For Trayon White, DC’s mayoral campaign is a test of grassroots outreach

When the forum was about to begin, however, it was still unclear whether he planned to attend. “Probably, most likely; depends on whether there are urgent priorities, ”White replied when a reporter asked if he was going to the March 5 event, which hosted the Ward 7 Democrats. He added: “My priority is these signatures. You do not get these signatures, you can have all the priorities you want. … It’s supposed to start in 20 minutes, then we’ll see how it goes. “

White reached the stage that afternoon in St. Luke Catholic Church in the Southeast, flanked by a complete list of candidates that included two of his biggest opponents in the race: Councilman Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who is seeking a third term. With her characteristic fervor, Trayon White discussed a range of issues ranging from rising crime to marginalized residents being priced out of town.

But his imperialism over whether or not he would appear on a forum at all is illustrative of a campaign that has at times been hard to pin down since its inception when he announced his bid for mayor in an Instagram comment, a move that caught on even his former political adviser. unprepared.

And while he’s working on galvanizing his base ahead of Wednesday’s deadline to make the ballot and qualify for matching funds through the city’s public funding program, some political observers have speculated that Robert White and Trayon White – who both run to the left of the mayor – could increase Bowser’s chances by splitting a pool of voters. seeking a change of status quo.

“They have some of the same voters. It does not help either of them to run against each other, ”said Ronald L. Moten, a longtime community organizer who has previously supported Bowser but has not yet made up his mind. “The mayor has an advantage because she’s been running a city-wide campaign for three cycles now – she knows her base. Trayon also knows her base, but he has to expand it.”

‘The Master of the People’

Trayon White, who promised to be the “champion of the people” when he ran for council in the heavily African-American division 8 six years ago, has no problem mobilizing his supporters, although his mayoral campaign seems to be working with significantly fewer money than his main opponents.

Within days of his mayoral announcement in October, he used Instagram to recruit more than 150 followers to join him at Oxon Run Park. Later, in February, he gathered dozens of his followers at the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge for a group photo that was later used to make a campaign video.

Once he and his team have been out collecting signatures, residents often recognized him and got him to pose for pictures. “You’ll win!” a woman shouted out in the Southwest earlier this month as he passed by.

Some of his constituents compare him to Mayor Marion Barry. White is well known by many in Ward 8 – which contains some of the district’s most historically underserved neighborhoods – for his community activism; the 37-year-old is often seen at crime scenes and residential complexes, where residents have complained about poor living conditions or other problems, where they film the interactions to bring light to their experiences.

As a council member and native of southeastern DC, he often mixes activism and legislation and introduces legislation focused on equality and equitable distribution of city resources – although some of his opponents in previous council elections have argued that his advocacy could come at the expense of more detailed council tasks.

In his run for mayor, White has largely relied on social media to spread his populist message, emphasizing the need to address the city’s lack of affordable housing, strengthen the city’s efforts to combat violence and increase spending on youth programs to keep young people out of trouble.

His word-of-mouth, social media-boosted approach to campaigning has resonated with those it reaches out to. Stuart Anderson, an activist who ran White’s council campaign in 2016 and then ran against him in 2020, said that while many of White’s voters in Ward 8 are encouraged by his bid for mayor, others have wondered if he’s trying to expand. its base for a future candidacy. .

“I do not think the current team has done enough work in the other departments that will give Trayon a chance to win the mayoral seat,” said Anderson, who urged White not to run for mayor in the hope that he would stay focused on issues. in section 8. “West of [Anacostia] the river is where the challenge is. They have to do some spectacular things to get people into those departments. ”

A survey by the Washington Post in February showed that Trayon White’s support is more geographically concentrated than Bowsers ‘or Robert Whites’. He had 17 percent support throughout the city, equivalent to 19 percent for Robert White and well behind Bowser’s 47 percent. And while he received 33 percent support east of the river – compared to Bowser’s 38 percent and Robert White’s 22 percent – Trayon White had only 11 percent support across all other departments, compared to 19 percent for Robert White and 50 percent for Bowser. .

Chuck Thies, a political strategist who advises Kenyan R. McDuffie, a candidate for attorney general, argued that with about three months to go until the June 21 primary election, Trayon White has rightly focused on strengthening its base while ensuring that residents with unmet needs is part of the larger mayoral debate.

