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After more than 5,000 forgeries on nominating petitions, $250,000 in campaign fines assessed by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, $1.6 million in campaign cash raised and spent, and myriad mea culpas, District voters went to the polls on Tuesday and delivered the same verdict that they would have if the primary election had been held sometime before the Bishops became one of D.C.’s most talked-about families: that Mayor Anthony A. Williams has the majority consent of the people to govern another four years.
Of course, the official vote tally for the mayor’s race won’t be announced until the Board of Elections hand-counts the more than 81,000 write-in votes cast for Williams, the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, and Lord knows whom else in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Williams launched his uncommon write-in bid in early August after the rampant forgery in his nominating petitions convinced the Board of Elections to keep him off the ballot.
Wilson jump-started his write-in effort a few weeks later, less than a month before voters headed to the polls. On a shoestring budget, Wilson barnstormed through the District, hoping to galvanize those left behind by the Williams renaissance. In spreading his populist message, Wilson got an official endorsement and frequent appearances from Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr.
Wilson sounded victory Tuesday night. “We’re going to leave it to the people,” he told Channel 9 viewers from his campaign fete at El Tamarindo in Adams Morgan. “Let’s start the count tomorrow.”
The minister’s garrulous presence on the campaign trail drew a stark contrast to the stiff demeanor of Williams. At times, the city appeared stunned by the traits Williams has exhibited for more than four years: that he distances himself from retail politics, and that he draws most of his support from upper-income white and black D.C.
The night-and-day political styles of the two front-runners were on display right up to Election Day. At his get-out-the-vote rally Monday night, Wilson rocked the pews of Brightwood Park United Methodist Church in Ward 4. Introduced by Maiesha & the Hip Huggers, Wilson even sang some Sam Cooke before delivering his fiery speech. People got on their feet, clapped their hands, and cheered their candidate.
Williams’ sedate get-out-the-vote affair earlier that evening at Bible Way Temple in Ward 6 featured former Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis and restaurateur Tony Cheng. Williams rattled off his accomplishments; people sat and listened.
In the end, Williams’ sober, lifeless message appears to have prevailed.
Equipped with a pencil and a legal pad, LL conducted our own exit polling at a few select precincts across the city. We held tight our yellow No. 2 Ticonderoga after hearing complaints from elections workers and voters about the Williams-campaign-issued blue-and-red writing instruments, which instructed voters to write in and connect the broken arrow for the incumbent. “Some of the [Williams] pencils do not work,” admitted Ralf Meier, an election worker stationed at St. Columba’s Church on Tuesday afternoon. “We’re telling people to use the pencils that we provide.”
At one point, the Williams campaign had hoped to make charitable contributions with campaign funds. LL hopes the mayor doesn’t donate leftover pencils to D.C. public-school students for the Stanford 9.
According to LL’s very unscientific survey, Williams will win re-election by capturing a clear majority of D.C. voters. LL conducted our research using a random sample, which consisted of any D.C. voters exiting the polls who were willing to talk to LL.
Herewith, a statement of the obvious: White voters overwhelmingly wrote in Williams. After spending between 6 and 7 p.m. badgering voters outside Guy Mason Recreation Center, LL ended our futile quest to find a Ward 3 Democrat who had voted for a candidate other than Williams. When we politely queried Glover Park residents about their votes for mayor, most reacted as if LL had asked whether the Earth was round. “Williams, of course,” was the most common response.
A close second: “Who else? Anthony Williams.”
It even seemed as though some Ward 3ers were programmed to vote for the incumbent. Glover Park resident Denise Brennan said she had planned to leave the mayor’s race blank on her ballot, but wrote in Williams’ name by accident and decided to turn it in that way. “I think he should have been able to get himself on the ballot,” said Brennan. “I still don’t think that he should get a landslide. He should get a message from the city that we’re angry.”
That’s unlikely. Even Republican voters appeared to favor Williams. “We had a lot of people asking if they should write in Williams on the Republican ballot—whether that would be of help,” said Bob Jose, a Williams precinct captain stationed at Guy Mason. Such crossover appeal should sound a warning for At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz, a Republican who is mulling a November challenge to Williams. Schwartz has indicated that she would run if enough D.C. GOPers wrote in her name on the primary ballot. If such an twist should occur, Schwartz would have to rely on underserved black voters who have traditionally voted for her two-time mayoral rival, Barry.
Black middle-class voters, like those willing to talk with LL outside Backus Middle School in Ward 5 Tuesday morning, also favored Williams, by almost a 2-to-1 margin, according to LL’s informal polling. Voters in Ward 4 whom LL spoke with also seemed to have voted for Williams in substantial numbers. “I believe in [Williams],” Ward 5 resident Channing Anderson told LL. “He’s really turned this city around.”
