**FILE** D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie announces his bid for the city's attorney general during an Oct. 21 press conference outside his Ward 5 home. (Abdullah Konte/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie announces his bid for the city's attorney general during an Oct. 21 press conference outside his Ward 5 home. (Abdullah Konte/The Washington Informer)

The District’s primary election season has started and campaigns have adjusted to the ongoing presence of the coronavirus, which has influenced how voters continue to be engaged.

On Feb. 12, the mayoral campaign for Robert White directed Deputy Campaign Manager Zoe Ades to stand at the intersection of 10th and D Streets NE and wait for volunteers as she secured materials to help the candidate get on the June 21 primary ballot. 

Ades said the team knows and remains adept at the traditional routine of campaigning: shaking hands, kissing babies and having intimate conversations with voters. But these tactics will be difficult to facilitate with the District still in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are still holding events and reaching out to voters but in a different way from the past,” she said.

Campaigns in the District have had to adapt, utilizing virtual tools and following the city’s anti-coronavirus measures to reach voters with outdoor activities. However, these virtual tools have been combined with more traditional modes such as knocking on doors and canvassing neighborhoods in an effort to increase public awareness about the candidates. 

Ades said the White campaign has used Zoom meetings to connect their candidate with supporters and voters.

“We hold meet-and-greet events on Zoom almost every night,” she said. “Robert talks about his vision for the city and what he wants to do as the next mayor and people get the chance to ask questions and offer comments.”

White, an at-large council member, also canvasses neighborhoods with volunteers while distributing literature to voters. Ades said the campaign has had success with door knocking, adding that people seem eager to engage with White on issues while remaining on their front porches or in their yards. 

Political observers note that White has emerged as one of the major challengers to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. 

Meanwhile, in a statement obtained by the Informer, the Bowser campaign said it constantly communicates with voters asking them why the mayor should be re-elected for a third term.

“We are working hard to engage voters about Mayor Bowser’s achievements and vision and we have been encouraged by the response,” the statement said. “We continue to find ways to engage volunteers and voters virtually ahead of the June 21st primary.”

Political observers have also labeled Trayon White, Sr., who serves as the Ward 8 council member, as another major challenger to Bowser. 

Trayon White’s campaign didn’t respond to an inquiry regarding his outreach strategy for voters at press time despite our speaking to a campaign aide about the request. 

In his bid to replace Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie, Gordon Fletcher said he has knocked on a lot of doors while maintaining his interactions with voters in accordance with recent COVID-19 mandates. 

“When I approach a resident’s house, I make sure I stay about six feet away when I am speaking with them,” Fletcher said. “I wear masks, along with my volunteers, to respect their space.”

Fletcher said he uses social media, Zoom events and phone banking to reach voters.

Patricia Briscoe serves as the chair of the Friends for Zachery Parker organization. Parker also wants to win the Ward 5 seat. Briscoe said the Parker campaign has focused much of its energy on canvassing neighborhoods.

“We walk the neighborhoods to talk about what Zachery wants to do if elected to the city council,” she said. “When we walk, we make sure that masks are worn.”

Briscoe said when they’re door-knocking, they make it a point to greet residents at their doors and not go into the homes. Like many campaigns, social media has become a primary mode of communicating Parker’s message, she said.

“We would like to do more outside but it has been so cold,” she said.

Chuck Thies, the manager for McDuffie’s campaign for D.C. attorney general, said the campaign has been both digital and virtual.

“We have done a lot of meet-and-greets online via Zoom,” he said. “We find the virtual events to be more convenient. People don’t have to leave their home and drive across town or across the ward to attend. They can just log in instead.”

He said McDuffie and his volunteers have done extensive door-knocking throughout the city and stand six feet from residents when interacting. But the McDuffie campaign hopes that as the omicron wave continues to wane, more face-to-face interaction will be possible soon. 

However, he notes the McDuffie campaign has held an outdoor event despite the chilly weather.

“It was in December and we had 35-40 people in a large yard,” Thies said. “People wanted to come talk to Kenyan and the weather wasn’t going to stop them. We had outdoor heaters to keep everyone warm and had hot tea and cider to serve. The event was great and Kenyan said he was glad we did it. I will be glad when the weather gets better and we can really go out and campaign among the people.”

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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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