In the wake of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s 70-point primary victory in June, smartphone footage capturing an allegedly illegal stop-and-frisk incident in Ward 7 made the rounds online. Residents across the city continued to bury loved ones, young and old, who succumbed to bullets. Most recently, K2 overdoses have overwhelmed first responders, government officials and activists frustrated by unrepentant corner store vendors.
All the while, James Butler, a distant runner-up to Bowser, continued speaking with voters at candlelight vigils, sites of heavy K2 activity, charity 5K races, and wherever else he could learn more about local concerns. Gun violence and what’s perceived as a lack of concern from the mayor’s office dominated many of the conversations, Butler told The Informer.
“Despite what the current administration tells us, we know crime is not down,” Butler said. “Homicides are not only up, but we’ve seen this uptick of gun violence where people come into areas and kill little girls. To be silent is to be complicit. That’s why I’ve been so visible and vocal regarding this uptick.”
Butler, a Democrat now running as an independent, has launched a write-in campaign for the Nov. 6 election, setting his sights on the more than 80 percent of voters who stayed home on June 19, due to what he described as a false narrative that Bowser ran unopposed.
His current plans revolve around voter registration via the VOTE4DC mobile app and touting absentee voting as effective form of civic engagement that suits those with demanding schedules who need a little more encouragement.
“A combination of things led to Mayor Bowser’s win; the primary date change and voters being unenthusiastic about her. That’s why we had the lowest turnout ever in a primary race. Those low numbers hurt me and her but helped her win.”
Bowser’s office didn’t return The Informer’s request for comment about the Nov. 6 election, or Butler’s assertions.
In the weeks before the Democratic primary, fewer than 3 percent of registered voters submitted early ballots. The D.C. Board of Elections reported that, overall, fewer than 20 percent of registered voters made their voices heard on June 19. Ward 8 had the lowest turnout of less than 8 percent, while Ward 3, at 22 percent, represented the highest.
All Democratic incumbents running, including Bowser, successfully defended their seats in primary matches that often determine who, in a sense, automatically wins the general election in an overwhelmingly blue city.
This puts her in a position to become D.C.’s first two-term mayor since Anthony Williams’ 2002 electoral victory, despite waning popularity east of the Anacostia River. Butler said a Bowser victory wouldn’t reflect the vision of D.C. residents, just that of corporate interests and mainstream media outlets.
“People on the street are telling me they’re happy that I’m out and vocal,” Butler said. “They’re excited there’s a possibility of a mayor that will focus on reducing crime.
“The large media suppressed [us] and said there were no challengers despite the fact I announced [my candidacy] before the mayor,” he said. “We have quite a robust campaign with signage all around the city and papers continued to sell that narrative.”
Butler, currently ANC commissioner for single-district 5D03, an area that includes the Trinidad neighborhood, has a “People First” campaign platform centered on affordable housing, community policing, and diverse educational options for at-risk youth.
He said his “Stop-and-Shake-a-Hand” program would increase beat patrolling throughout the District and encourage officers to form bonds with residents before the occurrence of crime. For affordable housing, Butler said he wants to implement rent-control laws and provide contracts with socially conscious developers.
As mayor, Butler said he would relinquish control of D.C. schools to an independent body. Wrap-around services and college-prep programs would also tackle homelessness and connect parents with the tools needed for their college-bound children, he added.
Most, if not all of Butler’s policy goals address areas of criticism for the Bowser Administration. However, any attempt to differentiate himself from what’s been perceived as mayoral indifference could be thwarted by concerns about his 2009 disbarment.
Butler, a former attorney and owner of a law practice, faced more than a hundred complaints of malpractice, D.C. Court of Appeal documents show, that led to a payout of more than $650,000 to former clients.
On many occasions throughout his campaign, Butler candidly addressed that situation, saying that after firing the employee at the center of all the unscrupulous activity, he contacted the FBI, inciting a series of events that caused him to leave the legal industry.
That blemish hasn’t discouraged some residents, including community activist and children’s advocate C. DeShola Dawkins, from considering Butler as a candidate.
“James Butler is doing good things now — I like his platform,” Dawkins, a Southeast resident and onetime member of Ward 8 Council member Trayon White’s successful campaign team, told The Informer last week during a short break from a bike ride around Malcolm X Park in Northwest.
Though she admits to never hearing Butler publicly speak, Dawkins, an ardent supporter of gun control legislation, said his presence in grieving communities, and transparency poses a challenge to Bowser, who she said often demeans residents questioning public safety.
“Mr. Butler cares about children,” Dawkins, 58, added. “I lost my son and I have children and grandchildren living in Ward 8 who I don’t want to see anything happen to. Butler believes that people come first, not corporations like our current mayor. I don’t find her to be a very approachable person.”
D.C. resident Michael Clark echoed those sentiments, taking his support of Butler to the next level by acting as his strategist and social media coordinator, a position that he held since his primary loss. Clark said that since late June, he has connected with voters online and in the streets to articulate Butler’s vision.
“I felt there was a need for an alternative voice in politics that represents the people of D.C.,” said Clark, brother of the late Tim Clark, a millennial political operative who helped deliver Ward 5 to Bowser in 2014. “The current mayor has not shown a clear vision for where she wants to take us to make the lives of everyday residents better. She’s pushing a narrative that there’s no real alternative to her. What she would tell someone is ‘What do you have to lose? There’s no one else running.’”