- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Upstart challenger David Grosso, a relatively unknown former D.C. Council staffer who started campaigning a year ago, unseated incumbent Michael A. Brown on Tuesday for an at-large seat in the only significant upset in the District’s elections.

The results came after the Brown campaign was undone in recent months by reports ranging from criticism of the council member’s personal finances to his poor driving record. A failed attempt to introduce Internet gambling in the District and the reported theft of more than $100,000 from his campaign didn’t help matters, either.

Mr. Brown, an independent elected in 2008, conceded the race Tuesday night and thanked his supporters for staying with him through a “soap opera campaign.”

“We had a lot to overcome and we did everything we could to try to do that,” he said. “We just couldn’t get it done. We came up short.”

With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Grosso led Mr. Brown by more than 17,000 votes, or 21 percent to 15 percent of ballots cast.

Mr. Grosso, an independent, celebrated his victory at a raucous upstairs party at Chez Billy in the Petworth neighborhood of Northwest.

“It’s a new day for D.C.,” he said, adding that his priorities include ethics and campaign finance reform.

Vincent B. Orange, the Democratic nominee, coasted to victory for the second at-large seat with 37 percent of the city’s vote.

For Ward 7 member of the council, incumbent Yvette M. Alexander, a Democrat, knocked down a spirited challenge by “civil rights” Republican Ron Moten with 87 percent of the vote. Mr. Moten had avoided a crowded Democratic primary by opting to run as a Republican, yet faced an overwhelmingly Democratic ward in the general election.

Citywide, voters flooded the polls on Tuesday to support President Obama and to weigh in on local contests in the heavily Democratic city, prompting officials to predict that Election Day voters and nearly 60,000 early ballots would combine to exceed the city’s turnout in the historic 2008 election.

A steady flow of residents lined up at the city’s 143 precincts beginning at 7 a.m., although crowds thinned out by midday before picking up again for the post-work crowd. Based on morning observations and early-voting tallies, the D.C. Board of Elections predicted that citywide turnout would eclipse the roughly 266,000 voters who cast ballots when Mr. Obama won his first term. The city has been growing at a fast pace, and D.C. voter registration has increased by more than 10 percent since four years ago.

But high turnout was accompanied by problems and complaints. The elections board reported that an undetermined number of poll workers did not show up for their duties, prompting them to call upon a pool of 70 reserves to fill in for them. Many voters waited for more than an hour and had to cast paper ballots whether they wanted to or not, since there were few of electronic machines at each polling site.

“A lot of the machines at the precincts weren’t used (in 2008),” BOE spokeswoman Agnes Moss said, noting the board will adjust based on 2012 trends. “You can only really compare a presidential election to another presidential election.

She said that out of 280 machines owned by the board, 165 machines were used on Tuesday, 103 were used for early voting and 12 were used for training.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a Democrat, trumped over challenger Calvin Gurley by a nearly 3-to-1 vote margin in a special election to complete the term of former Chairman Kwame R. Brown, who resigned in June amid scandal instead of serving through 2014. Council members had chosen Mr. Mendelson to lead the council until voters could decide whether to reaffirm his position on Tuesday.

With a victory in the chairman’s race, Mr. Mendelson will leave his at-large seat on the council. The city will likely schedule a special election for this spring to fill the seat, and candidates who fell short in Tuesday’s at-large race should be in a good position to run in the wide-open contest with no incumbents.

Asked Tuesday night if he would consider such a run, Mr. Brown simply said, “I’m not even there yet.”

From the start, Mr. Orange was the Democratic nominee in the left-leaning District and therefore considered a lock for one of the two at-large seats in play.

Mr. Brown had more of a race on his hands in the fight for the remaining, non-majority party seat. Over the summer, Mr. Brown announced that more than $100,000 had been stolen from his campaign, supposedly by a trusted aide. He has also been dogged by questions about his personal finances because of tax liens and The Washington Post reported on his poor driving record. Yet Mr. Brown — first elected to the council in 2008 — had momentum on his side as both an incumbent and a familiar name to voters who remember his late father, Ron Brown, who served in President Clinton’s Cabinet.

Two voters at the Shepherd Park precinct, Arthur Lafave and Robert Burger, said Tuesday morning they voted for Mr. Grosso and Leon Swain Jr., an independent, to bring new blood onto a council that has been marred by scandal.

“All new faces,” Mr. Burger said.

Among other races, unopposed incumbents Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, and Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, were tapped to serve four more years at city hall.

“Mayor for life” Marion Barry, a Democrat, followed up his resounding primary victory last spring with what looked like a breezy win over independent challenger Jauhar Abraham to retain his Ward 8 seat on the council.

Mr. Barry, however, was a vocal critic of operations Tuesday at polling sites across the city, citing small spaces for voters that were especially hard on seniors and the limited number of electronic machines, which he considers faster and more accurate than paper ballots. He said the popularity of early voting should have been a clear indication that city residents planned to come out in droves on Election Day.

He called on Ms. Bowser, chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, to conduct an investigation of electoral procedures in the city to make sure the District is ready for its 2014 mayoral race.

“It’s not rocket science,” he said Tuesday. “I’ve gotten nothing but complaints today.”

Voters also approved three proposed amendments to the D.C. Charter that makes it easier to remove lawmakers or a mayor from office, a reminder of the ethical cloud hanging over city government. The first one asked voters whether the council, by a vote of 5/6 of the members, should be able to expel a fellow member for a “gross failure” of the office’s standards of conduct. The next two questions asked whether a council member or the mayor should be “ineligible to remain in office and ineligible to ever hold the office again” if he or she is convicted of a felony while in office.

Malika Moore, a Michigan Park resident who voted at the Bunker Hill Educational Campus in Ward 5, said she voted for Michael A. Brown — she did not select a second — and in favor of all three ballot questions.

“There’s been a lot of controversy,” she said of the council. “I think having the option to remove people who do illegal activities is a good thing to have.”