Ward 4 council member Muriel Bowser has won D.C.’s Democratic primary, besting Mayor Vincent Gray.
Gray conceded to Bowser, who got 44 percent of the vote to Gray’s 33 percent, with almost 90 percent of precincts reporting.
The final weeks of the race were dominated by questions over a political scandal involving a shadow campaign connected to Gray. But in the run-up to 2014, many expected the demographic changes that have swept through the city over the past decade to likewise result in a political outcome that would have been unthinkable decades ago: a white mayor for “Chocolate City,” a nickname that’s a nod to the city’s large black population.
Ever since home rule in 1973, every mayor has been black. While residents can debate plenty as to how much having a white mayor would result in a different direction for the city, at the very least it would be a highly symbolic change in a town that has been Chocolate City for decades.
Tuesday’s outcome in D.C., where nearly 76 percent of voters are Democrats, seems to have cast aside the possibility of a white mayor, given the Democratic primary typically determines the general-election result.
Bowser, who is black, will still have to face independent David Catania, who is white, in November. Catania is a former Republican who has won five citywide races for the D.C. Council. Bowser is the favorite in a general-election matchup with Catania. A Washington Post poll in March had her defeating him by 56 percent to 23 percent in a hypothetical matchup.
The possibility that the city would elect a white mayor would have been markedly higher if Gray had won. Two recent Washington Post polls showed him statistically tied with Catania in a theoretical November race.
It’s not very surprising at this point in the game that D.C. won’t likely elect a white mayor this year. The field of eight Democratic primary candidates included just two whites, Councilmen Tommy Wells and Jack Evans, both of whom were polling well behind Gray and Bowser, who were in a dead heat to the finish line.
While the racial makeup of D.C.’s political landscape may not have changed much, its overall demographics have. In the past decade, the District’s black population dropped by 18 percent while the white population increased by 25 percent. Census figures in 2010 basically meant the end of Chocolate City, demographically speaking; even though blacks are still the largest single racial group in the city, they are no longer the majority.
There’s been plenty of soul-searching over what all of this means and how big of a role gentrification has played in the process. And politics intersecting with race is nothing new in D.C.; in 2010, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, who is of mixed race, pushed controversial school reform and was viewed poorly for his managerial style. He epitomized the markers of gentrification and catering to the “newcomers” in the eyes of many, and won the white vote while losing the black vote.
Other “chocolate cities” have elected white mayors in recent years. In 2013, Detroit elected its first white mayor in 40 years. When now Gov. Martin O’Malley won the Baltimore Democratic primary in his bid for mayor in 1999, The Washington Post ran the headline, “White Man Gets Mayoral Nomination in Baltimore.” (A headline that the paper later regretted).
It doesn’t look like D.C. will follow suit, but that could change; the general election is still many months off, and Catania has only officially been in the race for a few weeks, so he has plenty of time to inch closer to Bowser.
But while D.C. has never elected a white mayor, it also has never elected someone who isn’t a Democrat. And in the end, Catania’s past life as a Republican and ties to conservatives may end up being bigger issues for voters than his race.
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