Politics is serious business, and of course, there’s no comparing it to a television show.
But following Tuesday’s Democratic primary for mayor in Washington, D.C., an observer might not help but wonder if voters wanted an Olivia Pope-style “fixer” to clean house in a city weary of real-world scandal.
Fans of the hit series Scandal wait anxiously each week for the latest political drama to unravel among players in the nation’s capital.
In recent years, D.C. residents haven’t had to look very far for salacious plots, alleged schemes, or crises involving far too many of their local elected officials.
In 2012 and 2013, three former members of the D.C. Council—all of whom happen to be African-American— were convicted in separate bribery, bank fraud and embezzlement cases.
One is now serving time in federal prison, a second was punished with home detention, while a third— son of the late Democratic political guru Ron Brown— awaits sentencing later this month.
Meanwhile, incumbent mayor Vincent Gray has been the subject of an ongoing federal probe into the finances of his 2010 mayoral campaign and a purported slush fund.
While the mayor has not been charged to date, and he has insisted his hands are clean, at least one high-powered associate of the campaign has already been implicated. And the whiff of suspicion that has hovered over Gray’s administration like a rain cloud surely dampened his re-election campaign.
It was against this backdrop that Washingtonians went to the polls yesterday in 143 precincts across the district.
Despite a sunny, mild day that conventional wisdom says brings out more folks, turnout was actually light among the more than 369,000 registered voters.
“It was about 22 percent,” said Tamara Robinson, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Board of Elections, who was reached after midnight.
By the time the votes were tallied (following a series of delays attributed to the electronic voting machines) one gladiator emerged victorious.
Muriel Bowser, 41, a 5th generation Washingtonian first elected as a Ward 4 council-member back in 2007, had ousted 71-year -old Gray with about 44 percent of the vote.
Bowser rose to victory from a field of eight contenders amid a prickly battle that heated up in recent weeks and led to her front-runner status.
She now has an opportunity to become the district’s second black, female mayor when the general election rolls around in November.
Reached a few hours before the polls closed, her campaign manager said they were optimistic about winning and suggested voters were ready for a change.
“People want a leader they can trust,” said Everett Hamilton. “Muriel is bringing a fresh new vigor to Washington politics.”
Re-elected to the Council in 2008, and again in 2012 with an agenda that focused on rebuilding district neighborhoods, transforming schools and advocating for an open and ethical government, Bowser is a protégé of former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Smart and progressive, but perceived by some as arrogant, voters gave Fenty only one term. Gray was the candidate who replaced him back then, and by most accounts the longtime public servant and former chairman of the D.C. Council has been a competent first-term mayor. Today, however, his reputation has suffered and a possible indictment looms.
Typically a primary win in a Democratic stronghold like Washington practically guarantees success in the general election, but Bowser already has formidable competition. She’s got her fans—and her detractors. Nothing is certain and the political stakes are high.
In the months ahead Bowser must convince the electorate that she can steer D.C. the right way, particularly when it comes to ethics.
It seems the district’s voters have made clear they only want their scandal in fictional form.