In some editions, a Sept. 15 article incorrectly said that the D.C. Council endorsed Harold Brazil (D-At Large) in his bid for reelection. Brazil was endorsed by three of his 12 colleagues: Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) and council members Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6). (Published 9/16/04)
District voters in Wards 7 and 8 overwhelmingly signaled their frustration with city government yesterday, ushering out three council members with a combined 34 years of experience and anointing challengers who promised to do more for residents left out of the city's revitalization.
By ousting Harold Brazil (At Large), Kevin P. Chavous (Ward 7) and Sandy Allen (Ward 8) in the Democratic primary, residents who live largely east of the Anacostia River flexed their political muscle at a time when many say they feel neglected by the city's top leaders.
Although Brazil, 55, who has served 14 years, was running in a citywide race, he lost to challenger Kwame Brown, a 33-year-old political novice who lives east of the river. Brown probably was helped by the vigorous campaigns run by the challengers in Wards 7 and 8, which increased turnout at the polls there.
Chavous, 48, who is a 12-year council veteran, lost to Vincent C. Gray, 61, who attacked Chavous's constituent services, saying he had lost touch with his ward and had failed to spark a comprehensive economic development plan. And Allen, a two-term member, was beaten by former mayor Marion Barry, whose man-of-the-people popularity in Ward 8 has not diminished even if his citywide appeal has long since disappeared.
Many voters said they could point to few achievements the incumbents had brought to their wards.
"Prior to election years, you never hear anything from these [incumbents] about what they're going to do for people east of the river," said Paula Stevens-Lassiter, 48, who voted for Gray. Chavous, she said, "hasn't done anything for us. I've been hearing it from my neighbors for years -- that the only time he gets things done is just prior to an election."
Thornett Coachman, 43, a Ward 7 resident, voted against Brazil because "he feels like he has grown above us. He has not campaigned out here. I don't think he cares about this side of the river."
In some ways, the vote also was a rebuke to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D). The council had endorsed Brazil, a favorite of the mayor's, and Allen. It did not take a position in the Ward 7 race.
Although Cropp has won raves from the political establishment for her ability to get the council's 13 members to work together in relative harmony, her style also left some residents wondering whether the council was becoming too insular and secretive.
And residents of Wards 7 and 8 have complained that the mayor's push for economic development downtown -- aided largely by Brazil, chairman of the council's Committee on Economic Development -- has been at the expense of their quality of life, saying he and the council did little to address their concerns about crime and schools.
Now some of the council's most important committee chairmanships will be up for grabs. In addition, Williams's push for public financing of a baseball stadium could suffer a serious blow because Gray, Brown and Barry are opposed to it.
D.C. shadow senator Paul S. Strauss (D) said last night that it would be a mistake to view the removal of three longtime incumbents as a referendum on one particular official, such as Williams.
But Strauss acknowledged that as "happy as many people are with the direction of the District, clearly there is a segment of the people who are not, and they spoke loudly tonight. While we've been doing well in terms of economic development, we've got to focus attention on human services as well."
Chavous chairs the council's Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation and almost certainly was hurt by the fact that the city's public schools remain mired in dysfunction. He has pushed reform through vouchers and charter schools, but some residents complained that they have seen few results in their neighborhood schools.
Allen heads the Committee on Human Services, a crucial committee for residents in poverty-ridden Ward 8. But residents complained that she is hard to reach, while Barry has been working the streets and yesterday had strong support from volunteers at the polls.
"I'm looking for someone to do something different on education and for the black community," said Angel Johnson, 31, a Ward 8 resident who said she voted for Barry.
Brazil's supporters said he was hurt by Barry's presence on the Ward 8 ballot and by the contested race in Ward 7, which increased turnout where their candidate was weak. By comparison, there were no contests in Wards 2, 3, 4 and 6, Brazil's strongholds and areas where economic growth has been strong.
Ken Brewer, 44, a financial manager who lives in Ward 7, said he chose Brown over Brazil because Brazil "is lethargic." He added that Brazil seemed to piggyback on initiatives by the mayor but could point to few accomplishments of his own.
"Frankly," Brewer added, "we don't know him east of the river. He can't point to anything he's done for residents east of the river."
Staff writers Spencer S. Hsu and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.