In a choice that could make the District’s political establishment nervous, Democrats in Northeast overwhelmingly elected community activist Robert V. Brannum on Monday night as the next chairman of the Ward 5 Democratic Committee.
Brannum, head of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations, defeated incumbent Angel Alston’s by a better than 2 to 1 margin. According to unofficial returns, Brannum received 86 votes compared to Alston’s 33. William Boston, who ran as a write-in, received 27 votes.
Brannum cruised to victory even though D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At large), a longtime resident of Northeast, supported Alston. Anita Bonds, chairwoman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, has also been a supporter of Alston’s.
Brannum said Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) also campaigned for Alston, though Thomas declined to comment Tuesday.
“The organization needs someone with the leadership and skills to move this organization forward and rejuvenate its leadership and bring Ward 5 Democrats together,” Brannum said before the vote.
Brannum, who had been vice-char of the committee, was a vocal supporter of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) in last year’s mayoral election, often shadowing the mayor wherever he traveled in his campaign against former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). But some of Brannum’s aggressive tactics have made local Democratic leaders uncomfortable.
Upset by editorials from the Washington Post, Brannum repeatedly parked his car in front of the newspaper’s building this summer to berate the editorial board via a bullhorn.
In July, Gray hired Brannum to help the District commemorate Sept. 11.
Brannum often cites his service in the United States Air force. But Brannum was discharged following a legal battle with the U.S. military in 2002 over allegations of sexual harassment and his failure to report for active duty when recalled.
Brannum’s win is a blow to Alston, who was seeking a second-term. In an interview before the vote, Alston said she was prepared to “take Ward 5 Dems to a different level.”
“We need to reconnect with the state committee, the council members, to keep pushing the ward forward,” Alston said.
In an interview during the vote, Orange called Alston a “very strong, connected woman” who had the “energy” to lead.
Boston, the write-in candidate, attempted to position himself as an outsider who would shake up the local Democratic committee. He appeared to have the support of many young progressives who recently moved into Ward 5, but he was no match for Brannum’s dogged campaign.
Brannum had yard signs and posters with pictures of himself in a military uniform. He was also arrested alongside Gray and several council members on Capitol Hill to protest the lack of voting rights.
“A dedicated and independent leader,” Brannum’s flyer stated. “In or out of uniform…night or day… rain or shine.”
But the results of the election could face a formal challenge. Frank Wilds, a former chairman of the committee, said he plans to contest the election because he said not enough formal notice was given.
“We are doing this illegally, let’s do it right,” Wiles said before the vote. “If we have this election, I will spend money to do the right thing because it’s illegal.”
Although the party apparently did not post notice of the election in libraries, as committee bylaws require, party leaders said adequate notice was given.
“We sent out written notices and we put them on the List-serves,” said Alice Harper, the nominations committee chairwoman.