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McDuffie wins Ward 5 D.C. Council seat handily

Kenyan McDuffie, a born-and-bred resident of the District's Stronghold neighborhood who touted public policy experience and a laundry list of labor endorsements, soundly defeated a crowded field on Tuesday to replace former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. and begin a new chapter for Ward 5 leadership at city hall.

Mr. McDuffie obtained nearly 45 percent of the vote - or 4,085 votes - on a wet and humid Tuesday in which ward residents lined up at polling places across Northeast in their quest to restore integrity to the Ward 5 seat at the John A. Wilson Building.

Second-place finisher Delano Hunter garnered 1,850 votes, more than 20 percent of the vote, while Frank Wilds came in third with nearly 15 percent (1,360).

Going into the day, the trio - all Democrats - were tabbed as front-runners in a field of 11 candidates, though Republican Tim Day had hoped to ride his credentials as a whistleblower on Thomas' scheme to steal more than $350,000 in public funds intended for youth sports programs between 2007 and 2009. Mr. Day finished fourth, with more than 5 percent of the vote.

Thomas forced the special election back in January when he resigned and pleaded guilty to the theft. He was recently sentenced to 38 months in prison.

Mr. Hunter and Mr. McDuffie had finished second and third, respectively, to Thomas in the 2010 Democratic primary election.

The night looked like a promising one for Mr. McDuffie as soon as the D.C. Board of Elections posted numbers from early voting at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center. He had obtained 817 votes, compared with Mr. Hunter, in second, with 353.

"We're feeling good," Mr. McDuffie, who left his job in Mayor Vincent C. Gray's administration to run his campaign, said earlier in the afternoon. "We've just really done a good job of blanketing the ward and getting the word out."

Democrat Shelly Gardner fared the best of a quartet of female candidates -Kathy Henderson, Ruth E. Marshall and Rae Zapata, all Democrats, were the others -with 241 votes, or 13 more than Ms. Henderson.

Overall turnout was recorded as nearly 15 percent of registered ward voters, although that does not account for absentee and provisional ballots. The tabulated results are considered unofficial until the elections board certifies the election on May 30.

Precinct workers said early morning rain on Tuesday seemed to keep voters away, but by the afternoon people were arriving in steady streams at several polling places.

At the Model Cities Senior Center in the Langdon neighborhood, a colorful array of political signs and poll workers shouting their candidates' number on the ballot greeted voters as they parked out front. Poll workers said they expected heavier turnout in the evening as few voters turned up in the early morning hours to cast their votes before heading to work. By noon, only 156 out of 5,340 registered people had voted at the 72nd Precinct.

Ward 5 has lacked a representative since Thomas stepped down in January, opening the door to a key swing vote on the council. The body's diminished numbers have been on display in a series of 6-6 votes from the dais in the past four months, including an even split among the body during one of several voice votes Tuesday on the fiscal 2013 budget.

The lack of a council member to advocate for the ward makes it all more important for the elected candidate to hit the ground running, said 75-year-old retiree John Washington.

"We don't have time for a trainee to be elected to Ward 5," Mr. Washington said after casting his vote. "Whether their candidate won or not, residents need to say, 'That's our candidate,' and rally around the person who won."

Seniors were expected to play a big role in the outcome of the election.

"Consideration for those who are retired and on fixed income should be a focus," said 68-year-old Moretha Johnson, who voted for Democrat Rae Zapata after hearing her speak at a debate.

Cynthia Cherry, who described herself as a third-generation Washingtonian who now lives in the Lincoln Crossing neighborhood, said she voted for Mr. McDuffie.

"I felt particularly connected with him because he grew up in Ward 5. He went to school here. He cares," Ms. Cherry said.

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