Polls in the District opened Tuesday morning for a citywide special election to fill an at-large seat on the D.C. Council and to select two new members of the Board of Education.
The election for the at-large seat caps a nearly-four month campaign in which nearly all of the candidates in the race vowed to shake up a city government that has been hammered by allegations of cronyism, nepotism and wasteful spending.
Nine candidates are running for the council seat, including six Democrats, one Republican, one Independent and a member of the D.C. Statehood Green Party. The election is open to any registered voter, and polls in all 143 precincts will be open until 8 p.m.
With turnout expected to be low, observers say the race is unpredictable and could be decided by only a few hundred votes. .
“I don’t see it being won yet by anybody,” Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) said Monday afternoon. ‘It’s open and anybody can win.”
Council member Sekou Biddle and former council member Vincent B. Orange, both Democrats, and Republican Patrick Mara are widely believed to be the candidates with the best chance of winning.
But several other candidates in the race, including former Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Bryan Weaver and activist Josh Lopez, also appear to have significant followings
If Mara wins, he will be the first Republican on the the council since 2008, when Carol Schwartz was unseated in the GOP primary by Mara.
Although two seats on the council are reserved for members of a minority party, Mara lost the general election that year to Council member Michael Brown (At-Large), a former Democrat.
The other minority party is seat held by Council member David A. Catania, an indepdent.
The prospect of the electing a Republican to the council could help boost turnout among Republican and GOP-leaning independents. But three out four District voters are registered Democratic, suggesting Mara will also have to win over some Democrats if he is too be succesful
Also running as Democrats for the at-large seat are education activist Tom Brown, and Ward 7 school board member Dorothy Douglas. D.C. Statehood Green Party candidate Alan ad lawyer Arkan Haile, an independent, also will be on the ballot.
The election is being held to fill the seat Kwame R. Brown (D) held before he was sworn in as council chairman in January.
Shortly after his inauguration, the D.C. Democratic State Committee voted to appoint Biddle to the seat pending the results of the special election.
Brown and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) have endorsed Biddle, although he’s sought to distance himself from his high-profile supporters as the ethical controversies mounted at city hall this spring.
The winner of Tuesday’s election, who will be seated shortly after the results are certified in 10 days, is expected to play a critical role on a council closely divided on several major issues, including on whether to raise taxes on the wealthy to help balance the budget.
In the school board races, voters in Ward 4 are choosing a replacement for Biddle, who gave up his seat to sit on the council. Voters in Ward 8 are also are electing a replacement for William . Lockridge, who died in January of respitory failure.