Sherwood's Notebook: The Race Is On

Tommy Wells wants to be mayor.

Jack Evans wants to be mayor.

Muriel Bowser wants to be mayor.

David Catania wants to be mayor.

Mayor Vincent Gray — we’re pretty sure — wants to be mayor again. But there’s an asterisk by his name.

And (fill in the blank) wants to be mayor.

Welcome to the 2014 mayor’s race. The decisive Democratic primary is in April 2014 — 14 months away. Petitions to get on the ballot could be circulating by this December.

The first formal, official action took place Monday when Wells, the Ward 6 D.C. Council member, filed legal papers to create his “Exploratory Committee for Mayor.”

“It’s highly likely I will run,” Wells told NBC4 on Monday before beginning an eight-ward listening tour that was to start in Ward 8. Unless something extraordinary happens, Wells says he’ll announce his actual campaign in two months.

Ward 2’s Evans, who last ran for mayor in 1998 (the year Tony Williams won), said he’s not fooling around with any exploratory committee.

“I don’t believe in exploratory committees,” said Evans, the most senior council member. “I don’t really see the need for them. You either want to run for mayor or you don’t want to run for mayor.”

Ward 4 Council member Muriel Bowser, who only privately is exploring her own campaign, was pretty clear with NBC4 on Monday, too. And she knows the short political calendar.

“We know that we have a primary campaign coming up in just over 400 days,” she told us. “I know how to put together winning campaigns. Should that be my decision, we’ll come out of the gate really strong.” You can pretty well bet the house Bowser will be in it.

Wells, Evans and Bowser are the most active candidates. At-large independent Catania was telling reporters last year that he wouldn’t be running for mayor. But sources close to Catania — who has a powerful post as chair of the new education committee — say he has rethought the race and should be considered more likely than not.

Who else?

Former mayors Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty have made it clear they’re not running again. Veteran politician Carol Schwartz — who ran four times — laughs when we suggest her name.

Maybe a candidate will come out of the sidelines and run, but no strong names are circulating yet.

So we’re back to Mayor Gray. And that’s where the asterisk comes in.

We wrote recently that many people believe that Gray has established a pretty good record as mayor on many issues but has the cloud of campaign scandal hanging over him.

Even if federal prosecutors don’t bring criminal charges against him, he and his 2010 committee face a withering review by the Office of Campaign Finance, which would be poised to levy heavy fines for the “shadow campaign” already revealed in court. That process would be a nightmare for the mayor if he’s trying to start a 2014 committee and asking for campaign contributions.

Asked if he intends to run again, Gray gives the best answer he can — it’s too early to say, and he’s too busy running the city.

■ A white mayor? The city’s demographics certainly are changing. The African-American population has dropped from nearly 70 percent to about 50 percent in the past 20 years. But African-Americans still have a strong presence at the polling precincts.

Wells, who pointedly held his first exploratory event in majority-black, majority-poor Ward 8, said race won’t be a significant factor. “I will do what’s right for D.C. every time,” he told us.

Evans said simply, “I think what the electorate wants is a good mayor.”

■ Statehood, again. The issue of statehood for D.C. is back before Congress. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is focusing on budget autonomy, but she also has a statehood bill. In the Senate, four of the 100 senators have introduced a companion bill, the New Columbia Admissions Act, S.132.

“Washington, D.C., is not just a collection of government offices, monuments and museums; it is home to more than 600,000 people who work, study, raise families, and start businesses,” Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., one of the sponsors, said. “These citizens serve in our military, fight in our wars, die for our country, and pay federal taxes. But when it comes to having a voice in Congress, suddenly these men and women do not count.”

Should there ever be a state of what would be called “New Columbia,” there would be a smaller federal district carved out for the White House, Capitol, Supreme Court and National Mall. We guess that’s sort of like the Vatican in Rome.

But don’t hold your breath for any of it.

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