The D.C. Council yesterday endorsed member Sandy Allen in the Ward 8 Democratic primary, throwing a spotlight on the incumbent in a race in which the challenger has more name recognition.
Challenger Marion Barry's name wasn't mentioned at the event, but the former mayor's presence was felt just the same. As they praised Allen for her work in health care, housing development and human services, council members alluded to Barry in frequent asides.
Marion Barry, shown at a candidate forum this month, wasn't mentioned by name yesterday during council debate, but his presence was evident.
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Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) told the crowd that this is not the time to go "back to the future." Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) warned people to beware of "revisionist history." David A. Catania (R-At Large) advised voters to remember the legacy of "past failed administrations."
"Sandy is quiet but strong, and as I talked to different members, it became clear that people needed to know that," Cropp said. "Especially when she's up against a person who's almost bigger than life."
Nine of the 13 council members attended, and three absent members -- Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) and Harold Brazil (D-At Large) -- submitted written endorsements of Allen. Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Cropp said Orange was unaware of the council's endorsement.
The race for the Ward 8 seat in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary has shaped up as the most watched in the city. Allen, Barry and a handful of other candidates in the race failed to win enough votes for endorsement by the Ward 8 Democrats last week. Allen received 91 votes; Barry, 60. Five other candidates split 97 votes.
Barry represented Ward 8 on the council from 1992 to 1994 before being elected to his fourth term as mayor. Allen once was his campaign manager and ran his constituent service office, but Barry did not support her campaign to replace him on the council.
Barry said the council's endorsement showed that Allen is desperate.
"They have no influence in Ward 8," Barry said of the council members. "People don't know who they even are. But after the election, I'll forgive [the council members], and I'll go to work with them."
Allen said she is not changing her campaign strategy as a reaction to Barry's comeback bid. "I think the voting population may be greater this time, but that just means we're campaigning harder," Allen said.
Barry has traditionally sparked voter turnout in the elections in which he has been a candidate. In 1992, he won the Ward 8 primary with 6,297 votes (69.5 percent). Allen won the primary in 1996 with 1,746 votes (40 percent) and in 2000 with 2,326 votes (70.6 percent).
"Turnout will be greater because those are my voters coming out," Barry said. "We're out there every day registering people to vote."
Onetime Barry supporter and former Ward 6 council member Nadine Winter announced that she was backing Allen, and she said she was being joined by others who served with Barry during his previous administrations.
"One asked me to call his name out three times, so: H.R. Crawford once, H.R. Crawford twice and H.R. Crawford three times," Winter said, naming a developer and former Ward 7 council member who has been a longtime ally of Barry's.
Cropp said Crawford also told her he was supporting Allen. The dropping of his name suggests Allen's supporters view the endorsement as an indication that Barry might not be able to count on his traditional backers this time around.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has not endorsed either candidate, according to a spokesman.
"He has said repeatedly that he thinks Sandy Allen is doing a tremendous job, but he has not made any endorsement in that race or any other, and he hasn't been asked to," said spokesman Tony Bullock.