Up-and-Coming Ward 5 Is Coveted by 11 Democrats

By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 1, 2006

Two years ago, residents in the Bloomingdale neighborhood in Ward 5 gathered at the corner of First Street NE and Rhode Island Avenue to celebrate the opening of Windows Cafe, a cream-colored building with purple awnings that houses a food mart and -- in suburban fashion -- wireless Internet access.

"That used to be a little market with cereal, sodas and candy bars behind Plexiglas," said Vicky Leonard-Chambers, a former Ward 5 advisory neighborhood commissioner. "It's totally different. It's open. There are always people sitting in there with their laptops."

Residents said the Internet cafe is a sign of progress in an aging urban neighborhood. Although a shop owner was killed a block away this summer, residents believe the trendy business points to the ward's resurgence.

The craving for positive developments in Ward 5 has set the stage for a hotly contested Democratic primary Sept. 12. Eleven candidates hope to fill the seat of D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D), who is running for mayor and had to forgo the council race because his term ends this year.

On the basis of fundraising success and informal polling, candidates Harry "Tommy" Thomas Jr. and Frank Wilds stand out. Both are well-known activists in the ward's political circles, and both garnered a large number of votes at the Ward 5 Democrats' political forum in July.

Thomas, whose late father, Harry Thomas Sr., represented the ward for three terms, received 265 votes. Wilds, who has close ties to Orange, received 202 votes. Bruce A. Marshall, a lawyer, came in a distant third with 95 votes. The other candidates received fewer than 50 votes each. But no candidate received the required 60 percent of the 825 votes cast, so the Ward 5 Democrats did not endorse a candidate.

Fundraising mirrors the apparent support. Thomas and Wilds have raised $68,295 and $51,877, respectively, but among the other candidates, only Marshall and former D.C. rent administrator Raenelle Zapata have raised more than $25,000, according to the latest election finance filings.

Thomas and Wilds have said that if they are elected, constituent services will be a priority and that public safety and education are at the top of their agendas. The ward is home to more than 70,000 residents with an average family income of about $55,000.

The other Ward 5 candidates are Kathy Henderson, an advisory neighborhood commissioner; Joe Harris, an executive of the Friendship House Association; Regina James, an advisory neighborhood commissioner; Ron Magnus, a former D.C. assistant attorney general; Audrey Ray, an administrative assistant; Deborah "Debbie" Smith, business owner and advisory neighborhood commissioner; and Vera Winfield, a barbershop owner.

Two Statehood Green candidates, Carolyn Steptoe, owner of Twilight Legal Services, and Philip Blair Jr., a World Bank retiree, will compete in that party's primary for a chance to challenge the Democratic winner in November.

Lorraine Carter, a ward resident who lives in one of the city's heaviest voting precincts, said most of the Ward 5 candidates have left campaign fliers at her door.

"It's an empty seat, and they feel they can do the job better than the next person," Carter said. "I haven't decided who to vote for. I've got to have that gut feeling."

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