Trayon White, Muriel Bowser, Robert White and James Butler participate in the Ward 8 Democrats mayoral candidates forum on May 21. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Trayon White, Muriel Bowser, Robert White and James Butler participate in the Ward 8 Democrats mayoral candidates forum on May 21. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

The candidates for District mayor, attorney general and shadow representative in the June 21 Democratic primary explained, sometimes passionately, why voters should support them in a straw poll sponsored by the Ward 8 Democrats and elect them to their pursued political office at a forum sponsored by the club on May 21 at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church in Southeast.

About 60 people observed the three candidate forums at the church and hundreds saw the proceedings virtually. Plus, voters in person and online had the opportunity to participate in a straw poll.

 “We decided to do a straw poll instead of an endorsement,” said Ward 8 President Troy Donte Prestwood to the Informer.

Only Ward 8 registered Democrats could participate in the unscientific poll, Prestwood said. The club’s Facebook, Twitter and website posted the poll’s results on the evening of May 23.

In the race for mayor, incumbent Muriel Bowser and D.C. Council member Trayon White, who represents Ward 8, tied at 30.7% with at-large Council member Robert White garnering 28.3%, political activist James Butler had 7.8% and the None of the Above category consisted of the rest.

The attorney general’s race had Ryan Jones the leader with 28.6%, the None of the Above category received 28.1%, Bruce Spiva accumulated 25.4% and Bruce Schwalb amassed 17.8%. The poll for shadow representative had incumbent Oye Owolewa with 35.8%, None of the Above with 34.8% and Linda Gray receiving 29.4%.

Mayoral Debate Gets Heated 

The mayoral forum got off to a testy start when Butler declared Bowser out of touch with Ward 8 residents.

“The mayor doesn’t pay attention to people who live east of the river,” he said.

Bowser responded by dismissing Butler’s accusation, saying she didn’t want to engage him on that point.

“I have been to many crime scenes across the city,” the mayor said. “I have worked to see that our police officers have resources and have helped prosecute criminals.”

On whether Wards 7 and 8 should have their own budgets, the candidates disagreed. 

Robert White said there is no need for specific budgets for the wards but the overall District budget should better reflect the needs of those residents. 

Bowser said her budgets have reflected the needs of residents east of the river but criticized the council members for taking money out of programs such as the Food Access Fund and funding projects such as the street car. 

Trayon White voiced support for specific budgets for Wards 7 and 8 and said he forced the Bowser administration to better fund schools in Ward 8, put money into crime prevention programs and bring grocers east of the river. 

Bowser said she has delivered for Ward 8 by incentivizing grocers to set up operations and put $50 million for public housing in the city budget.

“I can walk and chew gum at the same time,” she said.

Regarding public safety, Butler said he wants to set up a special gun interdiction unit in concert with other Washington area jurisdictions. Robert White said he would expand violence intervention programs and work with other Washington area law enforcement agencies actively to curtail crime. Bowser touted her program to help potential and active criminals by offering job training and mental health services. Trayon White said he would put more money and resources into violence interrupters and hold parents and the District government accountable for the high crime rate.

After the debate, Lenwood Johnson said he strongly supports Trayon White as the next mayor. Johnson said Trayon White stands alone as the candidate who regularly talks about God while on the campaign trail.

“I believe we need God in government, and if elected mayor, Trayon would continue to invoke the name of Jesus anytime, anyplace,” he said.

Juanita White, a longtime Ward 8 resident, favors Robert White.

“He has some great ideas for our city,” Juanita White said. “As a fifth-generation Washingtonian, he knows where our city needs to go. He will make a difference as our next mayor.”

Former Councilmember Sandy Allen, who represented Ward 8 from 1996-2005, stands behind Bowser.

“I have seen the growth in the city the last eight years,” Allen said. “We have new restaurants and new housing in the city. She really came through when COVID came to the city. With the STAY program, people were able to stay in their homes even though they lost their jobs. To me that was monumental. Mayor Bowser needs four more years to put her programs in place.”

Attorney General Candidates are Collegial

While the mayoral portion of the forum had its rough moments, the attorney general candidates seemed to be more cordial toward each other. Jones, Spiva and Schwalb rarely disagreed on issues. They discussed hiring more police officers, respecting tenants’ rights, embracing community policing, holding parents accountable for the criminal actions of their children and supporting lawyers in the attorney general’s office volunteering their legal skills.

Kenny Barnes, who has spent decades fighting crime and mentoring youth in the city, said he will vote for Schwalb.

“He reached out to me and we talked,” Barnes said. “I particularly wanted to know his position of fighting crime and solution to stopping the violence. He listened to what I had to say and that is why I am supporting him.”

At-Large D.C. State Board of Education member Jacque Patterson, who lives in Ward 8, favors Jones.

“Ryan understands the problems D.C. and its residents are having,” he said. “He is the best person to address those problems.”

Owolewa and Gray agreed that statehood should be a priority no matter who wins the majority in Congress in November.

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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