Vincent Gray wins D.C. mayor's race over Adrian Fenty

By Michael Ruane, Fredrick Kunkle and Mike DeBonis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 15, 2010; 1:41 AM

Vincent C. Gray has won the D.C. mayoral race, besting incumbent Adrian M. Fenty, according to unofficial results.

The vote tally just after 1:30 a.m. was Gray by 59,285; Fenty, 50,850.

Earlier, anxious supporters of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and challenger Vincent C. Gray were crowded into their respective election night headquarters as the first results of the District's democratic primary election began to roll in.

In the Grand Ballroom II of the the Washington Court Hotel, Gray backers cheered as the early returns were posted.

As he watched the news being shown on the big prjection screen Kevin Ellerbe, 47, of Fort Dupont explained his embrace of Gray and his abandonment of Fenty.

"He could have been mayor for life," Ellerbe said of Fenty, "but his arrogance got the best of him. I was one of his supporters."

The cheers erupted when a televsion program reported Gray with an early lead.

"One city, one city, one city, baby," a man shouted

Another held aloft a poster with Fenty's photo below green letter spelling the word "BYE."

The candidate's daughter, Jonice Gray Tucker, stopped the music for a minute just after 11:30 p.m. to tell the ballroom full of supporters that good news was coming.

"We know that we will be celebrating a very big victory very soon," she said.

At Fenty's headquarters in a former car dealership on Georgia avenue, just north of Missouri avenue, NW, a large glass window shattered shortly before 11 p.m., apparently injuring a bystander, who fell to the floor bleeding. It was not clear what caused the window to break, or how seriously the man was injured. Medics rushed to treat him.

The accident came as music played and volunteers waved signs at passing cars, hoping for the mayor to make a surprising comeback and prove opinion polls wrong.

"As the saying goes, it's not over til the fat lady sings," said Tracy Beatty, a lifelong city native who also works for the city. Beatty, who declined to give her age or identify which agency she worked for, said she supported Fenty because he's already shown he what he can do for the city.

"He's done a lot, as far as the District of Columbia," she said. But she also acknowledged that some of her friends had soured on the mayor, often for reasons they could not describe.

"I ask them to name me maybe five good reasons why they were pro-Gray and why they have been against Fenty," Beatty said. "Some are, like, 'Change. Change is good.' And some don't have an answer."

Some cars on Georgia Avenue tooted their horns in support of the mayor as she spoke, while a rapper sang "Oh, you Fenty, huh?" from the speakers of a Chrysler parked near the line of news media satellite trucks.

Fenty's wife and parents had arrived at campaign headquarters by 10:45 p.m., awaiting word in an upstairs room.

Campaign spokesman Sean Madigan said he wasn't sure where the mayor was -- probably with his children, waiting for results -- but Fenty would also be able to cover the ground between his home and campaign headquarters in a matter of minutes because he lives around the corner.

Madigan said it was hard to judge early returns, which rollercoastered between Fenty and Gray. But Madigan said that reports from precinct captains and other on-the-street intelligence gave him confidence.

"I think we're hearing that in the places we expected to do well, we're doing very, very well," Madigan said. Those areas include precincts in Dupont Circle, Eastern Market and Ward 3, he said. But early impressions were that the news, as expected, was not so good east of the river, where Gray was running strong, Madigan said.

"I think we won," said Ronald Moten, a friend and ally of the mayor's said.

With a Fenty sticker flapping on his camouflage Nationals baseball cap, Moten said he did not believe the polls or the talk on the street that Fenty had alienated so many voters since his landside victory four years ago that he could not beat Gray. "I was in Southeast most of the day, and there wasn't no 80 percent saying they weren't for Fenty," Moten said. "A lot of people came out and voted for us. I think the go-go helped a lot."

But Moten also acknowledged a deeply divided city over Fenty's tenure, between black residents to the south and east and white residents in the north and west.

Moten said the belief that Fenty had turned his back on the black community was question of perception, not reality. Citing a Washington Post story that examined city spending and demonstrated that Fenty's administration had spread its public projects evenly around the city, Moten said that as the campaign stepped up its work, they found that once people heard the story, disaffected voters began to come around.

