Staff Editorial: What to consider when picking D.C.’s next mayor

District voters will elect the Democratic nominee for mayor in seven days. In a race centered around education, economics and alleged corruption, incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray is locked in a tight race with Council member Muriel Bowser, according to a recent Washington City Paper poll.

Even if you’ve only paid tangential attention to news surrounding this election, you know one issue has trumped all: Gray’s alleged ethics violations.

Federal investigators have accused Gray of knowingly taking $668,800 from an illegal shadow campaign that contributed to his 2010 mayoral run. Jeffrey Thompson, the man in charge of the illegal fund, has already pled guilty to conspiracy.

Gray’s campaign has aggressively denied his knowledge of the illegal fundraising, but that hasn’t stopped him from losing favor with the D.C. media. In February, The Washington Post endorsed Bowser, writing that the scandal “strike[s] us as close to disqualifying.” The Current newspaper chain, widely respected in D.C., rescinded their endorsement of Gray, saying that allegations against him made the editorial board “rethink” their decision.

While we will not endorse mayoral nominees, we urge GW voters and Foggy Bottom residents to look deeper into the issues than just the concerning allegations levied against Gray.

We won’t brush off the allegations, which would put the city’s leadership in upheaval if Gray is indicted. But the gravity of the issues our city officials take on – from education to security and income inequality – require wider examination from voters than just looking at one issue.

D.C. has served as a stage for a raging debate about charter schools and boasts impressive figures on preschool education.

Gray should be applauded for vastly expanding access to public education for young children. D.C. spends more per student than any state, and the city has maintained that standard while enrolling more than 6,000 students in pre-kindergarten for the first time in years.

Looking forward, the mayor has proposed dedicating $100 million to education in his second term to ensure that progress doesn’t slow. But Gray’s record on education – which has earned him praise from the Obama administration – focuses more heavily on early childhood education.

Bowser’s focus incorporates college students, a crucial segment of the District’s population that usually goes unnoticed because they often don’t vote.

“There’s real anxiety that young people will be able to graduate from college and get a good job and be able to buy a home here,” she told The Hatchet. “The next mayor has to be very intentional about having policies that will grow the middle class.”

It’s reassuring to see a viable mayoral candidate empathize with pervasive student concerns about employment. If Bowser is elected, we hope to see more tangible ideas on how to generate jobs for the 84,000 alumni who call the District home, east of the river and across the entire city.

Bowser also hopes to create a deputy mayor position to focus on issues specific to residents in lower-income neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, like education and job growth. The idea has been well-received by residents in that area of the city, which has the highest unemployment in the District.

Gray, too, has focused on the economy in stump speeches. He’s pointed out that the unemployment rate has dropped to 7.4 percent – nearly three percentage points lower than it was when he entered office.

As the city continues to grow, budgeted tax revenue has increased by nearly $1 billion between fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2015. Granted, how much of this success can be attributed to the mayor is doubtful. The same numbers Gray touts in his speeches are heralded by Council member Jack Evans, who chairs the committee on finance and revenue.

Perhaps Gray’s biggest success story as mayor has been has city’s improved security. His collaboration with police chief Cathy Lanier has yielded skyrocketing popularity for keeping the city safe.

Though homicide numbers inched up to 104 in 2013 – inflated in part after the Navy Yard shooting in September – the number was as low as 88 in 2012, a sharp decrease when compared to 132 the year before he took office.

He’s experienced some concerning setbacks, however. The police union shied away from endorsing Gray in light of the shadow campaign he financed and his reluctance to negotiate a new law enforcement contract. Instead, they chose Council member Tommy Wells, sitting in a distant fourth place, who argued that he is the only candidate who hasn’t accepted morally hazy corporate donations.

Even on security, Gray’s alleged legal violations threaten to derail his path to victory. That’s unfortunate, given that real progress has been made.

But even mayors who strengthen a city can dig their own graves.

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