George defeats two challengers in the Fourth District Democratic primary in a race that focuses on public safety

WASHINGTON (AP) — Janeese Lewis George defeated two challengers in Democratic primary on Tuesday and will be the clear favorite going into the November general election to retain her seat in the DC Council's 4th District.

George, a pillar of the council's left wing, defeated Lisa Gore and Paul Johnson. In a dynamic familiar to this election cycle, both criticized George's policies as soft on crime.

Violent crime in the nation's capital skyrocketed in 2023. Although the numbers for murders and car thefts are currently below In 2024, the political dynamics and tensions from last year's crime wave will still be at play, with the left and centrist wings of the Democratic Party facing off in several electoral contests.

Five of the 13 council seats were up for election, with the toughest fight by far being to replace retiring 7th District Councilman Vincent Gray. Gray, a former mayor of Washington, served on the council for 13 years in two separate terms. A total of 10 candidates vied to replace him: Wendell Felder, Nate Fleming, Ebbon Allen, Kelvin Brown, Roscoe Grant, Eboni-Rose Thompson, Villareal “VJ” Johnson, Ebony Payne, Veda Rasheed and Denise Reed.

It was too early to predict the race on Tuesday night, with Felder (who was backed by Gray), Payne and Thompson all close together.

The primary is widely viewed as a de facto election in a city where the Democratic Party dominates political life. However, losing primary candidates have regularly classified themselves as independents to have another chance Parliamentary elections in November.

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Gray, then chairman of the DC Council, was elected mayor in 2011, but served only one term before being defeated in the 2015 Democratic primary by current Mayor Muriel Bowser. After his defeat, Gray returned to his old Ward 7 council seat in 2016, representing one of the poorest and most black districts in a rapidly gentrifying capital city.

The 81-year-old has suffered from ill health for years and has pushed back against speculation that he is no longer physically able to carry out his duties as a councillor. His office announced last month that Gray had suffered a second stroke.

Two of Bowser's recent challengers for mayor — Ward 7 Councilmember Trayon White and Councilmember Without Portfolio Robert White (no relation) — were expected to retain their seats. Trayon White was challenged by former high school principal Rahman Branch and Salim Adofo, a representative of DC's neighborhood-level advisory neighborhood commissions. Robert White was challenged by comedian and community activist Rodney “Red” Grant, who frequently runs for multiple elected offices.

Brooke Pinto, council member for the Second District, ran unopposed.

Two other D.C. Council members whose seats are not up for debate this year — District 6's Charles Allen and District 1's Brianne Nadeau — are facing recall campaigns aimed at gathering enough signatures to force a special election. In both cases, the main criticism of the council members revolves around their criminal justice policies.

Bowser, a former councilwoman currently serving her third term as mayor, generally does not publicly interfere in council elections and has not endorsed candidates. One notable exception came in 2018, when she openly supported a failed attempt to oust then-council member Elissa Silverman.

Bowser has frequently clashed with the DC Council over public safety issues, claiming that overly progressive policies have fueled rising violent crime rates in 2023 and damaged police morale.

These disagreements reached a head last year when Bowser vetoed a major overhaul of the criminal code, citing objections to lowering the maximum sentences for several crimes. The Council quickly overrode her veto, but the new criminal code was later repealed by the US Congress – with several Democratic members citing Bowser's opposition as evidence that the council had deviated from mainstream Democratic policy.