"He's a man who kept his word," Moten said.

Across the street, at a Laundromat whose sign spelled D-R-O-M-A-T, Gloria Claros, 42, a hotel housekeeper in the District, said she too supported Fenty. Folding laundery with her 10-year-old daughter, Kimberly, Claros said she believed Fenty had achieved progress in the city's schools where her two children attend.

"The students are doing a lot of work. The students are learning more," Claros said, speaking in Spanish. Claros, who has lived in DC for 23 years, also said that Fenty had put young people to work.

But her support was only in spirit.

Claros said she would have voted, but she could not, as she was only a legal resident from Guatemala but not a U.S. citizen registered to vote.

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics posts results on its Web site.

This year, for the first time, printouts are being made from each voting machine at each voting precinct, which credentialed election observers can watch, so some precinct numbers have started leaking out on Twitter.

Elections officials said they didn't rush because they were afraid of a repeat of 2008, when hastily released numbers included a faulty number from an improperly downloaded cartridge, cueing chaos here at One Judiciary Square.

As machines arrived from polling places, staffers began comparing downloaded numbers from electronic cartridges to printouts made at polling sites. After a final verification, results will then be posted to the board's Web site.

Among the observers: Fenty campaign chair Bill Lightfoot and former Mayor Sharon Pratt, a supporter of Gray.

The count began after a Superior Court judge earlier Tuesday night rejected a request by Gray to extend election day voting hours past 8 p.m.

Judge Joan Zeldon issued the ruling after a 45-minute emergency hearing, calling the petition an "11th hour" request based on a "thin reed" of evidence.

Andrew Sandler, a lawyer representing Gray, argued the elections were conducted in a "wholly inadequate way" that deprived city residents of the right to vote.

But lawyers for the city election board and Mayor Adrian Fenty said the Gray concerns were overstated and poorly documented.

Gray had petitioned D.C. Superior Court to grant the extension, saying problems at polling places were "much more severe and widespread than the (Board of Elections and Ethics) has acknowledged."

In a letter to the board, Gray's attorney, Lloyd Jordan, wrote that some polling sites delayed opening, "in some cases by several hours." He said that voters had been turned away from the polls because of the "widespread failure of electronic voting machines" and that there had been a "consistent lack of adequate access to operable machines and ballots."

"Certainly such widespread denial of access to polling precincts to eligible voters, failure of voting machines, and late opening of precincts calls for such a corrective measure," Jordan wrote.

Togo D. West Jr., chairman of the election board, was at the board's downtown headquarters and said the situation did not seem dire.

"I've come from some polls, and I didn't see any long lines," he said.

Meanwhile, dozens of Gray supporters began filing into Grand Ballroom II at the Washington Court Hotel shortly before 8 to await the results of the vote.

The soft strumming of a three-man Andean folk band provided the early evening soundtrack.

A wooden podium emblazoned with a One City banner was set up on stage, which was flanked by two 7 1/2 feet by 10 feet projection screens bearing the blue and white Vince Gray for Mayor.

Fifteen minutes before the polls were scheduled to close, four campaign volunteers stood on the south side of Riggs Road NE, waving signs in the dark. Two were for Fenty, two were for Gray. There were no streetlight illuminating their signs. So why bother?

"You just gotta hope," said Glenn Abraham, who had been holding a green Fenty sign for more than three hours. "You gotta hope somebody sees the green. I'm staying true to the end."

Reports of voting problems emerged shortly after polls opened at 7 a.m. Some precincts delayed opening until technicians could arrive to get the touch-screen machines functioning properly. Most of the problems appear to have been ironed out within an hour or less.

Rokey W. Suleman II, executive director of the elections board, said the "hiccups" were "typical of what happens when jurisdictions put out new voting equipment. Under a mandate from the D.C. Council, the elections board replaced its electronic touch-screen and optical-scan paper ballot machines this year and has had to rush to train about 1,800 poll workers.

