An unsolved mystery from Tuesday’s campaign is how perennial candidate Calvin Gurley won 57,000 votes in the D.C. Council chairman’s race. That was good for 27 percent of the vote against Chairman Phil Mendelson‘s 72 percent.

That’s pretty good for a guy who won 268 votes—-2 percent of the vote—-when he ran in the Democratic primary for the Ward 4 council spot seven months ago.

The fact that Gurley is little-known, raised almost no money, and had virtually no campaign yet still managed to score so many votes raises the obvious question of whether there’s some sizable discontent in the District with Mendelson—-who was appointed to be chairman this summer after Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown resigned and pleaded guilty to bank fraud, and who was seen as a shoe-in to win Tuesday’s race.

Mendelson doesn’t see a Gurley’s number as a massive protest vote. He says it’s more like a “strange phenomenon” at work in an “unpublicized election” and that many of the people who voted for Gurley probably have no idea who either of the candidates were.

The Post‘s Mike DeBonis says “polling, mathematics and random chance” explain Gurley’s good showing. Political analyst Chuck Thies says it’s all about race, and that African-American voters chose Gurley because he is black. (This handy map from the Post shows that Gurley did better in predominantly African-American precincts than he did in predominantly white ones.)

So what does the man himself think?

“I just campaigned hard,” Gurley says.

Gurley says he put in the hours outside of grocery stores, Metro stops, and other foot traffic-heavy locations this campaign and thought he was going to get upward of 80,000 votes. Gurley says he also focused his efforts  on the eastern half of the city, which is predominantly African-American, because he thought he would find more receptive voters.

“It was just traditional grassroots campaigning,” Gurley says. “Hand to hand, face to face.”

With 57,000 votes, that must have been a lot of hands and faces.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery