Deni Taveras wins Prince George’s Council seat by just six votes


From left: Deni Taveras campaign volunteer Greg Jennings, Del. Doyle Niemann and lawyers Dara Lindenbaum and Jonathan Shurberg Taveras watch as election officials open and mark absentee ballots in a tight race for Prince George's County Council. (Arelis R. Hernández/The Washington Post)

First-time candidate Deni Taveras won the Democratic primary for the Prince George’s County Council District 2 seat Monday, defeating state Del. Doyle Niemann by a scant six votes.

Taveras lagged behind Niemann when early voting and election-day ballots were counted, but she edged ahead based on absentee and provisional ballots. Her energetic grass-roots campaign focused on outreach to newly registered voters — particularly Latinos.

“I’m somebody that nobody knew 10 months ago,” said Taveras, 41. “I reached out and made connections with everyone in a very intimate and integral way.”

Some Prince George’s leaders said Taveras’s victory proves the effectiveness of seeking support among the county’s growing population of Hispanic voters. Latinos are becoming politically active in ways they had not been before, these politicians say, and in places where their voices were once muted.

“It’s a community that should not be ignored by any elected official — not in Montgomery, not in Baltimore and certainly not in Prince George’s,” said Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), who is one of six Hispanic lawmakers in Maryland’s General Assembly. “It’s a community that is growing, that is getting educated and that is participating.”

Del. Doyle Niemann, center right, with attorneys Jonathan Shurberg and Dara Lindenbaum (representing Niemann’s opponent, Deni Taveras) inspect absentee ballots Monday in Largo. (Arelis R. Hernández/The Washington Post)

Niemann, 67, has until Thursday to request a recount of the tally, which stands at 2,417 for him and 2,423 votes for Taveras. He said he has not decided whether to do so. The winner was certified Monday night.

“Until I’ve evaluated the recount options, one should accept what [the results] are,” Niemann said after congratulating Taveras at the Board of Elections office. They posed for a photo together, in front of a wall festooned with vote-tally receipts.

A respected politician and state prosecutor who previously served on the county school board and the Mount Ranier City Council, Niemann said he has been thinking about the lyrics to a country folk song by Tracy Lawrence that he keeps on his iPod: “It’d be nice if we’d forget our troubles as easy as we forget our blessings.”

Taveras, who has no opposition on the November general election ballot, would be the first Hispanic woman on the County Council. She would replace outgoing council member William A. Campos, who was the first Hispanic to serve there.

Early in the race, Taveras accused Niemann of underestimating the Latino vote, citing a perception that many Latinos are ineligible to vote or apathetic.

Niemann said he did reach out to the Hispanic community, hiring bilingual campaign workers and seeking support from a group of Hispanic church leaders.

But Taveras campaigned extensively in heavily Latino neighborhoods, knocking on doors, sitting in living rooms, visiting Metro stations and asking potential voters to tell her their needs and concerns.

“If you work hard and reach out to all voters and not assume the numbers — especially in the new immigrant community, African, Latino and Caribbean — those new Americans are going to participate in the process,” said Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who endorsed Taveras.

Baker said politicos county-wide, not just those representing largely Hispanic districts, should take notice.

Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George’s), who has worked with Niemann in the past, said Taveras’s background resonated with a wide spectrum of voters. Orphaned as a child, Taveras was raised by a grandmother who had little formal education. She earned two Ivy League degrees and has worked for the federal government and as a top aide to state Sen. Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George’s).

“The voters who voted for Deni were Latino, but they were also African American and white,” Ivey said. “Deni is not someone you can fit into a box.”

At the same time, CASA of Maryland director Gustavo Torres said Taveras’s candidacy motivated a specific voting bloc — Hispanic women — that he thinks will become more organized in future election cycles.

While door knocking, “I had an opportunity to speak to a young Latina from Guatemala who had voted for the first time [in 2012] for [President] Obama,” Torres said. “She said Deni had energized her to vote again.”

Arelis Hernández covers Prince George’s County as part of The Washington Post's local staff.
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