The board has confirmed late openings at two polling sites: Precinct 151, the Harris School in Ward 7's Marshall Heights neighborhood, and Precinct 82, at Sherwood Recreation Center, just south of H Street NE in Ward 6. A Washington Post reporter also reported that polls opened about 15 minutes late at Precinct 113, at the Ward 7 Senior Wellness Center.

The problem at the first two precincts, Suleman said, was "poll workers following procedures to a T." He said they were guided by instruction manuals showing that there should have been three-wire seals on the paper-ballot scanning machines instead of the two that actually were affixed. And then, poll workers mistakenly chose not to open the polls rather than allow voters to cast paper ballots and store them securely while the seal issue was addressed, he said.

"The great majority of problems are part of people being unfamiliar with the process," Suleman said, adding that "the vast majority of precincts went off without a hitch." Any machine-related issues have been settled, he said.

To grant the Gray campaign's request, the board's two members would have to convene.

Concerns over the voting hardware added another note of drama to the mayoral campaign, which in many precincts has been marked by low voter turnout. In Maryland, turnout also is reported to be exceptionally low in many precincts, though a few have experienced a steady flow of voters.

At Wesley Methodist Church on Connecticut Avenue NW in the Chevy Chase section of the District, only 333 people had voted as of 12:30 p.m.

Pollworkers said the turnout was unusually low in a neighborhood that usually is politically active. But the polling place is just a few blocks from the Chevy Chase community center, which was one of the five locations the District had set aside for two weeks of early voting, and turnout there had been the greatest in the city.

Still, campaign officials from both the Fenty and Gray camps predicted a very low citywide turnout, perhaps under 100,000, which both sides attributed to the negative tone of the campaign.

Opinion polls have shown Fenty faces blistering criticism from voters who feel ignored, particularly in neighborhoods where unemployment is high.

The mayor's father, Phil Fenty, stood outside a Columbia Road polling station Tuesday morning, wearing Fenty green and holding up signs promoting his son.

He described his mood as "great" and predicted that his son would win re-election, the foreboding polls notwithstanding.

Phil Fenty said he stopped paying attention to the news six to eight months ago because of the "negativity, not specifically about him (Adrian) but anybody."

"The city is on a tremendous roll," he said. "This was the laughing stock of the country. They're not kicking Washington anymore."

"We wanted change in this city, and he delivered," he added. "Then its not enough. The public wanted more. When you're a public servant working 24/7, I don't know where there's more to give. We put people on pedestals and if they're not big enough we kick the pedestal out from under them."

In another potential trouble spot in the District's election field, the elections board also fielded complaints Tuesday about more voters being lured to the polls with gift cards, elections officials said.

On Saturday, supporters of Fenty exposed how some sore Ward 8 residents had been given $10 Giant cards after they voted. Cora Masters Barry, the estranged wife of Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry, admitted organizing the effort, which she said was not affiliated with any campaign and was aimed at increasing turnout in a historically low-voting area.

"We just note it and [have callers] give us all the information they can," Suleman said. All information is passed to the U.S. attorney's office for further investigation.

For many election officials around the region, the big Election Day story is low voter turnout.

The quiet at many of the 223 polling places in Prince George's County Tuesday is not an illusion.

County elections official said that as of 11 a.m. this morning, only about 5 percent of the eligible voters had cast ballots, even though there are several heated contests in the county's Democratic primary. Primary voters will choose nominees for county executive, County Council, state's attorney, sheriff and members of the General Assembly. They also are winnowing school board non-partisan candidates. They will make final choices on Nov. 2. The Democratic primary in Prince George's, where there are about 400,000 registered Democrats, and about 46,000 registered Republicans, usually serves as the general election, and the outcome is likely to be repeated in November, except for the school board, where the top two vote getters in nine districts will face off in November.

County deputy elections administrator Daneen Banks said that about 26,000 Prince George's residents had voted as of this morning. Of those 23,293 are Democrats: 1961 are Republicans and 206 are other. Unaffiliated voters can vote in the school board races.

Staff writers Carol Morello, Marc Fisher, Christy Goodman, Chris Jenkins, Ann Marimow, Paul Schwartzman and Miranda S. Spivack contributed to this report

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