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At 9:43 p.m., Brianne Nadeau hadn’t arrived at her election-night party yet, but her campaign was prepping for a dramatic entrance. As Nadeau’s campaign manager ushered handpicked supporters onto the stage to form a victorious-looking human tableau, the large crowd on the second floor of Solly’s on U Street NW was glued to NewsChannel8, which was showing an early Nadeau lead over the councilmember she hoped to unseat, Ward 1’s Jim Graham. Finally, Nadeau entered—-awkwardly, or awesomely, to Bruce Springsteen‘s fist-pumper “Born to Run.”

“Brianne for D.C.! Brianne for D.C.!” the room chanted. Nadeau headed to the stage—-the mic wasn’t working, but she rolled with it. Without amplification, she said, “I know y’all know I was a Girl Scout, but I was also a cheerleader,” she said. “We are in the lead!”

Nadeau talked about the beginnings of her effort to best Graham, when she started raising money in 2011. “If you want to beat a four-term councilmember,” she said, “you’ve gotta raise a shit-ton of money.” The room erupted in cheers and laughter.

Nadeau might be on her way to becoming D.C.’s funniest councilmember. With 11 of 15 Ward 1 precincts counted, she was beating Graham tonight, 58 percent to 41 percent, ending the reign of a councilmember who was once thought unbeatable in his ward.

At Solly’s, Nadeau thanked what seemed to be dozens in the room. She thanked her mom—-as well as a number of “campaign mothers” who made sure she slept in the run-up to election day. “Apparently people think I need to be mothered,” she quipped. She thanked At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, whose endorsement, she said, was a “turning point” for her campaign. She thanked volunteers who helped her clean up alleys in Ward 1. “I don’t know if you know this, but rats are a big problem in Ward 1,” she said. The crowd cheered that, too.

In an interview, Nadeau said she saw low turnout in the ward today but “strong support” for her candidacy, and that one advantage she had over past Graham challengers was her ground operation. (And unlike past Graham challengers, Nadeau faced a less crowded field.) Asked about potentially running against activist Bryan Weaver—-who had been running as a Democrat in the primary before dropping out to run as an independent in the general election this fall—-she said, “I’ll think about April 2 tomorrow.”

In Mount Pleasant, Graham was holding court in Haydee’s Restaurant—-where the crowd was lighter than at Nadeau’s party, but arguably as electric thanks to several spirited, Spanish-language karaoke performances. Still awaiting the full results, Graham said he was feeling great, even as supporters reloaded the Board of Elections website on their iPads with glum looks on their faces.

One of two things will happen tonight, Graham said: “I’ll either be free as a bird, or I’ll be free as bird.”

Photo by Jonathan L. Fischer