On primary day, some D.C. voters consider change

Those who think District voters are reflexively supporters of incumbent Democrats might be surprised by some of the comments heard outside the polls on D.C.’s primary election day Tuesday.

Linda Hamilton-Gilbert, one of 1,395 registered Republican voters in Ward 7, and one of only 80 in her precinct, arrived before noon at St. Benedict the Moor Church in the Kingman Park neighborhood to cast ballots for council candidate Ron Moten, in a rare contested Republican primary for a council seat. Moten is facing businessman Don Folden Sr.

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Voter’s guide

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She said she was impressed by Moten’s history of working with troubled youth with his Peaceoholics nonprofit group.

“This is a person who did things in their youth life that he learned from,” she said. “He has come back to the community and he’s using his skills in the streets to benefit the community.”

Though Hamilton-Gilbert said she’s been registered with the GOP for more than a decade, the hard-fought ward primary between Moten and Folden was a first-of-a-kind treat.

“This is the first time that any part of the Republican Party has made an overture to me,” she said. As a black Republican in a heavily Democratic city, she said, “We’ve been out in the wilderness. No one communicates one way or the other. . . . In the United States, we need more than one party.”

The GOP primary in Ward 7 is one of several council seats contested in the Democratic primary. There are competitive races for an at-large seat as well as Democratic primaries in Wards 4 , 7 and 8. D.C. residents also chose among several candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.

At the University of the District of Columbia campus in Fort Totten, Phyllis Matthews, a 73-year-old lifelong Washingtonian, voted for Peter Shapiro on a friend’s recommendation. Shapiro, a former Prince George’s council member, is running in the only citywide race against incumbent Vincent Orange, former incumbent Sekou Biddle, activist and minister E. Gail Anderson Holness.

Matthews said she never considered voting for Orange, whom she lumped in with other elected officials whose campaign funding has come under questioned.

“Everytime you turn around, they’re getting into some sort of trouble,” she said.

In Ward 8, many longtime residents voting at M.L.K. Elementary School in Southeast said they are loyal to Council member Marion Barry, the former mayor who is seeking his third consecutive term on the council against several opponents in one of the District’s most-watched races.

“He knows the system, he knows D.C.,” said Shamelli Toran, 32, who was born in the city and works in hiring for a grocery chain. “Yes, he’s had mishaps, but no one is perfect. This time around, hopefully, he doesn’t disappoint the people.”

Vashti Jefferson, 59, said she liked the campaign posters of Natalie Williams, but she knows Barry.

“I guess I’m from the old school,” said Jefferson, who works in catering at Nationals ballpark. “If he’s doing fine, keep him.”

Others said change would come only with new representation, even as they acknowledged that Barry is still favored by many in Ward 8.

“I’m not voting for popularity,” said James Briscoe, 62, a retired federal government employee and third-generation Washingtonian. He said he cast his ballot for Sandra Seegars. “We have the worst ward in the city. I may not get to see it get better, but I have grandchildren here.”

Some Ward 8 neighborhoods have in recent years attracted transient young professionals such as Robert DeWitty, a 35-year-old federal government lawyer.

“We need to have some new ideas,” Witty said of the council. He would not say who he voted for, but said that young people in Ward 8 need more job opportunities.

Barry, who likes to note that he has won 11 of his 12 political campaigns, arrived just after 10 a.m. to cast his ballot. Dressed in his campaign’s trademark bright green, he called out to a group of schoolchildren, “Who you all voting for?” Without prompting, they shouted back, “Marion Barry!”

Elsewhere, many voters said they are concerned with ongoing federal investigations into D.C. political campaigns and are looking for change.

Retired teacher Paulette Tilghman, 64, who said she wasn’t especially pleased with any of the Ward 7 Democratic candidates.

“I had to vote against the worst to get down to who I voted for,” she said, raising concerns about nonprofit leader Tom Brown’s short voting history in the ward and Kevin B. Chavous’s December arrest for allegedly soliciting prostitution, a charge on which he has agreed to a deferred prosecution deal.

She ended up voting for incumbent Yvette M. Alexander — “who I don’t like, but I’ll work with her a little harder.”

“I think it’s time for a fresh face,” said Erica White, 37, after she voted at River Terrace Elementary School. She opted for Chavous, the 27-year-old son of a former three-term council member, over Alexander.

