Forget the 102 degree heat outside -- temperatures are getting hot in the D.C. mayoral race. Sharp rhetoric is flying free -- and there are still seven weeks to go before the Sept. 14 vote.
Six candidates appeared at a Ward 7 Democrats candidates forum Saturday that got so testy -- and the crowd so wild -- that moderator Denise Rolark-Barnes stopped the debate to chide the audience. As usual, the focus was on incumbent Adrian Fenty, who was booed, and Council Chairman Vincent Gray, who got his start in Ward 7 and received a friendly welcome.
The crowd came committed. Before the debate began, Rolark-Barnes asked those in the crowd of about 250 to stand up if they were undecided. Just four stood.
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While the Gray fans were mostly Ward 7 residents who came to see their local man, Fenty’s campaign brought in “a mix of paid workers, volunteers and construction laborers,” according to the Washington Post.
Also showing the flag for Fenty was Kevin Johnson, formerly of the Phoenix Suns, currently of the Sacramento mayor’s office, and soon to be Mr. Michelle Rhee. While he was happy to be there for Fenty, Johnson told Washington City Paper that “he won't be doing much more campaigning for Fenty in the next two months.”
Much of the debate focused on charges of cronyism going back and forth between the two campaigns. Fenty brought up Gray’s role in a $38 million D.C. Lottery contract, while Gray raised Fenty’s ties to Ron Moten, co-founder of Peaceoholics, and the awarding of contracts to former frat brother Sinclair Skinner.
Gray swamped Fenty in a straw poll that followed, with 226 votes to Fenty’s 64. Leo Alexander got six votes. (In their last citywide primary races, Fenty took 53 percent of the vote in Ward 7, while Gray took 82 percent in his campaign for chairman.) The loss came on the heels of Fenty’s showing in a Ward 2 straw poll earlier in the week -- which he won, but by a smaller-than-expected margin.
Gray’s good Saturday continued later in the day when the D.C. Latino Caucus endorsed him by the overwhelming margin of 37 votes to Fenty’s 1. The Post’s D.C. Wire says “political strategists expect fewer than 10,000 Hispanics will vote in the primary, but activists note those voters could prove the margin of victory.”
Alexander, who has made illegal immigration and its economic impact on black District residents one of his campaign themes, said Gray’s “pandering” to the Latino group was “nauseating.”