Instead, voters in Tuesday’s Democratic primary concluded that Bowser should serve for another four years, accepting her campaign promises to increase the size of the city’s police force and to maintain mayoral control of the District’s public schools.
In the race for D.C. Council chair, Phil Mendelson won the Democratic nomination over challenger Erin Palmer, according to AP projections. The position, while not understood by many voters, is one of the most powerful in the city and is responsible for drafting the budget.
In heavily Democratic D.C., the primary typically determines the outcome of November’s election for most races.
A February Washington Post poll found a majority of residents approving of Bowser’s job performance — but most poll respondents said she had not done well in addressing what they saw as the city’s biggest problems: crime and housing costs.
The win for Bowser, whose approval rating dipped slightly this year from 2019, according to The Post’s poll, also puts an end to speculation that voters might be ready for a change after nearly a decade with her in charge. Tuesday’s outcome shows Democrats in the city still favor her moderate touch, which has at times led her to clash with an increasingly left-leaning D.C. Council over issues like paid parental leave for workers and tax increases for wealthy residents.
Wendell Felder, the chair of the Ward 7 Democrats, was unequivocal Tuesday when he said he voted for Bowser. He says he is impressed with Bowser’s leadership and “how she has run the city in the midst of a pandemic and how she stood up to President [Donald] Trump,” though he acknowledges that there is room for improvement.
“But I think that she is a battle-tested leader and what the city needs right now,” he says.
Serena K. Parks, a 58-year-old Brookland resident, said she knew seniors who had ended up living in tents because they could no longer afford a place of their own — she cast her ballot for Trayon White.
“I believe that Trayon White would move us forward. I think he cares about the city,” she said. “It’s time for someone else to come in and turn things around.”
But other voters saw Bowser as the only candidate capable of handling those issues.
“Every day someone’s baby is getting killed, so my heart is really heavy,” said lifelong D.C. resident Diane Robinson, 74. She said she voted for Bowser because “she had the spunkiness about her to speak up, and she handled covid-19 and the pandemic so well.”
Robinson said she wanted Bowser to have another term to get crime under control, a concern that has also animated voters in D.C. Council races.
In Ward 1, Jarice Risper cited “the porch thieves, the shootings, the breaking into people’s cars,” in choosing former D.C. police officer Salah Czapary over incumbent Brianne K. Nadeau.
“You can’t even put a potted plant on the front porch,” Risper, 53, said. “I love Brianne. But we just need some new change.”
Barrett Osborn, 43, voting in Adams Morgan, was also frustrated by violence but said he couldn’t support Czapary after learning that the candidate’s former campaign chair was the son of a Trump appointee with ties to a right-wing think tank. Czapary said he removed the chair in mid-May when he learned of the connection.
“That’s a dealbreaker for me,” Osborn, a defense contractor, said. ”I voted for Nadeau, but I really hope that she gets the message that people aren’t necessarily happy with her.”
Marie Cadelago, 37, of Brookland, chose Zachary Parker from a crowded field seeking to replace outgoing Ward 5 Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie, because the candidate “talked a lot about aging in place.”
“I have a lot of neighbors who are elderly and have lived in the neighborhood forever,” she said. “They make the neighborhood rich.”
There were few lines at polling places throughout the day, a spokesman for the city board of elections said — but some voters said they were confused after showing up to polling places listed on their registration cards that are not being used for the primary.
Attorney General Karl A. Racine’s decision not to seek reelection created an open race for the position; Brian Schwalb, Ryan Jones and Bruce V. Spiva are all competing in a race that was scrambled by McDuffie’s disqualification in April.
Tony Davis, 60, spends his days helping underserved youths in Southeast D.C. as part of a nonprofit he founded. It was through his work that he met Schwalb, the candidate he now supports.
“I come from a background in the streets myself and I’ve turned my life around,” Davis said. Troubled youths, Davis said, need “guidance and a mentor — someone to look up to and show them the way out.”
He noted that Schwalb, among other promises, has vowed to bolster counseling, coaching and other programs that help divert young people away from the criminal justice system — as is true for his other opponents in the race.
Four candidates are competing for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council: incumbent Anita Bonds and challengers Lisa Gore, Nathan Fleming and Dexter Williams.
Jimmie Williams, formerly the chair of the Ward 7 Democrats, voted for Dexter Williams. He noted that Bonds has served on the council since 2012.
“I think it’s time for a change,” he added. “It’s time to give younger and more energetic people a chance to come in.”
Ward 3 hosts a field of six Democratic candidates, who are all vying to take over the seat held by outgoing Council Member Mary M. Cheh. Three candidates recently dropped out of the race to coalesce behind Matthew Frumin in opposition to another leading candidate, Eric Goulet. The other candidates include Beau Finley, Deirdre Brown, Monte Monash and Phil Thomas.
After casting votes for Robert White and Gore, David Kusnet, the former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, stayed behind to hand out pamphlets for his the Ward 3 candidate he selected: Frumin.
“He’s a pragmatic progressive,” he said of Frumin, who has long been an activist in the ward. “He’s worked at the community level on very basic issues — he’s helped [with] more affordable housing and making sure schools are funded.”
Incumbent Ward 6 Council Member Charles Allen, meanwhile, ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
D.C.’s congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton also won the Democratic nomination, according to AP projections. She faced challenges from Kelly Williams and Wendy Hamilton. Voters also decided on the Democratic nominee for the city’s shadow representative to the U.S. House (a largely ceremonial position meant to advocate for statehood), where Oye Owolewa is up against Linda L. Gray.
Larry Smith, 76, worked the polls in Michigan Park with a smile and wave, guiding voters through the process. He said that kind of friendliness is dissipating in the Northeast neighborhood where he was born and raised.
“A lot of my senior friends lost their homes,” he said. “Now, my neighbors walk past and don’t speak. If there was an emergency I wouldn’t know what their names was, or who to call.”
Even though he blames Bowser for that turnover, he supported her reelection.
“Your choices aren’t really that good, so what are you going to do?” he said. “Since the development is here and it’s bringing in money, she now needs to change her focus to residents, senior citizens and the homeless.”
This article will continue to be updated.
Nazmul Ahasan, Marc Fisher, Dana Hedgpeth, Joe Heim, Eva Herscowitz, Audrey Hill, Samantha Latson, Clara Ence Morse, Sammy Sussman, Omari Daniels, Gaya Gupta, Vanessa G. Sánchez, Julie Zauzmer Weil and Daniel Wu contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this article attributed a quote from Jimmie Williams, formerly the chair of the Ward 7 Democrats, to Wendell Felder, the current chair of the Ward 7 Democrats. The article has been corrected.