Another River Terrace voter, Wes Sturdivant, also picked Chavous. “It’s time for a change,” he said, citing news reports of investigations into the campaign of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and those of other council members.

Alexander’s campaign is not among those under federal investigation.

Howard T. Chambers, 54, said he was pleased about progress in the ward — such as better police response and a new bus stop across from his polling place at Plummer Elementary. He said he did not associate Alexander with the recent headlines.

“I watch the news a lot, and I don’t see anything bad about her yet,” he said.

In the at-large race, Lorraine P. Montgomery, 63, a lifelong D.C. resident and retired Pepco employee, said Orange was her choice. “He may not be the best, but I’d rather deal with someone who knows how the system works,” she said.

Frederick Tucker, 65, an “on-and-off” District resident since the 1960s, also went with the familiar Orange.

“When he was on the council before, I liked what he was able to bring to this community, like the new apartment buildings by the (Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood) Metro station,” Tucker said.

At Union Temple Baptist Church in historic Anacostia, there was strong support for Orange, but also some interest in newcomers such as Biddle.

Patricia Clay, a human resources consultant who has lived in the neighborhood since 1989, said the council needs to be “energized with new faces and new ideas.” Clay, 60, pointed to Biddle’s experience with charter schools, which she said would be a boon for the council.

Orange, making the rounds of Ward 5 to ensure that his base was turning out, said he was confident about the final results, both in the ward and citywide.

“We’re looking good,” he said during a stop at the UDC Community College campus at the former Backus Middle School in Fort Totten. “We’re making the rounds here, making sure our supporters have what they need. Ward 5 is my home base, so I’m sure we’ll do well here. It’s a good day in the District of Columbia.”

In Ward 4, at Shepherd Elementary School, voters appeared concerned about the ethics cloud hanging over the D.C. Council. Several voters said they were casting their votes for newcomers, though there appeared to be solid support for incumbent Muriel Bowser.

Jackie Holt, 73, described Bowser as “smart on her feet, really versed on the business of the council.”

She also said Bowser, who has been on the council since winning a special election in 2007, works “full time” on the council, unlike some of her colleagues.

But voters like April Massey, a 53-year-old college dean, were not as enthusiastic. After talking to a neighbor who had a Renee Bowser sign in the yard, Massey said she decided to vote for the other Bowser, a labor attorney. “I don’t know if she can win, but I do think that voting in opposition of someone sends a message,” Massey said.

Massey said she had grown more concerned about reports of Muriel Bowser’s acceptance of corporate contributions and ties to Wal-Mart, which is building two stores in the ward.

Though she said Muriel Bowser has done a “credible job,” her vote for an opponent would “send a message to Muriel Bowser that it’s not okay.”

Over in Georgetown, at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Ken Archer, owner of the software company Telogical, said he supports incumbent council member Jack Evans but feels that the council member is often more concerned with the Redskins in Ward 6 than schools in Ward 2. Evans is running unopposed for the Democratic nod.

“I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude,” Archer said. “Other [leaders] know in detail the test results and the enrollment figures at each school, the challenges and requests each school has. Evans needs to have members of his staff who know the figures . . . to hold the chancellor accountable.”

At Christ Episcopal Church in Georgetown, retired attorney Tom Pursley said Evans’s careerism needs to come to an end. Pursley, who said he has received little help from the councilman’s office on several occasions, believes questions and problems would be answered if he were a businessman or campaign contributor.

“I hoped someone would be running against Evans ... After 20 years, he’s part of the problem,” Pursley said. “We need someone who’s more concerned with solving people’s problems and not with building a baseball stadium.”

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Besides the candidates on the ballot, Tuesday is also a big day for organizers hoping to place an initiative on the November ballot to ban corporate contributions to city political campaigns. They have placed volunteers at most city polling places in hopes of gathering a large chunk of the more than 20,000 signatures needed to get the question on the ballot.

An hour into Tuesday’s voting, volunteer Veronica O. Davis had collected about a dozen signatures outside St. Timothy’s. One signer was Winslow Woodland, 47, a city employee.

“I don’t think corporations always have the public’s best interests or the community’s best interests at heart, rather than just the bottom line,” Woodland said. “We have a lot of social problems and I don’t think corporate America is going to take on those problems.”

Polls in the District are open until 8 p.m. To find your polling site, go here.

Staff writers Ann E. Marimow, Mike DeBonis, Tim Craig, Jimm Phillips and Rachel Kara contributed to this report.

 
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