UPDATED: Nov. 5, 2014 12:55 a.m.
WASHINGTON — Muriel Bowser was elected Tuesday as the District of Columbia’s seventh mayor in 40 years of self-rule for the nation’s capital, continuing the Democratic Party’s longtime dominance of city politics.
Bowser, 42, is a native Washingtonian who has served on the D.C. Council since 2007. With all precincts reporting, she led her closest challenger, independent D.C. Councilmember David Catania, by more than 18 percentage points.
Bowser defeated scandal-plagued Mayor Vincent Gray in the Democratic primary, which was held in April instead of its traditional September date. She ran as a consensus-building, big-tent Democrat who could appeal equally to the wealthy, majority-white neighborhoods of upper northwest Washington and the poorer, mostly African-American communities east of the Anacostia River. She was endorsed by President Barack Obama, an unusual development for a municipal election in the nation’s capital.
“I’m humble and I’m grateful to stand here the next mayor of my hometown,” Bowser told supporters at her victory party Tuesday night.
Bowser is a protege of former mayor Adrian Fenty, but she says she’s learned from the mistakes that saw him booted from office after a single term.
Catania, 46, was seeking to make history as the District’s first white, openly gay and non-Democratic mayor. A former Republican, he left the party in 2004 over then-President George W. Bush’s support for a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. He argued that his record was more progressive than Bowser’s and that he was better equipped to improve the District’s public schools.
The general election was the District’s most competitive since 1994, when many voters balked at giving a fourth term to Marion Barry after he was caught smoking crack cocaine. Democrats make up 76 percent of registered voters in the nation’s capital. Bowser slightly outperformed pre-election polls that showed her leading by anywhere from 8 to 17 percentage points.
On many issues, the differences between Bowser and Catania were more stylistic than substantive, and many voters found themselves evaluating whether the candidates had the right temperament to do the job.
Martha Goebel, 71, who voted in the Capitol Hill neighborhood on Tuesday afternoon, thought Bowser passed that test.
“She’s not so theatrical. I like solid and quiet,” Goebel said. “I don’t like aggressive and nasty. … Compromise is important to me — exactly what’s not happening on the national level.”
Bennett Herndon, a city employee and a lifelong resident, said Bowser’s campaign allowed her personality to shine.
“She connected with the people, and that meant more than anything,” Herndon said. Catania, he said, “just seems like he’s always angry, almost like the Hulk.”
When Bowser takes office in January, it will allow the District to move on from Gray, who spent nearly his entire term under the cloud of a federal investigation and still faces the possibility of criminal charges. Six people who helped him get elected in 2010 have pleaded guilty to felonies, and prosecutors have said Gray knew about an illegal, $650,000 slush fund that aided his campaign. The mayor has denied all wrongdoing. He never endorsed Bowser, who has called for his resignation, and he congratulated her in a terse news release Tuesday night.
Bowser said the election represented a fresh start for the city.
“Today’s outcome affirms that you want to be proud of your leadership and your leaders,” Bowser said. “We are Washington, D.C., and I pledge tonight that I will make you proud.”
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