Fenty supporters continue long-shot write-in campaign for mayor

Voters in D.C. cast ballots Tuesday in the closely watched Democratic primary race for mayor between Adrian Fenty and Vincent C. Gray.
By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 30, 2010; 10:09 PM

They have been compared to the die-hard supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton who refused to give up after then-candidate Barack Obama secured enough votes for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, hardly a compliment in a city where three out of four voters in the primary that year supported Obama over Clinton.

But that hasn't discouraged a small group of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty admirers from campaigning to get voters to write his name on their general election ballots on Tuesday, even though they have little chance of stopping D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray from being elected mayor.

"They are really passionate about Adrian Fenty and worked hard for him and believe in him," said Ellie Anderson, a Democratic activist who is part of the write-in campaign. "They want to show the city Fenty has done a lot of good things and they want it to continue."

The write-in effort traces its roots to John Hlinko, a Georgetown resident who created a "Run Fenty Run" Facebook page with 7,500 followers a few days after Gray defeated the mayor in the primary.

Fenty (D), who endorsed Gray two days after the Sept. 14 primary, has distanced himself from the write-in push. But several of his campaign aides have teamed up with Hlinko through literature drops, automated phone calls, and door-to-door canvassing. The volunteers continue to wear the green-and-white primary Fenty hats, at times confusing voters who thought the "green team" would go into hibernation after the mayor's loss.

"We believe we can win," said Josh Lopez, a Ward 4 coordinator for Fenty who campaigned on U Street Friday. "All we are saying is respect the process and let voters have a voice."

Lopez, 26, said the campaign is targeting Republicans and unaffiliated voters, who make up about 25 percent of the electorate, and Democrats who supported Fenty over Gray. But given Gray's 9-point margin of victory over Fenty in the primary, most observers say the write-in campaign is little more than an annoyance in an overwhelmingly Democratic city.

"I would be somewhat astonished if the write-in campaign yields more than 1,000 votes," said Tony Bullock, who was communications director for former mayor Anthony Williams. In 2002, Williams successfully mounted a write-in campaign when he failed to get on the ballot.

"It's something between sour grapes and chutzpah to actually undertake a write-in effort for Fenty," Bullock added, "who I think in his own head has moved on."

Still, Gray strategist Mo Elleithee said the chairman is not taking anything for granted. Gray launched a radio ad urging African American voters, who overwhelmingly supported him in the primary, to go to the polls. Gray also sent out a mailer this week highlighting the Fenty endorsement.

"Vince is out there campaigning for every vote," Elleithee said.

Although they remain confident, some Gray advisers acknowledge that a big no-confidence vote through write-in votes would be unsettling. Supporters for both campaigns have clashed at forums and other events.

"They are trying to divide the city between rich and poor and black and white," said Keith Holman, a Gray volunteer. "They know they are not going to win."

Rokey Suleman, director of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, noted that residents will probably never know exactly "how many votes Fenty got."

On election night, Suleman said, officials will release the total number of write-in votes that were cast in each precinct but will not count them individually unless they could change the outcome of the race.

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