Dogged By Scandal, DC Incumbent Goes Down In Primary

The incumbent mayor of the nation's capital will not be re-elected. A federal investigation into Vincent Gray's 2010 campaign, along with allegations lodged just weeks before the election, helped propel his closest opponent to a surprise double-digit victory in the Democratic primary.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

There will be a new mayor in Washington, DC, next year. And that's because the incumbent mayor, Vincent Gray, was soundly defeated in yesterday's Democratic primary. As Patrick Madden of member station WAMU reports, a late-breaking scandal helped turn the race in favor of one of Gray's challengers.

PATRICK MADDEN, BYLINE: It was a festive atmosphere at Muriel Bowser's elections watch party in southeast Washington.

MURIEL BOWSER: Yes, we did it.

MADDEN: Bowser, a two-term city councilmember, a relative newcomer, shocked many political observers by beating Mayor Gray by double digits.

BOWSER: So they told me that 44 percent of the Democrats voted for Muriel Bowser today. They said with a resounding voice that they want a fresh start.

MADDEN: That fresh start was the defeat of incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray. In some ways, Bowser's victory was surprising. Under Gray's leadership, the District of Columbia has been thriving. The local real estate market is booming, violent crime is down, test scores are up, and for the first time in decades, more people are moving into the city than fleeing to the suburbs. But over the past few years, while the local economy has taken off, a cloud of scandal and corruption has returned. Several city council members resigned after pleading guilty to various crimes committed while in office. And the biggest scandal, a federal investigation into the mayor's 2010 campaign involving a prominent city contractor, Jeffrey Thompson.

In mid-March, federal prosecutors leveled bombshell allegations that Mayor Gray knew about an illegal shadow campaign that was financed by Thompson to aid the mayor's get-out-the-vote efforts. Gray hasn't been charged with any crime and contends that Thompson, who struck a plea deal with prosecutors, is lying. But the allegations changed the dynamics of the race and Muriel Bowser surged to victory. After Gray's loss, his campaign manager, Chuck Thies, questioned the timing of the plea agreement.

CHUCK THIES: There's only one thing that changed this race, and that was the United States attorney's decision to roll out its deal with Jeff Thompson three weeks before the primary.

MADDEN: Gray once, a frontrunner looking to be re-elected, will now be a lame duck for nine months. As the investigation continues, he could be indicted, according to his lawyers. Bowser will likely square off against councilmember David Catania, who's running as an independent in November's general election. If Catania were to win, he would be the first white and openly gay mayor of Washington, D.C. For NPR News, I'm Patrick Madden in Washington.

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