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Is A Post-Election Concession Phone Call Needed? Etiquette Expert Says Yes

Judith Martin, better known as "Miss Manners"

Etiquette and elections may not seem to mix, but one expert says that a post-election concession phone call is the "right thing to do."

In the wake of Tuesday's loss in the D.C. Democratic mayoral primary, Mayor Vincent Gray has yet to make the traditional concession call to the victor, Muriel Bowser.

According to The Washington Post, Gray has not contacted Bowser after he was defeated in a bruising primary campaign that included barbs over his ongoing federal investigation into his 2010 campaign.

“I haven’t had a conversation with her — I’m sure we’ll have conversations in the next weeks," he told the Post, though he did not commit to calling. “Undoubtedly, we’ll communicate, I don’t know how that will come about, but we certainly will communicate."

Pedro Ribeiro, Gray's spokesman, said he was unaware of any plans to speak with Bowser today.

Much the same happened after November's gubernatorial election, when former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli refused to call Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Kevin Drum, a writer for Mother Jones magazine, asked in November if the post-election phone call should just be done away with, wondering if it is just an "insincere gesture." A Gray campaign spokesman called them a "made-up tradition."

But Judith Martin, the D.C. native better known as "Miss Manners," says that those post-loss calls might be hard to make, but they should be made.

"It's often very difficult to congratulate the winner, but that's part of the game," the longtime etiquette columnist and author says. "You don't have to say you're happy, but you do have to congratulate them and say you'll help make the transition easy."

In another local race, a losing incumbent contacted the victorious challenger the next day. "Council member Jim Graham sent a gracious note to Brianne Nadeau congratulating her on her win and offering his good wishes and assistance in any transition," said Tom Fazzini on Wednesday, referring to the Ward 1 contest between the four-term incumbent and Nadeau.

In the mayoral race, Bowser often criticized Gray for his links to D.C. businessman Jeffrey Thompson. She was also one of three Council members to call for her resignation in 2012. In the closing weeks of the campaign, she was one of the candidates to say that she wasn't sure she would back Gray in the November general if he won the primary.

Still, says Martin, a hard fought campaign doesn't excuse not making the phone call to the victor.

"All elections are divisive, that's why they're elections," says Martin, who attended Georgetown Day School and has written multiple books on etiquette. "Graciousness is often counter-intuitive, but it's the right thing to do," said Martin.

There might be a thaw on the horizon, though: Gray has confirmed that he will attend a traditional unity breakfast put on by the D.C. Democratic State Committee on Friday.

Update, Friday, 6 a.m.: As the Washington Business Journal reports, both Bowser and Gray were invited on stage during last night's Leadership Greater Washington event. They shook hands.

Update, Friday, 11:15 a.m: The Washington Post has an update from the Democratic unity breakfast, and reports that Gray congratulated Bowser — after some prodding.


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