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D.C. Elections: What to Watch

Muriel Bowser supporters rally in support of the candidate for DC mayor. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Muriel Bowser supporters rally in support of the candidate for DC mayor. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

An upside-down flag on the District of Columbia’s official voter guide set election season off to a rocky start, but the Board of Elections is promising a successful result on Nov. 4.  

At the top of the ticket is the race for the District of Columbia’s non-voting delegate in Congress. Democratic Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, has represented the District for more than 20 years and faces a challenge from a long-shot candidate, local tour guide and historian Tim Krepp.  

But all eyes will be on the mayor’s race, with Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser poised to win. A recent WAMU/Washington City Paper poll showed Bowser, a Democrat, with a solid lead over her independent opponents. Bowser also picked up high-profile endorsements from President Barack Obama and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.  

Councilmember David Catania is mounting the most serious challenge, but he trailed Bowser by double digits in the recent poll. The other independent candidate, former Councilmember Carol Schwartz, could spoil Catania’s challenge by pulling votes away from him. Schwartz garnered support from 10 percent of the survey’s respondents, while 16 percent of voters surveyed were undecided.  

As mayor, the candidate who wins next week will be a key player in Congress’ tenuous relationship with the District. Each candidate has a different approach for working with Capitol Hill, especially when it comes to obtaining full voting rights for Washingtonians.  

Bowser has said she will expand the District’s lobbying presence on Capitol Hill and will raise the issue of statehood with the White House, though her prominent endorsements raised questions about whether she would actually press national Democrats on statehood.  

Catania, on the other hand, said at a DC Vote forum that Congress is too gridlocked to grant D.C. statehood, so he would pursue a constitutional amendment via state legislatures. Catania would also set up a political action committee aimed at members who intrude in D.C. affairs. Schwartz said she would personally meet with congressional leaders and utilize her personal contacts on the Hill to advocate for D.C voting rights.  

Also on the ballot — for the first time in D.C. history — is the attorney general. Five candidates are vying to become the District’s lawyer, which voters chose to make an elected position in 2010.  

One of the AG candidates, Democratic attorney Paul Zukerberg, helped challenge the council’s attempt to delay the election in court. Zukerberg faces four other Democrats, including Karl Racine, a partner at Venable in D.C. and associate White House Counsel for President Bill Clinton, who was endorsed by The Washington Post and Clinton.  

Former Obama official Edward “Smitty” Smith is hoping his government experience will give him an edge over the other candidates, who also include public policy attorney and community activist Lateefah Williams and attorney and longtime voting rights advocate Lorie Masters.  

District residents will also cast a historic vote on drug policy. As pro-marijuana advocates had hoped, the elections board voted unanimously in August to put legalization on the ballot . According to an NBC4/Washington Post/Marist DC poll , the city is poised to vote “Yes on 71,” the initiative that would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, and cultivate up to six plants at home.  

In anticipation of the vote, the D.C. Council has already begun exploring how to tax and regulate legalized marijuana. The ballot initiative covers only personal use, not retail sales. Proponents are urging officials to send the measure to Congress without delay, where it may face opposition. If medical marijuana and decriminalization are any guide, Republicans might try to block implementation with budget riders.  

Capitol Hill residents will also elect a new councilmember. Democrat Charles Allen , former chief of staff to outgoing Councilmember Tommy Wells — who lost a primary bid to be mayor — is poised to become the next Ward 6 representative.  

Related Stories:

D.C. Council Talks Marijuana Legalization, ‘Rookie Cookies’

‘Smitty’ Vying to Become D.C. Attorney General

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

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