Many New Faces Emerging in Ward Primaries

By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 13, 2006

District voters yesterday cast ballots to reshape the D.C. Council, choosing party nominees to replace the council chairman and three members who are retiring or running for higher office.

Of six seats up for election, only two incumbents -- Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) -- waged campaigns to return for four-year terms to their current positions. Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) and Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) sought higher offices, and Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) retired.

Democratic voters chose nominees for chairman, an at-large member and four ward representatives. The chairman is the only council member not allowed to have outside employment. The chairman's job pays $142,000 a year, and the part-time council positions pay $92,520.

Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) defeated Patterson for council chairman. Mendelson easily beat lawyer A. Scott Bolden, a former D.C. Democratic Party chairman and one-time president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, in the at-large race.

In the other primary races, Graham won in Ward 1; University professor Mary M. Cheh won in Ward 3; Harry "Tommy" Thomas Jr. won the nomination for the Ward 5 seat held by his father for 12 years; and Tommy Wells, a member of the D.C. Board of Education, coasted to a win in Ward 6.

Mendelson said last night that it was clear he was the candidate that "reflects the residents' concerns. I ran a grass-roots campaign. I connected with voters across the city, and it paid off."

The 13-member council will be changed significantly next year. New members will be elected to Wards 3, 5 and 6 in the November general election. If Gray prevails in November, a special election would be held next spring to fill his Ward 7 seat.

With Adrian M. Fenty, who won the Democratic nomination for mayor yesterday, almost certain to win in November, voters also would choose his replacement in Ward 4.

With the city choosing a new mayor this year, the council races gave voters a chance to set even more of a tone for the future. Because the District is overwhelmingly Democratic, yesterday's winners are just about guaranteed election in November. Most will face challenges, however, from Republican, Statehood Green and independent candidates.

One of the most hotly contested races pitted Mendelson, who was elected to the at-large seat in 1998, against Bolden, an affluent K Street lawyer. While strong primary challenges are not unusual for Mendelson, this year's race was different because the council member, who is white, found himself in a one-on-one matchup with Bolden, who is black.

Mendelson narrowly won his last primary election with less than 50 percent of the vote because he was able to stave off a field of black candidates who split the votes. Bolden contributed $66,000 of his own money to his campaign, raising nearly $412,000, compared with Mendelson's $119,000.

In Ward 1, Chad Williams, Graham's chief opponent, attempted to show that Graham favored the residents who live in Mount Pleasant, Adams Morgan and U Street -- areas that are home to the ward's heaviest voting blocks. The neighborhoods are also home to many apartment-dwellers impressed by Graham's push for stricter rent-control laws. The strength of Graham's support along the Georgia Avenue business strip was evident when business owners he approached agreed to remove the campaign signs of his opponents.

Patterson's departure drew nine candidates to the Ward 3 race, where education and high-rise development along Wisconsin Avenue NW topped the list of issues. Cheh, a George Washington University law professor, emerged as a front-runner because she had Patterson's support and won several key endorsements.

Name recognition was high for the top two contenders in the crowded 11-way race in Ward 5 to replace Orange. Thomas and Frank Wilds, an advisory neighborhood commissioner with close ties to Orange, are both active in ward politics.

The other candidates, including community activists and former government workers, did not raise nearly as much money as the two front-runners. This was Thomas's second attempt to win the seat. He campaigned four years ago against Orange, who had defeated his father. Harry Thomas Sr. died in 1999.

Wells, endorsed by Ambrose, had no trouble against Curtis L. Etherly Jr. and Leo Pinson in the high-voting precincts on Capitol Hill and Southwest, which have traditionally been strong for Ambrose.

Wells called it "a great day for me in Ward 6. I am surprised and humbled by the margin of victory."

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