By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 22, 2010; A12
Democrats in Ward 8 voted overwhelmingly Saturday to endorse Vincent C. Gray (D) in the mayoral primary after a heated day of politicking that included council member Marion Barry officially getting behind the council chairman.
In the latest in a series of endorsement votes from ward Democratic committees, about 80 percent of voters backed Gray over incumbent Adrian M. Fenty, allowing the council chairman to easily clear the 60 percent threshold a candidate needs to win the official backing of the committee.
Although Ward 8 has long been expected to be a Gray stronghold in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, he appeared to get a lift from Barry, a former mayor who represents Ward 8. Four years ago, Barry endorsed Fenty a week before the primary, although the two did not campaign together. On Saturday, Barry donned a Gray T-shirt and hat and personally greeted nearly every registered Ward 8 Democrat who showed up for the straw poll.
"I'll be working hard for him," said Barry, who in a robocall also urged Ward 8 residents to attend the straw poll. "We have just begun to fight."
But Barry's support could prove problematic for Gray, who is trying to counter attacks by Fenty that he's too connected to a former generation of District leaders.
Barry remains popular in parts of the African American community, but many white voters despise him. On Friday, when a photograph of Barry wearing a Gray T-shirt first surfaced, Fenty advisers e-mailed the photograph to the City Hall press corps.
But Fenty, who is struggling to win over black voters, said in an interview Saturday that he's focused on his own campaign and does not plan to make Barry's support for Gray an issue.
Gray said he welcomed Barry's support.
"You have 30 percent unemployment [in Ward 8], and he's the council member," Gray said. "I'm sure he's concerned and wants somebody who is going to address the issue, and I intend to be a mayor for all people."
Gray told the voters at the straw poll that he would work to expand vocational education and job training and create an infant and toddler pre-kindergarten program so mothers can go to work.
"The No. 1 priority for me will be getting people back to work again," Gray said.
Fenty told the crowd that he's made "some mistakes" as mayor but stressed that Ward 8 has received new libraries, recreational centers and grocery stores under his leadership.
"Who amongst us is perfect?" Fenty asked. "If you're looking for a perfect mayor, that's going to be a hard one to find."
Two lesser-known mayoral candidates also addressed the crowd. One of them, Sulaimon Brown, urged the voters to cast their ballots for Gray because "this is such a close race." Former television reporter Leo Alexander, however, argued there is no difference between Fenty and Gray on issues such as fighting poverty and HIV/AIDS. "Your people are going to be pushed out of the city one at a time," said Alexander, adding he represents "change."
Surrogates for the top candidates were out in force in front of Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, where the voting took place.
Fenty friend and campaign strategist Ronald Moten, co-founder of Peaceoholics, which has received millions of dollars in city contracts and grants under Fenty, was distributing copies of a color magazine he published that attacks Gray's record and defends Fenty. But Gray's son, Carlos, noticed that it contained several spelling and grammar mistakes in the material.
"Where is Miss Rhee?" Carlos shouted through a bullhorn, referring to Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. "Education is your platform, but you hand out this?"
In the end, however, the outcome of the endorsement vote came down to people like Mike Jones. He arrived wearing a Fenty sticker. An hour later, after he voted, the sticker was gone.
"I'm voting for Vincent Gray," Jones said.