Feb 23, 2022 - News

Town Talker: Where's the D.C. mayoral challenge?

Robert White campaigning in 2016
Robert White (center, in jeans) campaigning for his at-large seat in 2016. Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

City politicos are wondering about the mayoral campaign of Robert White, a rising star on the D.C. Council whose bid to defeat Muriel Bowser has yet to lift off.

Why it matters: White is considered the top competitive challenger in the race, but he came in at 19% in a Washington Post poll last week.

  • That’s only 2 percentage points ahead of Trayon White, a council member colleague of no relation who unexpectedly declared his candidacy in October through a comment on the Instagram page Washingtonian Probs.
  • Bowser led both with 47% in the survey of registered city Democrats.

Many are restless for the mayoral race to catch fire, with under four months until the June 21 Democratic primary.

What they’re saying: “Robert’s going to have to be more visible and more vocal if he wants to make a dent,” says Doug Sloan, a Democratic consultant who lives in the same Colonial Village neighborhood as the mayor and Robert White. On a recent drive, Sloan said, White’s house didn’t even boast a campaign sign.

  • “He needs to be loud,” Sloan says, as White has shied from attacks on Bowser. “I would stake out as many opposing positions as possible with the mayor.”

In a shift, White named a new campaign manager two weeks ago: Luz Eleane Martínez, a 27-year-old who arrived in D.C. working on congressional campaigns as a fellow for Latino Victory Fund, a progressive Democratic group co-founded by Eva Longoria.

  • “You have a lot of people in D.C. who have lots of opinions on campaigns — from yard signs to an Instagram page,” Martínez said about recent criticisms, over lunch yesterday at The Coupe, adding that signs were recently ordered. “He’s focused on just getting to the people.”
  • Martínez described herself as a “Type A” who earned White’s trust after working in 2017 as his scheduler in his council office, later promoted to policy analyst. She was most recently a top aide to Ward 1 council member Brianne Nadeau, an ally of the candidate.

She senses the pressure of being a young operative managing her first campaign to topple an incumbent mayor, in a city of big-name consultants with decades of experience.

  • It took her a few days to accept the job offer, which elevated her from a campaign volunteer to paid staff. There was a lot on her mind: “I’m a Latina; I’m not a D.C. native,” said Martínez. “I really had to think, am I the right person for the job? Robert was saying I was the right person.”
  • Another new hire is David Whitehead, an organizer who worked on Ward 4 council member Janeese Lewis George’s successful campaign in 2020.
  • Sean Rankin, a strategist who led White’s 2016 upset council victory, is advising the campaign as a volunteer, she added.

Between the lines: Robert White’s biggest endorser, Attorney General Karl Racine, expressed displeasure with the pace of his campaign recently, according to a source.

  • White’s campaign denies any dissatisfaction. Racine said in a statement to Axios that the campaign is “gaining momentum.”

Bonus news: Tom Lindenfeld, campaign manager to several mayors, tells me he supports but no longer works for Trayon White’s campaign, which yesterday released a new video ad.

What is the talk of the town? Drop a line at [email protected] to let me know.

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