By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Adrian M. Fenty won the Democratic nomination for D.C. mayor last night, trouncing Linda W. Cropp in the primary for the city's highest elected post after promising voters he would bring new energy and ideas to tackle long-standing problems.
Fenty, the Ward 4 D.C. Council member, defeated Cropp, the longtime council chairman, by about 57 percent to 31 percent, with almost all precincts counted.
The winners in the primary are virtually guaranteed to sweep the general election in November in the majority-Democrat city.
In the race to replace Cropp as chairman, Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) defeated colleague Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3). Gray led Patterson by a ratio of about 3 to 2, based on the incomplete returns. Phil Mendelson won the nomination for a third term as an at-large council member, handily beating lawyer A. Scott Bolden.
Cropp conceded about 10:20 p.m. at a gathering of a few hundred supporters at the Capital Hilton at 16th and K streets NW. "I want to congratulate Adrian Fenty," she said, flanked by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and her family. "He ran a very good campaign, and I will support the Democratic candidate in November."
After accepting a concession call from Cropp, Fenty addressed supporters at a party in a tent outside his campaign headquarters. "You did it!" he told the crowd, which cheered. "The next four years, the mayor of the District of Columbia is going to be everybody's mayor, no matter where you live." Of the government, he added: "We're going to run it like a business so that everyone knows if you work for the residents . . . you're going to be held accountable."
Fenty arrived at the party even as the results were coming in. Hundreds of supporters, most wearing green and white campaign T-shirts and hats, were screaming: "We finally got it! . . . Fenty! Fenty! Fenty!"
Fenty milled with the crowd, shaking hands, hugging and embracing friends and family, including his father, Phil. Some called him "Mayor Fenty."
Fenty plans to wave a "Thank You" sign to motorists at North Capitol Street and Florida Avenue at 7:15 this morning and to go door-to-door this afternoon to thank residents, his spokesman said.
In his speech, Fenty talked about fixing schools and having the government be more responsive to residents.
"We're going to keep going forward, but we're going to go forward even faster," he vowed.
Kirk Callan Smith, a lawyer from Capitol Hill, attended Fenty's victory party and said he was excited.
"Just think of what the next four years will be like," Smith said. He also noted the diversity of the crowd, which included blacks and whites. "It's a nice cross-section of the city that's here, and that says something about Adrian."
Cropp started the day by voting at Powell Elementary School in Ward 4 with her husband, Dwight, shortly after the polls opened at 7 a.m. In the afternoon, Williams joined her in Ward 2 and walked with her to greet voters at three other precincts.
"We're doing what we can to help Linda," Williams said. "Voters need to know what's at stake for the city and that she's the best candidate."
Fenty met with hundreds of campaign staff members under a tent near his campaign headquarters on Florida Avenue NW about 6 a.m. He voted an hour later at C. Melvin Sharpe Health School in Ward 4, accompanied by his wife, Michelle, and their 6-year-old twin sons, Matthew and Andrew.
Yesterday's Democratic primary represented the start of one of the largest turnovers among city leaders in years. After two terms, Williams is bowing out, while several council seats were being contested, including the race to replace Cropp.
In the four ward council races, Jim Graham headed toward a third term in Ward 1, defeating developer Chad Williams; George Washington University professor Mary Cheh defeated a large field in Ward 3; Harry Thomas Jr. won in Ward 5; and Tommy Wells received the Ward 6 nomination.
Residents have generally praised Williams's record in fiscal management and economic development, but this election centered on what his successor can do to fix social problems such as schools, affordable housing and crime.
In addition to Cropp and Fenty, retired business executive Marie C. Johns and council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (Ward 5) made campaign appearances to try to keep their bids alive. But they lagged significantly in the voting.
For all the talk about the drastic turnover in political leadership, poll workers reported yesterday morning that early voter turnout was light, although the numbers appeared to pick up in the evening.
Fenty aides had promised to roll out a massive get-out-the-vote drive with 1,000 campaign workers, about 60 vans and four buses. But the juggernaut did not appear to be as overwhelming as promised -- his aides were outnumbered by Cropp staffers in some locations.
At Dunbar Senior High School on New Jersey Avenue in Northwest Washington, a few precinct workers placed their heads down on desks to take naps because so few voters had come to the polling place. Theresa McBride, a check-in clerk, said she had been in charge of helping voters with last names that started with T through Z and had checked in about 25 voters between 7 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
The matchup between Cropp, 58, and Fenty, 35, presented a stark contrast between an experienced veteran and an energetic newcomer. Cropp, the council chairman for nine years, has been in elected office for 26 years, but Fenty is in only his second council term.
Throughout the campaign, however, Cropp struggled to sell herself even to people who knew her. Virgelene Braswell, a retired supply technician at the Navy Yard, hugged Cropp enthusiastically when the mayoral candidate greeted her at Backus Middle School.
"You strut your stuff, girl!" Braswell said to Cropp.
"I will," Cropp replied.
But Braswell, who said she has known Cropp for years, admitted she had just cast her vote for Fenty.
Others, however, said they were drawn to Fenty's promise that he will bring new ideas to attack old problems such as schools, crime and affordable housing.
Rondolyn Wilson, 37, of Petworth said she voted for Fenty because she trusted that he would improve the performance of D.C. government.
"Adrian is going to bring a new level of accountability, and that's going to be a bright thing," Wilson said. "I'm looking forward to seeing something new instead of more of the same."
The mayoral campaign has been the most expensive in the city's history -- the five major candidates raised more than $6 million collectively. The campaign has also been one of the longest, with Fenty in particular stumping for votes well over a year before the primary.
Fenty set the tone from the start, with his determination to knock on as many doors as possible. His energy sparked grass-roots excitement, but his ambition also worried the city's political establishment. Cropp said she decided to run after friends convinced her that no other political veteran would challenge Fenty, whom they strongly opposed.
Cropp based her campaign on her experience, stressing her 10 years on the school board and 17 on the council. At small receptions across the city, on doorsteps and during forums, Cropp told voters that she was the best bet to carry on the city's economic turnaround begun under Williams.
The pitch worked well with the city's business community, which heartily endorsed her, but Fenty fought back by saying he had the energy and new ideas to fix old problems: the failing schools, a growing gap between rich and poor and concerns about public safety. He cast Cropp as part of the District's troubled past, even as Cropp took credit for helping rescue the city from mid-1990s bankruptcy.
By early last month, Cropp was trailing Fenty by about 10 percentage points in polling, with Johns, Orange and Michael A. Brown lagging much further behind. Fearing that Fenty would cruise to victory, Cropp launched advertisements that attacked Fenty's record as a lawyer and council member.
If the city was experiencing newfound enthusiasm this election year, it wasn't just the mayoral race that generated it. The competitive contest between Gray and Patterson to replace Cropp as chairman, along with several spirited ward council races, contributed to the high-stakes atmosphere.
The Democratic race for chairman pitted 12-year council veteran Patterson against freshman member Gray, former head of the city's Human Services Department.
Patterson cast herself as a tough legislator who often acted as a lone wolf on the council but had a record of legislative successes, such as a ban on smoking in bars and a ban on trains with hazardous materials passing through the city.
By comparison, Gray called himself a consensus builder who could get the council to work together to improve services to neglected neighborhoods.
Although both candidates said they were eager to develop widespread support, polls showed that the contest was defined in large part by an undertone in which black voters backed Gray, who is black, and white voters supported Patterson, who is white.