JoAnn Guyton, 72 walks past campaign signs April 3 after primary voting… (Linda Davidson/THE WASHINGTON…)
The five D.C. Council members on the ballot in Tuesday’s primary elections appeared to win even as they faced voters for the first time since the start of a major corruption investigation into city government.
In the first real test of how the electorate is tolerating the scandal, council members Marion Barry, Yvette M. Alexander, Muriel Bowser and Jack Evans sailed to victory. The fifth, Vincent B. Orange, held a narrow 500-vote lead over challenger Sekou Biddle in the citywide at-large race. Elections officials also cautioned that as many as 1,700 absentee and provisional ballots had not been counted.
Tuesday’s results indicate that individual council members were able to insulate themselves from the widening probe. Orange’s name, however, has been at the center of the controversy over campaign finances.
Biddle beat him badly in large sections of Northwest Washington, suggesting unease in wealthier sections of the city about the state of the District’s government. But Orange’s huge support east of the Anacostia River and in Northeast accounted for his lead.
“There is a God,” Orange told supporters Tuesday night. But he stopped short of declaring victory and Biddle did not concede.
At least six council members are under subpoena as part of the investigation into political fundraising that threatens Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and some on the council.
“It’s dismal, depressing, discouraging and all of the D’s,” Judith Bernard, 53, said after casting her ballot in Upper Northwest. “People just need to clean up their act.”
But despite near-perfect 70-degree weather and the backdrop of the federal investigation, turnout for the primary elections was light, a sign, experts said, that many D.C. voters may be fatigued with a government that has been struggling to overcome the political turmoil.
By early evening, candidates and activists watching the precinct numbers estimated turnout to be about 15 percent. Officials blamed the low numbers on apathy and the city’s decision to move the primary from September to April to comply with a new federal law that determined the time needed to ship ballots overseas.
In many parts of the District, the trickle of voters who did show up said they were standing by the incumbents. Some were suspicious that the federal investigations into campaign spending by Gray, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) and other members of the council are politically motivated.
“Some of it is blown out of proportion,” said James Crim, 60, a retired city government worker who supported Orange.
In addition to Orange’s citywide seat, at stake in the Democratic primaries were seats held by Bowser (Ward 4,) Alexander (Ward 7) and Barry (Ward 8). Evans (D-Ward 2) ran unopposed, as did Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and shadow representative candidate Nate Bennett-Flemming. The city’s ceremonial shadow senator position was also up for grabs. Incumbent Michael D. Brown won that race.
The primary also gave the District’s small number of Republican voters a chance to weigh in on the presidential contest. The city is one of the few locations nationally where liberals and moderates dominate the GOP.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney easily defeated former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) in the District. Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, did not try to qualify for the ballot.
In the Ward 7 GOP council primary, activist Ronald Moten defeated businessman Don Folden Sr.
But in a city in which three out of four voters are registered Democrats, the winners of the Democratic primaries almost always win the November elections.
Much of the attention Tuesday was focused on Orange’s effort to fend off three opponents in the at-large race — Biddle, former Prince George’s County Council member Peter Shapiro and Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner E. Gail Anderson Holness.
Last year, after Brown was elected chairman, Biddle briefly replaced him as an at-large council member, but he lost in a special election to Orange.
Biddle, a former school board member, tried to recast himself as an outsider attuned to the needs of a rapidly changing city clamoring for better schools and safer streets.
In the final weeks of the campaign, some activists and voters saw the at-large race as a referendum on what they considered the too cozy relationship between politicians and the money that fuels their campaigns.
Last month, the FBI and IRS raided the office and home of one of the city’s top political contributors, Jeffrey E. Thompson, who holds a city contract worth as much as $322 million annually.
Over the past decade, Thompson has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for D.C. political candidates, including at least $100,000 for Orange. After the raid, Orange acknowledged that he accepted $26,000 in “suspicious” money orders and cashier checks from Thompson last year.