Brown Poised to Keep At-Large Seat; Schwartz Appears Short of Write-In Win

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 5, 2008

D.C. Council member Kwame R. Brown was headed for reelection to his at-large seat yesterday, and Michael A. Brown appeared poised to prevail over longtime incumbent Carol Schwartz's ambitious write-in campaign for the other at-large seat.

In the other council races, with more than half of the precincts reporting early this morning, incumbents Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) were headed for easy wins.

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics was slow to release results last night. It took until shortly after midnight to provide results for 80 of 143 precincts, four hours after polls had closed and much later than many states had begun announcing outcomes. The unofficial returns showed that Kwame Brown, no relation to Michael Brown, was far outpacing the other candidates.

Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), chairman of a special council committee appointed to investigate the elections board, called last night's delay "an embarrassment."

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics was guarded after the blunder that occurred during the September primary. Thousands of phantom votes appeared in initial results that had not been scrutinized before they were released to the public. Officials blamed a faulty cartridge from a single voting precinct for the problem.

Board spokesman Daniel Murphy said last night: "They are checking and rechecking everything. We want to make sure what we're putting out is accurate and correct."

But Cheh, who was at the board's headquarters, said the double-checking was taking too long. "I've told them it's turning out to be an embarrassment. Every jurisdiction across the country is releasing results," she said. "It seems to me that we could have a better balance."

The delay left candidates in the hotly contested at-large race in limbo.

Kwame Brown, who was seeking a second term, rode a Democratic wave and ran a highly organized campaign that forced Michael Brown, Schwartz and four other candidates to battle it out for the second at-large seat that was up for grabs.

Voters were allowed to pick two candidates for two at-large seats. Under the Home Rule charter, one of the seats must go to a non-Democrat. The fight for that seat turned into a one-on-one contest between 64-year-old Schwartz and 43-year-old Michael Brown, a Democrat-turned-independent and son of the late U.S. secretary of commerce Ron Brown.

Schwartz, the Republican incumbent, lost the GOP primary in September to newcomer Patrick Mara and decided to wage a write-in effort to keep her seat. Last night, Schwartz appeared to have more write-ins than Mara had votes in early returns.

Brown and Schwartz's fight also appeared to become another battleground in the high-stakes tug of war between Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D).

Should Brown hold on to his lead over Schwartz, Gray will have assembled a strong voting bloc when facing the mayor on major issues.

The other candidates in that second at-large race included Dee Hunter and Mark Long, who switched from being Democrats to independents, and Statehood Green candidate David Schwartzman.

Schwartz, 64, tried to use her loss to her advantage in the general election. She told voters that members of the business community, upset with her support of legislation requiring paid sick leave for most workers, helped finance Mara's primary win.

But voters needed practical information yesterday: How do you write in a candidate? The answer: On a paper ballot, a voter writes in a candidate's name and fills in an arrow.

"A lot of people don't know about this, since I'm not on the ballot," said Schwartz as she zipped across the city. "Please vote for me" turned into "Please write me in," she asked again and again.

The race was Michael Brown's third attempt at elected office. He abandoned an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2006 and lost a special election to be a Ward 4 council member last year. Brown said those failures provided a blueprint for his at-large endeavor.

"I think our message was right at the right time. I think we outworked everybody. We had a very good campaign, and I learned a lot from the other campaigns," Michael Brown said after the midnight returns were released. "I think it's paying off."

The Brown-Schwartz matchup marked the latest skirmish between Fenty and Gray, the city's top elected officials. They have had a rocky relationship since rising to power in January 2007.

Gray endorsed Michael Brown. Although Fenty declined to endorse a candidate, his camp appeared to support Schwartz. Gray was joined by Alexander, Barry and Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5).

Gray said he saw a chance to get Brown on the council and to subvert the Home Rule charter's non-Democratic rule, which he says he thinks is unfair.

Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) endorsed Mara, but political observers gave the GOP newcomer little chance to overcome the tide of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Mara was an alternate delegate for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at the Republican National Convention.

Bowser, Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) endorsed Schwartz.

Staff writers Petula Dvorak, Hamil R. Harris, David Nakamura, Robert E. Pierre, Elissa Silverman and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.

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