Voters in the poorest ward of the nation's capital yesterday enthusiastically embraced the latest political comeback of Marion Barry, voting overwhelmingly to give the former mayor a seat on the D.C. Council, where he will be joined by two energetic newcomers.
Voters also ousted two-term incumbent Dwight E. Singleton from the city school board and voted to install Federal City Council education director Victor Reinoso in his place. In a separate school board contest, city employee Jeff Smith won a four-way contest for an open seat.
Marion Barry attends his victory party in Southeast Washington, D.C.
(Marvin Joseph - The Washington Post)
Meanwhile, Barry (D) swamped Republican Cardell Shelton for the Ward 8 council seat held by Democrat Sandy Allen. In the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, Barry captured nearly two-thirds of the vote against Allen; against Shelton, the ratio was more than 20 to 1.
"It's not a comeback, either. It's a coming out of retirement!" a jubilant Barry, 68, told reporters as he arrived at Georgena's Restaurant in Southeast Washington, where about 100 supporters chanted his name. Later, Barry needed help ascending an elevated podium, but he punched the air like a boxer as he delivered his victory speech.
"I've been knocked down. Some would say I was booted down, I pulled myself down," said Barry, who ended three consecutive terms as mayor after he was caught smoking crack in 1990 on an FBI videotape. "Whatever it was, I got up," Barry said. "And for the people in Ward 8 who are depressed, who are frustrated: Get up! Get up! . . . Let's bring hope and pride to Ward 8!"
The story was similar in neighboring Ward 7, where Democrat Vincent C. Gray routed his Republican and D.C. Statehood Green Party opponents to capture the seat held by Kevin P. Chavous (D).
And in the at-large race for the seat held by council veteran Harold Brazil (D), political newcomer Kwame R. Brown (D) became the first person living in one of the majority-African American wards east of the Anacostia River to be elected to the council by voters citywide.
"It is a proud moment that the people east of the river finally have someone who is an at-large council person who . . . is accepted throughout the whole city," Brown told reporters at his victory party at H
O Restaurant on the Southwest waterfront. Brown mentioned neighborhoods from Georgetown to Capitol Hill to Benning Heights in his victory speech, and promised to represent them all.
Claudia Jones, 45, a home health care worker voting late yesterday in Ward 8, said the election results represent a triumph for residents east of the river, who have long clamored for a bigger piece of the city's expanding economic pie.
"Things are going to start changing here for us. We deserve it," Jones said. "It seems so long we've been forgotten."
Across the city, elections officials reported record turnouts, driven mainly by the fierce battle for the presidency. Citywide, an additional 30,000 people had registered to vote compared with four years ago. In virtually every precinct, lines were long and polling places were packed, particularly in the busy morning hours when many people tried to cast ballots on their way to work.
At St. Columba's Episcopal Church near Tenleytown, nearly half of the precinct's 2,745 registered voters had cast ballots by 1 p.m., according to precinct captain Raif Meier. At Foundry United Methodist Church near Dupont Circle, people waited more than an hour in a line that stretched out the door and along the sidewalk for nearly a block and a half.
"I wasn't early enough," said Jim Dunton, 45, who was stuck in line at 8 a.m. Dunton wouldn't say whether he planned to vote for President Bush or Democrat John F. Kerry. But, he said, "there are life and death issues at stake here."
At Ketcham Elementary in Southeast Washington, precinct captain Robert E. Hairston said more than 1,300 voters had cast ballots, triple the number in a normal election. T'Chaka Sapp, who was running for an Advisory Neighborhood Commission post, chalked it up to young voters coming out to vote against the president and the war in Iraq.
"The kids are afraid. They have friends who are 18 who went to war, and they're ending up handicapped or dead," Sapp said. "Before, kids didn't think it mattered because it didn't directly affect them. Now it's affecting them."
Some might argue that there were equally important issues at stake in the races for D.C. school board. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has called the city's schools the worst in the nation, and student performance lags badly.
In District 1, which comprises Wards 1 and 2, incumbent Julie Mikuta was so frustrated by the glacial pace of reform that she chose not to seek reelection. In District 2, which comprises Wards 3 and 4, incumbent Singleton seemed to suffer at the hands of voters infuriated by his failure to show up for board meetings.
Winner Reinoso said he purposely campaigned throughout the district, which is divided by Rock Creek Park into mostly white and mostly African American sectors.
"The key was, from the beginning, sending the signal that we were going to represent every neighborhood . . . and not be the 'Ward 3 candidate' or the 'Ward 4 candidate,' " said Reinoso, 35, who was endorsed by Ward 4 council member Adrian M. Fenty (D).
In other races, incumbents easily prevailed against underfunded and little-known challengers -- except for Fenty, who was unopposed.
Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) staved off a challenge from Independent Tony Dominguez and D.C. Statehood Green Party candidate Laurent Ross. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) crushed Republican Jesse James Price Sr. and D.C. Statehood Green party candidate Jay Houston Marx.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District's nonvoting representative in Congress, dispatched with her Republican opponent, Michael Andrew Monroe. And shadow Rep. Ray Browne (D), an unpaid official elected to lobby for District voting rights, easily defeated D.C. Statehood Green Party candidate Adam Eidinger, an anti-globalization protester who has tried twice to unseat Browne.