Gray campaigns on election day outside a polling place in Washington


(Reuters) – District of Columbia city council member Muriel Bowser swept to victory over scandal-plagued Mayor Vincent Gray in the U.S. capital’s crowded Democratic Party primary on Wednesday.

Winning the Democratic primary is seen as tantamount to taking the general election in the heavily Democratic city. Turnout in Tuesday’s election was low at 23 percent.

Gray conceded defeat around midnight EDT (0400 GMT). Final results had Bowser with 44 percent of the vote to Gray’s 32 percent. Six candidates split the other votes.

“God bless you, and let’s go to work,” Bowser, a city council member for the past seven years, told cheering supporters.

In the November election, Bowser will face David Catania, an openly gay independent member of the city council who is seen as the strongest challenger. Catania is a former Republican who has backed progressive issues since leaving the party in 2004.

A Washington Post poll last week indicated Bowser would defeat Catania by 30 percentage points in a general election.

Polls had initially shown Bowser, who helped manage Adrian Fenty’s successful 2006 mayoral campaign, in a tight race with Gray, who presided over an economic boom and surging population in the U.S. capital.

Gray’s re-election campaign was dogged by questions stemming from the financing of his 2010 primary victory over Fenty. Three of his former officials have pleaded guilty to federal campaign financing charges.

Gray, 71, had seen his lead over Bowser vanish since Washington businessman Jeffrey Thompson, a former government contractor, pleaded guilty three weeks ago to violating campaign finance laws.

Federal prosecutors had accused Thompson of aiding Gray through a “shadow campaign” that funneled more than $660,000 through friends and relatives to Gray’s 2010 election effort.

Gray, the former head of the city’s Human Services Department, has denied any wrongdoing.

Voters said on Tuesday the allegations swirling around Gray were a major factor in the election.

“I hope the outcome will be more honest. And I hope we’ll move toward a city where the best people can be elected,” said voter Barry Winer, 47.

Bowser, 41, tapped into voters’ suspicions about Gray and called for a fresh start. She had worked for the suburban Montgomery County government and was elected to the council in 2007.

Bowser has called for reducing regulations on businesses and improving schools but has also stressed she will be a trustworthy mayor. Her main legislative accomplishment was the creation of an ethics commission.

The fundraising probe is part of a long line of District of Columbia scandals that include the 2008 conviction of a tax official for embezzling almost $50 million and Mayor Marion Barry’s drug conviction in 1990.

Among other races, District of Columbia Council Chairman Phil Mendelson had 81 percent of the vote to 18 percent for challenger Calvin Gurley.