Popular wisdom held that Wilson would do some damage in east-of-the-river precincts, where Williams was weak in 1998. Voters polled at Wilson’s own precinct, in Ward 7’s Penn Branch neighborhood, came out marginally in favor of Williams.
In the coming weeks, pundits will attempt to draw various conclusions from Williams’ all-but-certain victory: that people don’t necessarily want a touchy-feely mayor, or that the city’s recovery hasn’t actually dislocated that many people. Those conclusions are debatable.
One point, though, is incontrovertible: Wilson’s apparently failed write-in bid marks the end of Barry’s run as a political force in D.C. In 1998, Barry declined to run for a fifth term as mayor, depriving D.C. voters of the chance to rate him against a competitive field of challengers. At last, the electorate got that opportunity—albeit in a muddled way—on Tuesday.
Henceforth, politicians hoping to represent the disaffected will have to find non-Barry allies and non-Barry rhetoric to guide their campaigns. Otherwise, they will alienate not only the poor, but also the liberal-minded middle-class D.C. residents who are so crucial to winning coalitions in this town.
* In the campaign’s waning hours, Wilson benefited from one of the District’s great political strategists: Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who chairs the council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue.
Evans’ efforts to warn District residents about a projected $325 million revenue shortfall in fiscal year 2003 gave Wilson his most winning campaign line: “You heard about the balanced-budget man that has the $325 million shortfall?” Wilson stumped on Monday to loud applause. “He didn’t balance no budget, y’all. He didn’t balance it then, and he didn’t balance it now!”
Early last week, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi briefed Evans on the impending fiscal crisis, as well as Mayor Williams and council Chair Linda W. Cropp. On Friday morning, WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin mentioned in an on-air mayoral debate that he had spoken earlier that day with Evans, who had clued him in on the $325 million revenue shortfall. On Saturday, Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King wrote, “Jack Evans, to his credit, was the first to sound the alarm about a coming fiscal train wreck.”
On Sunday, Evans held a Williams campaign rally at his house in Georgetown.
Evans, who was a vocal critic of the mayor during budget hearings earlier this year, declined comment to LL.
* On Monday, less than 12 hours before D.C. voters headed to the polls, candidates surrounded themselves with energized supporters. Williams rallied his troops at the early-evening get-together at Bible Way Temple in Ward 6. Wilson preached to the converted at Brightwood Park United Methodist in Ward 4. When LL passed at-large council hopeful Beverly Wilbourn’s campaign headquarters on Georgia Avenue NW, also in Ward 4, around 9:30 p.m., LL witnessed the lights out and Wilbourn sitting alone in her BMW.
Perhaps that’s because Wilbourn’s entourage had dissolved long before her Primary Day loss: Field director Vernon Hawkins left the Wilbourn camp a few weeks ago, as well as campaign manager Cheryl Benton. Hawkins jumped ship for the Wilson write-in effort, but Benton says she was pushed overboard. “I was told it was because there was no money,” explains Benton, who says she’s still owed $5,000 for services rendered during July and August. Benton says that Wilbourn didn’t even deliver the news herself; she left that task to campaign adviser Joe Yeldell.
Wilbourn denied any problems balancing her campaign checkbook. “Cheryl Benton…isn’t owed money,” Wilbourn told LL while greeting voters outside Shepherd Park Elementary Tuesday morning. “I spoke to Cheryl last week, and I don’t know that she has any outstanding issues going on.”
Benton says that when she spoke with the candidate a week or so after her dismissal, Wilbourn had plenty of issues: with the dearth of campaign events, with the lack of news coverage, with her lackluster campaign effort in general. “She was laying a lot of stuff at my feet,” Benton says. “The real problem was that there weren’t any real people in the campaign. There really were no volunteers.”
Wilbourn’s failed 1998 at-large bid ended in similar fashion, with poll workers complaining that they never got paid for their services.
* Last Thursday evening, the D.C. Democratic State Committee held a mayoral campaign forum at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. Only one Democratic candidate attended: Faith.
Chair Norman C. Neverson explained to the two dozen or so in attendance that forums elsewhere that evening had delayed the candidates from getting to the governing body’s event on time. Around 8:15 p.m., more than a hour after the forum was supposed to kick off, Faith showed up to address her fellow Democrats. According to those in attendance, Neverson prevented the mayoral hopeful from speaking and declared the meeting adjourned. “Actually, when Faith showed up, the official forum had been canceled,” Neverson now says. “She did not have a formal presentation to make before the party.”
“The chairman loves his sister Faith—she’s a great Democrat,” Neverson adds.
Although Faith wasn’t able to speak, she was able to sing and toot her horn, attendees report. CP
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