But his campaign has also had its share of distracting moments, Thies said. White is still the subject of an ongoing “internal investigation” by the Office of Campaign Finance to determine whether he engaged in campaign-related activities before submitting paperwork to officially participate in the race. He has so far received an extension of two campaign funding reports, including one due later this month.

Now it’s time for a more focused push throughout the city, Thies added.

“It may be that his campaign works with limited resources, but it’s not too late,” Thies said. “If he can get the other candidates and people to talk about these issues affecting his residents, he can succeed and boost his capital.”

Philip Pannell, another longtime activist in Ward 8 who called White’s mayoral campaign a ‘long shot’, added that he could also have trouble attracting voters who remember a 2018 video he posted in which he said that a blizzard in DC was the result of “Rothschilds controlling climate” – evoking a Jewish family that has often been the focus of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. White apologized for the comments.

“If anything, this gives him an opportunity to connect with the voters who may be skeptical of his candidacy because of the unfortunate statement years ago,” Pannell said. “It will be a test of his outreach reach – a great opportunity for him to reach new people outside his congregation, and I assume that’s what he’s doing.”

White did not respond to questions about his campaign. His campaign chairman, Pastor Graylan Hagler, acknowledged that the team is still working on some cracks, but said skeptics underestimate their reach. He noted that many of the problems the most central to White’s platform affects everyone in the city, including residents, who are often completely left out of political conversations.

The campaign has been door-knocking in other departments, he said, and is working with civic and civic associations across the district to gain entry.

“He can talk about a lot of issues in the form of marginalization in Washington DC, poverty, people who are underclass, returning citizens,” Hagler said, adding that critics stereotyped White by suggesting that his campaign could not resonate with others. community. “One of the problems with pulling the city closer together is having some commonalities that can apply from Section 8 to Section 3. I think Trayon can do that.”

‘Real responsibility’

Outside Safeway, White and Christopher Williams, a community activist, began a conversation on several urban issues, including their common concerns that not enough of the district’s housing production fund is being spent on units for people with the lowest income thresholds.

“That’s why I’re running for mayor: justice, leadership and real accountability,” he said.

“But I’m worried you and the other white man, Robert, are sharing the vote,” Williams replied. Trayon White shot back: “I do not see it that way. People feel that Robert White and I have the same demographics. I feel like Muriel Bowser and Robert White have the same demographics. “

Derek Hyra, a professor at American University and author of “Race, Class and Politics in the Cappuccino City,” said he also sees an overlap between Trayon White and Robert White, who each have liberal agendas – not to mention the same last name – which could make both their paths more difficult towards the two-period Bowser.

“If you want someone on the progressive side to challenge Bowser, you’ll have to consolidate the constituencies that Trayon and Robert have,” Hyra said. “If you share the progressive vote, it makes it even harder to go up against Bowser, who has such a good ground game.”

Others have made similar observations. Zach Teutsch, a left-wing activist and Robert White supporter who led DC Council member Janeese Lewis George’s (D-Ward 4) 2020 campaign, said it may be incumbent on Robert White and Trayon White to assess the landscape in the coming weeks and consider to gather behind. a candidate to beat the incumbent: “I think the one who does not have momentum should support the one who has,” he said.

Thies, however, pointed to the results of the general Democratic primary election in 2016, in which Robert White earned the fewest share of his vote east of the Anacostia River compared to other departments.

“To suggest that Trayon’s base would automatically be converted to Robert White votes is a misunderstanding of politics and that base,” Thies said. “Trayon’s role in the race is not an obstacle for Robert. It’s like a voice for the people he represents – the unheard. “

In response to those who have suggested that Robert White and Trayon White could split the vote against Bowser, Zoe Ades, a spokeswoman for Robert White’s campaign, said in a statement that “no matter who is on the ballot, we are on our way to to win in June. “

Malik Williams, a spokesman for Bowser’s campaign, said in a statement that Bowser has been in dialogue with residents daily “across all eight wards.”

All three campaigns say they have the signatures needed to vote; Trayon White has been pushing in recent days to secure the $ 1,000 small donations from residents of DC that he needs by Wednesday to qualify for matching funds.

Hagler, Trayon White’s campaign manager, said he disagreed with the premise of sharing the vote, saying the focus right now should be on who has the best ideas.

“We want a robust season of ideas and perspectives because in some ways that is what has been lacking for us in terms of these choices,” Hagler said. “Whatever is decided beyond that, in terms of where voters will lean, we do not know what is going to happen.”

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