Bonds, 68, declared victory before midnight, saying her election was an affirmation of her three-decade career in D.C. government and politics. “The time is now to make sure this city lives up to its full potential,” Bonds said in a statement. “Let’s do it together.”
Meanwhile, a decisive majority favored a budget autonomy measure seeking greater control for District officials over how the city spends locally raised revenue.
The council candidates competed in the citywide race to fill out the term for the at-large seat vacated by Phil Mendelson (D) when he became D.C. Council chairman last year. In December, the D.C. Democratic State Committee selected its chairwoman, Bonds, as Mendelson’s replacement pending the special election. Despite the advantages of incumbency, Bonds had struggled early on to build a citywide base of support but rallied African American voters behind her.
The candidates also included Democrats Matthew Frumin, 53, and Paul Zukerberg, 55, as well the Statehood Green Party’s Perry Redd, 48.
Throughout the day, election officials reported low turnout, falling short of their initial projections that 14 percent of registered voters would show up at the polls.
Over the past three years, District voters have returned to the polls for the mayoral and presidential races and two prior special elections to replace council members forced from office amid corruption scandals.
On Tuesday, there were signs of fatigue among some voters.
“I didn’t know any of them,” said Margaret Winston, 77, a retired federal employee. “But I’m a Democrat. So I voted for — who was it? — Anita.”
Mara’s third-place showing represents a major setback for District Republicans, who believed the crowded field and expected low turnout represented the party’s best chance in years to win a council seat. Silverman, a former reporter and an analyst for the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, defeated Mara by a 2-to-1 margin in his home base of Ward 1 and also bested him in Ward 6, which includes Capitol Hill.
But Bonds, 68, retained strong support from African Americans, many of whom cited her three decades of experience in local government and politics. Bonds, an executive with a large city contractor, carried areas in Northeast and Southeast with greater than 6o percent of the vote, according to the results.
“I’m a native Washingtonian,” said Wanda Patrick, 52, a federal employee who voted for Bonds in North Michigan Park. “This is home. Just to know people have roots, have been here a long time and are invested, is important.”
Mara, who represents Ward 1 on the State Board of Education, sought to become only the fourth Republican since home rule to be elected to the council. After unsuccessful bids for an at-large council seat in 2008 and 2011, Mara campaigned as an outsider, saying the council needed a non-Democratic voice to stand up to incumbents.
During the campaign, Mara, 38, stressed his progressive views on social issues, hoping his support for same-sex marriage and abortion rights would prompt the District’s overwhelmingly Democratic electorate to give the GOP candidate a chance.
Michael Lent, a management consultant in Spring Valley, said he cast his ballot for Mara because the council “needs new blood and a shock to the entire system.”
“I voted for a party I never vote for,” said Lent, 67. “Anything different would be additive.”
Yet coming so quickly after the presidential election in November, the special election at times took on an unusually partisan tone for a local contest.
Bonds, Silverman and Frumin hammered Mara for supporting and donating money to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney last year. Mara also appeared to lose ground with Democrats after he said at a candidates forum that he opposed an increase in the minimum wage and an expansion of the city’s mandatory sick leave law.
Silverman, 40, and Frumin both campaigned as progressive, reform-minded Democrats who competed with Mara for support in predominately white neighborhoods in Northwest and Capitol Hill. In the final days of the campaign, Silverman unsuccessfully pushed to get Frumin to drop out of the race to improve her chances.
“I think she is a great progressive candidate,” said Chad Williams, a Parkview resident who recalled that Silverman used to write the Loose Lips column for the Washington City Paper. “You never forget people who fought for you.”
Frumin, a lawyer and member of the Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commission, finished second to Mara in wealthy Ward 3 in Northwest but failed to remain competitive citywide, according to election results. Overall, Frumin finished fourth with 11 percent of the vote.
Bonds, who got her start in District politics in the late 1970s as a campaign aide for council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), appeared to have benefited from party affiliation.
Gerald Elliott, 81 and a Democrat, said political parties “are still important” so he voted for Bonds. “I could also see the argument on Mr. Mara that having a Republican contender is valuable for the process, but that wasn’t enough to sway me,” Elliott said after voting in Chevy Chase in Ward 4.
Some voters noted that if Bonds was unseated by anyone other than Redd, eight of the 13 council members would be white for the first time since home rule.
“An African American council member might be more beneficial to African American needs,” Abraham Butler, 55, said after voting for Bonds in Parkview, in Ward 1.
But Glenn Greene, 48, who is also black, voted for Silverman. Voting based on race, he said, “is the wrong way to vote.”
“D.C. has this racial history that gets in the way of getting things done,” said Greene, a lawyer at the Justice Department.
There was more consensus about the ballot measure seeking to give the city government authority to spend locally raised funds without congressional action. The initiative was approved with more than 80 percent of the vote, according to results.
“We can take care of ourselves,” said Patricia Tapscott, a 78-year-old retired bank employee.
Mary Pat Flaherty and Rachel S. Karas contributed to this report.