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At First Debate, D.C. Mayoral Contenders Take Aim At Gray

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D.C.'s mayoral campaign is off and running as the candidates held their first debate on Wednesday night.

The stage at the debate at a downtown law firm was crowded: four D.C. Council members — Jack Evans, Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, and Vincent Orange — and a pair of self-described outsiders, former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis and restaurant owner Andy Shallal.

But a lot of the focus and heat at the debate was directed squarely at the potential candidate not in the room — Mayor Vincent Gray, who remains coy as to whether he will run again.

Wells repeatedly denounced Gray's 2010 campaign, which remains under federal investigation. "We cannot ignore that the mayor ran a corrupt campaign and what we are seeing now with fallout with Jeffrey Thompson that a pay-to-play system is something we are paying for," he said.

While the candidates took aim at the current mayor, they largely avoided criticizing each other. But differences did emerge, particularly over a recent vote by the D.C. Council to delay the 2014 election for the attorney general, which District voters overwhelmingly approved in a voter referendum back in 2010.

Evans, Bowser, and Orange explained why they pushed back the election — they didn't think the city was ready.

The other candidates pounced. "It's unacceptable that we are not upholding the will of the people," said Lewis. "When the people speak, the Council should listen, I find it really kind of obnoxious, frankly," added Shallal.

The mayoral forum was the first of dozens that will be held across the city during the campaign, which will end with the April 1 Democratic primary.

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