Packed field of mayoral candidates gears up to collect signatures

The race for mayor went from crowded to congested in a flurry of early-morning activity at the D.C. Board of Elections office Friday.

On the first day to pick up nominating petitions, D.C. Council member Vincent Orange jumped into the race, joining three fellow city legislators and six others in an election clouded by incumbent Vincent Gray’s silence on whether he will seek reelection.

If all gather at least 2,000 signatures by Jan. 2, the Democratic ballot for the April 1 primary will feature more Council members than in any of the city’s last four mayoral primary elections.

But despite the packed field, Foggy Bottom Council member Jack Evans’ campaign manager said his team is ready for the challenge. Evans racked up 300 signatures from supporters Friday.

“We are very confident in Council member Evans’ path to victory. We think the more the merrier in terms of additional candidates entering the race,” Josh Brown, an alumnus, said.

But Orange’s shot at the mayor’s office is a long one. Orange also made a bid for mayor in 2006, but received less than 3 percent of the vote in the primary. He previously served as the representative for Ward 5, and made an unsuccessful attempt at nabbing the chairman’s position of the Council in 2010.

The city launched a probe into Orange in 2012 for his connections to Jeffrey Thompson, a D.C. business man who is now under investigation for illegally funding Gray’s 2010 campaign.

“Applying logic to the political decisions that Vincent Orange makes is a bit of a fool’s errand,” said Chuck Thies, a contributor to NBC4 Washington.

The Howard University and Georgetown University Law Center graduate sponsored the “living wage” bill that brought national attention to the District this summer.

The other candidates, including two other Council members Muriel Bowser and Tommy Wells, now face the challenge of collecting signatures during the busy holiday season, Thies said.

Local political analyst and alumnus Mark Plotkin said Orange’s candidacy would give Evans an advantage in the Democratic primary.

“It helps Jack Evans specifically because there is racial voting,” Plotkin said. “It siphons off the African American vote from Muriel Bowser.”

If Evans or Wells wins the general election, either would become the first white mayor in the District since home rule began in 1975.

Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal also picked up petition forms for mayor and told a local radio show host he would officially announce his candidacy Tuesday at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Shallal’s announcement comes after he said in October that he would not run if Gray decided to seek reelection.

While the 10 mayoral candidates are talking to supporters, raising money and collecting signatures, Gray is still biding his time.

He continues to deny any knowledge of a $650,000 “shadow campaign” that helped elect him in 2010, a scandal that has sent some of his closest campaign advisers to court.

“He has not given a timeline for running. When he decides, he will make some sort of announcement,” Gray’s spokeswoman Doxie McCoy said Friday.

Even though analysts say the race won’t really be clear until Gray makes a decision, Bowser’s campaign manager Bo Shuff said their strategy will remain the same.

“We don’t know who we are running against, but we have a vision for the city, we think there will be a new mayor and we think that will be Muriel. We’re running the same campaign no matter who is filing to run,” Shuff said.

Former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis, local businessman Christian Carter and three lesser-known candidates round out the competition.

Mayoral hopefuls were not the only ones picking up petitions. As of Friday, GW Law School professor and Council member Mary Cheh and D.C.’s delegate to Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton are both running unopposed for their respective seats in the primary. Cheh has almost $34,000 on hand since announcing her reelection bid in September.

Norton could face fledgling competition in the general election, with Republican Nelson Rimensnyder and D.C. Statehood Green candidate Natale Lino Stracuzzi running in their respective primaries. Stracuzzi also ran against Norton in 2012, winning less than 5 percent of the vote in the general election.

D.C., where about 75 percent of voters are registered Democrats, has never had a Republican mayor. Norton, who has held her position since 1991, received about 89 percent of the vote in the 2012 general election.

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