighborhoods just east of Rock Creek Park between Spring Road and S Street NW.

"What's interesting about this race now is that when the race began there were several challengers, with the potential that the anti-Graham vote would divide two or three ways, now he's got only one democrat, so he's got a real fight on his hands in the Democratic primary," DePuyt says.

And the winner of the Democratic primary will face a serious contender in the general election. Bryan Weaver is one of the challengers who dropped out of the Democratic primary earlier this year, and he has announced plans to run as an independent.

In Ward 6, the leading candidates to replace Councilmember Tommy Wells are Charles Allen and Darrel Thompson.

The ward covers the area from Hill East and the National Mall south to Buzzard Point and the Anacostia River and north past Union Station to Benning Road and Florida Avenue NE and part of the Logan Circle area.

Allen served as the chief of staff for current Ward 6 Councilmember and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells for seven years.

Thompson was the chief of staff for now-President Barack Obama's 2004 Senate campaign, and has more recently worked as a deputy chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"The candidates know the winner of the primary is the winner in November… these are two attractive candidates, Ward 6 is lucky they've got two people they can really focus on and learn more about between now and the primary," DePuyt says.

In the at-large council race, incumbent Anita Bonds is facing Nate Bennett- Fleming, Pedro Rubio, and John Settles.

Bonds was the chair of the D.C. Democratic State Committee when she was appointed to the seat in Dec. 2012, and she then went on to win a special election.

Bonds was a longtime aide to former Mayor and current Councilmember Marion Barry.

"This is a real test for Anita Bonds. Even though she's the incumbent, she hasn't been on the council long enough to really have developed a set of issues or accomplishments that voters can say ‘Oh! I know her. She's the one that did X, Y and Z.' So there is an incumbent here, but this race is much more similar to a race where you've got an open seat and four challengers " DePuyt says.

Bennett-Fleming is the District's current shadow representative, an elected volunteer position advocating for D.C. statehood.

Rubio has run for office several times. He has worked for the departments of Interior and Defense, and is an activist in the Latino community.

Settles also ran for a council seat before. He says his experience in housing and community development would be an asset in office.

"You've got candidates who've been involved in Democratic politics in this race, you've got people with community activism that they can point to, so I wouldn't hazard a guess in this race. You've got a bunch of people who can all point to something that gives them some legitimacy as potential councilmembers," DePuyt says.

In Ward 5, which covers much of Northeast west of the Anacostia River, incumbent Kenyan McDuffie is the favorite in his race against Kathy Henderson, Jacqueline Manning and Carolyn Steptoe.

Democratic voters across the city will also vote in a primary for Council Chair between incumbent Phil Mendelson and challenger Calvin Gurley who has lost several past races for the council by wide margins.

Councilmember Mary Cheh is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination for her Ward 3 council seat. American University student Ryan Sabot is running unopposed for the Libertarian nomination in the race.

Democratic voters will also choose members of the D.C. Democratic State Committee and two members of the Democratic National Committee.

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