Turnout was extremely light around the District in the first hours after the polls opened for the Democratic primary today -- even in Wards 7 and 8, where two of the most hotly contested D.C. Council races were playing out.

Former mayor Marion Barry is seeking a political comeback as he competes for his party's nomination for the Ward 8 council seat against incumbent Sandy Allen, who was once his campaign manager. In Ward 7, council member Kevin Chavous is being challenged by Vincent Gray for the Democratic nomination. Citywide, two newcomers are trying to wrest the at-large nomination from incumbent Harold Brazil.

Because the District's registered voters are overwhelmingly Democratic, the winners today are heavily favored to be elected to the council in November.

Allen and Barry, who was mayor for 16 years, each voted shortly after the polls opened at 7 a.m. and then set off to rally supporters at other polling precincts. Each was surrounded by a cluster of volunteers in T-shirts -- Allen's wearing white and purple, Barry's white and green.

Barry, the most well known and controversial of several challengers to Allen, looked frail but also appeared to be enjoying himself immensely. He said he thought turnout would "probably be a little less that I want it to be," but he added that he was confident of victory.

Allen, who was trying for her third term on the council, predicted that she would win the nomination because of "the work that I've done in the community and my relationship with the residents."

At the Senior Wellness Center in Ward 7's Hillcrest neighborhood at mid-morning, the two dozen campaign volunteers easily outnumbered voters, who arrived alone or in pairs every five minutes or so to cast their ballots.

Voters there and elsewhere in Ward 7 said they were split between Chavous, who was elected to his post in 1992, and Gray, a former head of the District's Department of Human Services.

They also were divided on whether to support Brazil's bid to return to the at-large seat he first won in 1996, or to vote for challenger Kwame Brown, a fellow Ward 7 resident who is head of a nonprofit group that aids minority businesses. Also running in the race is Sam Brooks, the 24-year-old owner of an Internet marketing business.

"Please don't write that I am happy with the current leadership," said community activist Kathy Chamberlain, who nevertheless voted for both Brazil and Chavous. She said she cast her ballot reluctantly because even though she saw shortcomings in the existing council members, none of the challengers had won her heart.

Terrica Gibson, 32, the sister of a D.C. police officer who was slain in 1997, said she voted for Gray because Chavous had not supported a raise for D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey. Brazil did support the raise, and Gibson said he got her vote.

Another woman, who refused to give her name because she did not want her choices at the ballot box made public, said she backed Chavous because he had helped her work out a problem at her son's public school. The woman voted at-large for Brown, however, saying she did not feel Brazil had accomplished much during his time on the council.

Retired Metro employee Sam Jones, 69, also filled in the ballot arrows for Chavous and Brown. He said he knew Chavous, and trusted him, but did not know Brazil and wanted to "see what another generation, or another person, can do" -- especially one from his part of the city.

Across town in Burleith, north of Georgetown, Brown had no campaign workers or signs posted at the polling station at Hardy Middle School. Tim Hanlon, 71, of the gated community of Hillendale, said he had been impressed by Brown's energy and ideas but was concerned that the candidate passed up several opportunities to vote in past elections.

Hanlon said he decided to vote for Brazil but would look closely at Brown should he run again.

Brazil "isn't perfect," Hanlon said. "But he's part of the team. He's been in there. He's done some good things. We need a steady ship for another period."

Two council members -- Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) -- have no opponents in today's primary. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) is also unopposed.

Today is also the primary for the D.C. Republican and Statehood Green Party candidates. Carol Schwartz, a Republican who holds an at-large council seat, is being challenged in the primary by Robert Pittman and Don Folden Sr.

The polls close at 8 p.m.