In D.C. races, numbers tell the story

Voters in D.C. cast ballots Tuesday in the closely watched Democratic primary race for mayor between Adrian Fenty and Vincent C. Gray.
Thursday, September 30, 2010; 7:57 PM

Ten days ago, District of Columbia voters had their say. But what did they say? For that, we consult Microsoft Excel.

Having a base matters. Those who know Vincent Gray the best liked him the best. His home precinct - 113, representing the western stretches of Hillcrest, in Ward 7 - gave Gray 87 percent of the vote, his greatest percentage of any in the city. Fenty, meanwhile, lost in his own back yard. Not only did he lose Ward 4, the bailiwick he represented as a council member for six years, by 19 points, but he lost his own precinct handily. The voters of Precinct 48, in Crestwood and 16th Street Heights, went 56 percent for Gray; four years ago, they were 70 percent for Fenty. The incumbent did best in Precinct 6, in west Georgetown. Nearly 87 percent of those voting at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts preferred Fenty.

Down-ballot choices did not inspire. For the most part, voters were happy with their choices on the mayoral ballot. Only 1.6 percent of voters chose a candidate other than Fenty or Gray or no candidate at all. Elsewhere on the ballot, the numbers tell a different story. In the council chairman race, more than 9,200 submitted a blank ballot (and that's not counting the absentee and provisional votes). That's 7.5 percent of voters, representing a near-doubling of the 2006 undervote. And there appears to be a racial divide at work: In Ward 3, which has the city's highest proportion of white voters, 12.4 percent of primary voters chose no chairman candidate - followed by wards 2, 1, and 6, closely mirroring the city's racial breakdown. Percentages are similar for the three white at-large council candidates. White voters, it seems, were simply more likely to vote for mayor and leave the rest of the ballot blank.

Polarization is for real. For a true mayoral battleground, head to Southwest. In Precinct 142, in the shadow of the Maine Avenue fish market, Fenty and Gray were separated by only three votes, according to unofficial totals. But 142 is an anomaly for 2010: In the mayoral race, only 25 of the city's 143 precincts were decided by margins of less than 20 percentage points . In 2006, that was true for 47 of 142 precincts. In 2006, 19 precincts were decided by more than 40 points; this year, it was 100 precincts. Fenty won his 53 precincts by an average of 47 percentage points; Gray won the remaining 90 precincts by an average of 48 points.

Feelings on Fenty flipped. The Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood in Ward 7, between the Anacostia River and Minnesota Avenue NE, north of Benning Road, is where Fenty saw his greatest reversal. There, in Precinct 100, residents who voted 60 percent for Fenty in 2006 gave him only 13 percent this time. Turnout went up, too - almost 40 percent. Fenty did a much better job convincing the voters of Precinct 9, in the affluent confines of Ward 3's Spring Valley neighborhood. In 2006, Fenty won only 42 percent of their votes; this time, he got 85 percent - a 43 percentage point swing. Citywide, only 18 precincts saw their preference for Fenty change less than 10 percent in four years.

Gentrification didn't matter. Many more residents voted in this mayoral race than in 2006's. The most dramatic increases in turnout indeed came in areas that have seen significant development. In Precinct 131 in Ward 6, which includes the area surrounding Nationals Park, the number of voters more than tripled - from a piddling 77 to 337. Ward 1, in the heart of the District's gentrification boom, had 3,129 more voters than in 2006 - good for a 29 percent rise, the highest among all eight wards. But Fenty actually lost ground in the ward, percentage-wise: He took 62 percent of the vote in 2006 but 60 percent this year. With the turnout bump, Fenty came out of the ward with about 1,700 more votes than four years ago, but he needed more.

Black turnout went up. It wasn't just gentrifying areas where turnout rose. In Ward 8, with the highest proportion of African Americans, the number of ballots cast rose 27 percent, and 82 percent of them were for Gray. In Precinct 107, in Ward 7's Greenway neighborhood, 148 more voters showed up this year than in 2006 - a 46 percent jump. In the wards Fenty won (1, 2, 3 and 6), there were about 9,400 more votes than in 2006. But in the wards Gray won (4, 5, 7 and 8), turnout rose by more than 6,800. Fenty-friendly areas might be growing fast but not nearly fast enough to help him: There were 7,800 more votes in Gray's wards than in Fenty's. The city might be changing, but one still cannot win by the white vote alone.

Where Fenty lost. The story of this election can be found in the city's largest precinct: Precinct 66, voting at Bertie Backus Middle School in Ward 5, next to the Fort Totten Metro station. It's in the heart of middle-class black Washington; according to 2000 Census figures, the precinct is 96 percent black and the homeownership rate is 75 percent, well above the city average. It's also the only precinct in the city that saw more than 2,000 votes, and 79 percent of them went to Gray. Gray emerged from 66 with a 1,287 vote lead - more than one-tenth of his total victory margin. Backus, incidentally, was among the 23 public schools Fenty closed in 2008.

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