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Voters head to polls to pick replacement for Thomas

- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2012

Voters in Ward 5 will replace former council member Harry Thomas Jr. on Tuesday by choosing from a long menu of candidates who hope to restore confidence and integrity to the Northeast ward's seat at city hall.

Thomas forced the special election back in January when he resigned and pleaded guilty to stealing more than $350,000 in funds earmarked for youth sports programs. He was recently sentenced to 38 months in prison.

Almost 2,000 of his former constituents cast ballots in early voting May 5 to 12. The rest of the ward's 61,000 registered voters can choose from 12 candidates. (One, Democrat Amanda Broadnax, withdrew, but her name still appears on the ballot at the polls Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.)

More than four out of every five voters in the ward are Democrats, but voters may cast ballots for any candidate they wish in the special election.

Observers have touted Democrats Delano Hunter, Kenyan McDuffie and Frank Wilds as the front-runners, although Republican Tim Day is hoping to ride his early criticism of Thomas' scheme to victory.

"It's get-out-the-vote time," said Mr. McDuffie, a Stronghold resident who recently worked for Mayor Vincent C. Gray's administration in the office of the deputy mayor for public safety.

He said despite some confusion around the April 3 primary elections, most ward voters now realize that Tuesday is the day to select their council member.

"Everybody's got signs up, everyone's been out," Mr. McDuffie said.

Mr. Hunter and Mr. McDuffie finished second and third, respectively, to Thomas in the 2010 Democratic primary election. Both men have run aggressive campaigns this year and garnered numerous endorsements. Mr. McDuffie captured the lion's share of labor support, while Mr. Hunter handily won a Ward 5 Democrat straw poll in March.

At this late stage, Mr. Hunter said on Monday he is calling on his base to show up at the polls and "energize" people around them to vote, too. He said he is encouraged by the number of people who are approaching him at church and on street corners to offer their endorsement.

"It's kind of like the culmination of all your hard work and support," Mr. Hunter said.

The ballot features four women - Shelly Gardner, Kathy Henderson, Ruth E. Marshall and Rae Zapata, all Democrats - who note that voters are looking for a change in leadership, which may include another female voice on the council.

Candidate Ron Magnus, an attorney, has maintained a visible presence on the campaign trail, and fellow Democrat Drew Hubbard can boast experience at the John A. Wilson Building as a recent council staffer.

Voters can also opt for an independent candidate in John C. Cheeks.

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