This post has been updated.
Attention Ward 5 voters: You will have choices come May 15, a lot of them.
At least 12 candidates and potentially as many as 17 candidates will appear on the ballot for the special election to replace D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., who resigned last month before pleading guilty to felony theft charges.
The deadline to challenge ballot petitions came and went yesterday; twelve candidates did not have their petitions challenged and will appear on the ballot. The list includes some expected names and some unfamiliar ones: William Boston, a North Michigan Park psychologist; Amanda Broadnax, a Carver-Langston consultant; Tim Day, a Brookland accountant; Shelly Gardner, a Langdon attorney; Kathy Henderson, a Carver-Langston activist; Drew E. Hubbard, a Woodridge attorney and former council staffer; Delano Hunter, a Gateway activist; Ron L. Magnus, a Brookland attorney; Ruth E. Marshall, a Queens Chapel activist and business administrator; Kenyan McDuffie, a Stronghold attorney; Frank Wilds, a Riggs Park businessman; and Rae Zapata, a Brookland activist.
Three candidates — Angel Sherri Alston, John C. Cheeks and Bessie M. Newell — attracted petition challenges. Two others candidates who submitted sufficient ballot petitions, Bloomingdale activist John Salatti and Brookland business owner Robert Albrecht, have told supporters they will end their campaigns but have yet to officially notify the elections board of their withdrawals. If they do not officially withdraw, their names would appear on the ballot.
The Board of Elections and Ethics has until March 19 to rule on the challenges.
There will be no runoff election, raising the possibility that the next D.C. Council member might be elected with a few thousands votes or less. Attempts thus far at narrowing down what is a typically crowded Ward 5 field have met with some resistance.
A high-profile debate is set for Saturday afternoon at Catholic University, sponsored by the Brookland Heartbeat, a community newsletter, and the D.C. chapter of the League of Women Voters; WTOP radio’s Mark Segraves will be moderating. But to the chagrin of many candidates, As Loose Lips noted last Friday, only five have been invited: Day, Henderson, Hunter, McDuffie and Wilds.
That met with fury from the other candidates, including Hubbard, who wrote an open letter deeming the narrowed debate field “extremely disrespectful and a slap in the face to the more than 70,000 residents of Ward 5,” and calling for a boycott of the event and its organizers.
But Don Padou, a Brookland activist who is married to the editor of the Heartbeat and is helping to organize the debate, said a smaller, more lively event is in the ward’s best interest: “We decided we wanted a debate, not a forum, and a debate only works if you limit the number of candidates.”
Padou says the organizers used guidelines from the national League of Women Voters to devise a points-based system to gauge which candidates had the greatest level of support and most active campaigns, looking at such things as past election performance, campaign fundraising and number of signatures on nominating petitions. They decided in advance that the top Democrat, Republican and Statehood Green would qualify, with three additional candidates of any party.
There is no Statehood Green candidate, and Day is the sole Republican. All five have each run for the Ward 5 seat before. Wilds finished second, Henderson fifth to Thomas in the 2006 Democratic primary. Hunter and McDuffie finished second and third respectively to Thomas in the 2010 Democratic primary, while Henderson and Day finished second and third respectively in that year’s general election.
In an e-mail responding to concerns leveled by Magnus, D.C. LWV President Kathryn C. Ray wrote that establishing “strict, fair and objective” ranking criteria is “standard procedure for political debates.”
“We are confident that you will have numerous opportunities to present yourself to the Ward 5 electorate,” she wrote.
Magnus, who garnered about 4 percent in a 2006 Democratic primary for the Ward 5 seat, is not satisfied, suggesting that the sponsors instead have a second session with a new slate of candidates. “I call upon you to reconsider or risk a public protest at your event by the voters of Ward 5,” he wrote back to Ray. “The League should facilitate the democratic process, not dictate the race.”
Padou said he’s heard from several candidates upset with the decision, but he stands by it.
“What I’ve said is, look, I understand you’re disappointed, but we were trying to think of what was best for voters,” he said. “We’re not really concerned about candidates’ feelings. We’re trying to put on an event that’s useful to the voters of Ward 5.”