Disgruntled voters in the nation's capital appeared to be ousting three veteran members of the D.C. Council yesterday, voting by overwhelming margins to replace the incumbents with two fresh new faces and a familiar old one -- former mayor Marion Barry.
In early returns in the city's Democratic primary, Barry was leading council member Sandy Allen in Ward 8, the city's poorest ward, with about 60 percent of votes cast. Allen trailed with 23 percent, while an array of other challengers were polling in the single digits.
In neighboring Ward 7, which is also east of the Anacostia River, challenger Vincent C. Gray held a commanding lead over incumbent Kevin P. Chavous, about 49 percent to 31 percent.
And in the hotly contested citywide race for Harold Brazil's at-large council seat, political newcomer Kwame R. Brown appeared to be trouncing the 14-year incumbent, winning about 52 percent of votes to Brazil's 32 percent.
In each of the contested races, the challengers gained ground by contending that entrenched incumbents had failed to ensure that average families got their share of the city's expanding economic pie. Barry, in particular, accused the council and Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) of focusing too much on rebuilding the glittering downtown and too little on helping the city's poorest residents.
Barry, 68, who led the city for a dozen years before leaving office in disgrace in 1990, was nearly mobbed as he arrived late yesterday at his campaign headquarters near the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard SE. As soon as he stepped out of his van, he began to dance to a jazz combo set up under a tent.
As a throng of reporters converged upon him, Barry pointed a finger. "I told you so," he said.
In other races on the Democratic ballot, council members Jack Evans (Ward 2) and Adrian Fenty (Ward 4) were unopposed, as was Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting delegate in Congress.
On the Republican ballot, at-large council member Carol Schwartz was poised to handily defeat two relatively little-known challengers, who together received only 13 percent of the early vote.
Yesterday's election capped a hard-fought campaign with an unusual number of hotly contested races.
The D.C. Democratic State Committee tried to draw attention to the election with its controversial decision to endorse primary candidates for the first time. Some Democrats protested the move, saying it was a bid by party insiders to protect favored incumbents and assist favored challengers.
But Democratic Party Chairman A. Scott Bolden said it made sense for the state committee to weigh in before the primary election in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 10 to 1, and winning the Democratic primary is tantamount to winning election.
With the party's decision to endorse came a decision for the first time to spend thousands of dollars supporting a slate of Democratic candidates. While the individual campaigns put out calls to likely voters, the state committee ran phone banks, posted volunteers at key precincts and sent out buses to help voters get to the polls.
Bolden declined to say how much the party spent on the election, but he predicted that yesterday's turnout would far exceed the 14 percent of registered voters who typically vote in D.C. primaries when the mayor's race does not lead the ballot.
Early reports indicated that Bolden had not met his goal. Turnout was good in some precincts in Ward 3 in far Northwest Washington and in Ward 6, which includes Capitol Hill. But poll workers and campaign aides said voting was extremely light elsewhere in the city, where only the at-large race was on the ballot.
Turnout also was light in Wards 7 and 8, east of the Anacostia River, where the local council seats were up for grabs. In the afternoon, precinct workers at Drew Elementary School said only 119 of the precinct's 700 voters had turned out.
"It's been slow all day long," said Franklin Wilds, vice chair of the Ward 5 Democrats.
"Previous years seem to have been more spirited," added council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), who was visiting Bertie Backus Middle School in the city's largest precinct. "I don't see the poll workers aggressively going after voters. Everybody is kind of conceding that everybody has their minds made up, and they're letting voters just walk on by."
Brazil, who was first elected from Ward 6 in 1990, faced his toughest race in years against two young and energetic challengers: Sam Brooks, a recent college graduate, and Brown, a former official in the Clinton administration Commerce Department.
The race was the nastiest of the season, with Brazil launching several attacks against Brown.
Yesterday, the two candidates appeared -- briefly and uneasily -- together outside St. Columba's Episcopal Church, a Ward 3 polling place near Tenleytown. Brazil defended his campaign strategy, saying Brown had "deliberately misled the voters" about his qualifications for office.
Brown, for his part, said the negative remarks "are not hurting me at all." Casting a wary glance down the sidewalk at his opponent, Brown said: "To be honest with you, I think people are energized. They want somebody who's going to run a positive campaign."
Some voters said they were persuaded by Brazil's attacks. Tim Henlon, 71, of the gated community of Hillendale, said he was impressed by Brown's energy and ideas but was concerned about his failure to vote in past elections. Henlon said he voted for Brazil, who "isn't perfect, 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."
Some other voters were less kind to the incumbent. Dorothy Richards, 76, voted for Brooks and then left the church by a side entrance to avoid talking to Brazil, who was standing outside.
"I can't stand Harold Brazil," Richards said. "He's a show-off. He promises things and doesn't do anything. I think he just talks to hear himself talk. We need somebody young."
In Ward 8, Allen and Barry 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.
Barry, by far the most well-known and controversial of several challengers seeking to unseat Allen, looked frail but also appeared to be enjoying himself immensely. He said he thought turnout would "probably be a little less than I want it to be" but added he was confident of victory.
Allen, who was seeking her third term on the council, predicted that she would win because of "the work that I've done in the community."
In Ward 7, Chavous, who was first elected in 1992, was challenged by Gray, a former head of the District's Department of Human Services. Chavous campaigned on his record of fighting for improvement in city schools and bringing better services and economic development to the ward, including two new schools and the planned redevelopment of the Skyland shopping mall.
Gray and some community activists accused Chavous of losing touch with ward residents and failing to do enough to make sure that the eastern reaches of the District share in the city's overall economic renaissance. Even some Chavous supporters said they have not been satisfied with his work.
At the Senior Wellness Center in the Hillcrest neighborhood, community activist Kathy Chamberlain cast votes for Chavous and Brazil. But she did so, she said, only because she hasn't been impressed by the challengers.
"Please don't write that I am happy with the current leadership," she said.