The May 1 special elections to fill two D.C. Council seats have attracted crowded fields.

By yesterday's 5 p.m. deadline, 19 candidates in Ward 4 had turned in petitions to run for the seat vacated by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). In Ward 7, which had been represented by Vincent C. Gray (D) before he was sworn in as council chairman last month, 20 candidates delivered petitions to the Board of Elections and Ethics. The terms expire in January 2009.

Gray said he struggled to pick a candidate to endorse because of the large number of community activists interested in serving out his term. He said he will put his political muscle behind Yvette M. Alexander, a leader in the Democratic State Committee who left her job as a city insurance regulator to seek the Ward 7 seat.

Another Ward 7 candidate, Julie Rones, a lawyer who lives in Dupont Park, said she is not worried about the competition in her community east of the Anacostia River.

"I think the cream will come to the top," she said. "I think that the voters of Ward 7 in particular are very astute. They know what they want. They know how to separate the wheat from the chaff."

Fenty has endorsed Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Muriel Bowser to replace him in Ward 4 and has held a fundraiser for her. His endorsement has helped net Bowser, of Riggs Park, almost $200,000 in contributions.

One of her opponents, Dwight E. Singleton, finds himself pitted against several longtime fellow community activists, including Tony Towns, Douglass Ned Sloan and Charles C. Gaither. "I am challenging very close friends," he said. "Over the years, we have worked together in one capacity or another. Now, we see ourselves fighting for this one seat."

To qualify for the election, each candidate had to obtain the signatures of 500 registered voters. The period to challenge the authenticity of the signatures begins Saturday and ends March 5. If signatures are challenged, the elections board will determine whether they are valid.

Of the 51 people who picked up petitions for the two races, 12 did not turn in signatures, eight in Ward 7 and four in Ward 4.

The packed fields differ greatly from the most recent elections in those wards. Fenty ran unopposed in the 2004 Democratic primary. In Ward 7, Gray was among five challengers to then-council member Kevin P. Chavous that year. In the 2004 general election, Fenty was again the only candidate in his ward, and Gray faced only two opponents.

Special elections and open seats, however, often draw a large number of candidates.

The number of candidates also shows community engagement, said Singleton, a former school board member who lives in Brightwood. "It's sort of a reflection of the activism and involvement in Ward 4 and in Ward 7," he said.

In the special election to replace former school board member Victor Reinoso, who is now deputy mayor for education, nine of the 10 candidates who picked up petitions turned them in yesterday. Ted Trabue, whom Fenty recently nominated to be an appointed school board member, was one of the people who turned in petitions. His nomination to the appointed seat is pending before the council.

The missing candidate was Paul R. McKenzie, a community activist who died Tuesday afternoon of complications of pneumonia.

The mood at the elections board was a little somber yesterday with the news of his death.

"He was committed to changing the educational system in this city," said John Fanning, a Ward 4 resident who had committed his support to McKenzie.