Incumbent Sandy Allen and former mayor Marion Barry failed to get an endorsement for a D.C. Council seat by members of the Ward 8 Democrats because neither candidate received enough votes yesterday in a straw poll covering one of the year's most contested local races.
Allen and Barry, two veteran politicians in the ward, got more votes in the straw poll than the other seven candidates vying for the Ward 8 council seat in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary. But to win the organization's endorsement, a candidate needs to garner two-thirds of the total ballots cast. Allen received 91 votes to Barry's 60. Five of the other seven candidates split 97 votes, and the validity of 22 other votes was challenged.
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More than 200 people crammed into the basement multipurpose room of the Washington Highlands Branch Library in Southwest to listen to the candidates in a mild-mannered debate. All registered Democrats in the ward, primarily situated in Southeast Washington, were eligible to vote by secret ballot in a separate room.
Allen, who has held the council seat for nearly eight years, said she was not surprised that none of the candidates was able to get enough votes because the two-thirds threshold was so high.
"I do believe I can win in September," she said. "That's where my focus is. I still did well in popular vote. . . . As long as they stay divided like they are, which I believe they will, I think I will be victorious."
Barry, the four-term former mayor who represented the ward on the council from 1992 to 1994, said he was not upset that he did not win the endorsement. He said it was Allen's endorsement to lose.
"She's very vulnerable, and she ought to be running scared," he said. "I feel great that we were able to do as well as we did. We didn't work at it. No one can beat me in Ward 8. We're going to outwork and outdo everybody to ensure victory."
The other candidates in the council race are D.C. school board member William Lockridge; Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Jacque Patterson and Sandra "S.S." Seegars, who is also a member of the D.C. Taxicab Commission; and community activists R. Joyce Scott, Leon J. Swain Jr., Frank Sewell and Nathaniel T. Adams. Sewell, Adams and Swain did not participate in the forum.
Patterson received 36 votes; Lockridge, 35; Seegars, 19; Scott, 6; and Swain, 1.
Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, president of the Ward 8 Democrats, said that the fact that Allen did not win the straw poll indicates that she has much work to do before the election.
"If you add up all the votes that are not for Sandy Allen, then a majority of the people voted against Sandy Allen," he said. "It shows that she's ahead here. It doesn't show that she's comfortably ahead."
Barry is considered Allen's toughest opponent. In 1992, after serving a six-month prison term on a misdemeanor cocaine possession charge, he used the Ward 8 council campaign to resuscitate his political career.
The relationship between Allen and Barry has been strained over the years.
Although she was once his campaign manager and ran his constituent services office, Barry did not support her candidacy to replace him on the council.
Barry said yesterday that the council race "is not about friendship."