- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Vincent B. Orange, a former D.C. council member whose bids for mayor and council chairman fell short in 2006 and 2010, secured an at-large council seat Tuesday by taking majorities in wards 5, 7 and 8 and letting a crowded field of opponents split the crumbs.

Mr. Orange drew more than 28 percent, or 12,216 votes, of the D.C. electorate, staving off Republican Patrick Mara at almost 26 percent, or 11,096 votes, and toppling Democratic incumbent Sekou Biddle at about 20 percent, or 8,842 votes, according to unofficial results released Tuesday night.

Democrats Bryan Weaver and Joshua Lopez obtained about 13 and 7 percent, respectively, leaving Democrats Tom Brown and Dorothy Douglas, independent Arkan Haile and Statehood Green Party candidate Alan Page to pick up the remaining votes.

The results oust Mr. Biddle, who was appointed to the seat vacated by council Chairman Kwame R. Brown in January and had the endorsement of several members on the council.

Only 9.5 percent of eligible voters showed up at the polls, a typically low figure for special elections in the District. The figure was slightly higher than the 7.5 percent of eligible voters who turned out for the last citywide special election in 1997, D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics spokeswoman Alysoun McLaughlin said.

The pleasant weather should have been a boon for voter turnout, yet voters were returning to their routines after religious holidays and spring break for D.C. school children, observers said.

In two elections to the State Board of Education, Trayon White Sr. won Ward 8 with more than 33 percent of the vote, and D. Kamili Anderson took Ward 4 with about 41 percent.

Tuesday night’s results are considered unofficial until absentee ballots and an undetermined amount of provisional and curbside ballots, for seniors and the disabled, are counted in the next 10 days, Ms. McLaughlin said. Those ballots have in the past accounted for as much as 10 percent to 15 percent of the vote, potentially leaving the outcome up in the air. Officials said 785 absentee ballots had been received back as of close of business yesterday, and a special ballot count should be available by Wednesday morning.

Early results, representing the more than 1,700 votes cast in person at Judiciary Square prior to Election Day, gave Mr. Orange an early lead ahead of Mr. Mara and then Mr. Biddle.

Shortly after 8:30 p.m., the tension rose as workers at the Board of Elections and Ethics delivered navy blue sacks carrying ballot data from each of the 143 precincts in the District.

The first incoming precincts had Mr. Orange maintaining a lead, but questions lingered about areas friendly to Mr. Mara, who made waves as an alternative to one-party D.C. politics. Those prospects never matured, and Mr. Orange’s lead held strong until the end.

Mr. Orange, 54, celebrated victory on his home turf near Michigan Avenue in Northeast.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Biddle, 39, said he felt confident before voting at Shepherd Park Elementary School at the northern tip of the District.

“I feel like we worked really hard to run a good campaign,” he said, asking rival campaign volunteers if they had “any last-minute suggestions” before he strode into the school to cast his vote alongside his wife, Cara.

Among a handful of problems reported, people at Shepherd Park said the polls did not open until 7:15 a.m., prompting some potential voters to leave. The precinct captain had forgotten to unlock the doors while she searched for a checklist, according to election officials. About 10 voters left, noting they would come back later in the day, and the “highly experienced” captain has apologized, D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics spokeswoman Alysoun McLaughlin said.

Some locations had minor power problems, and precincts in Foggy Bottom and Glover Park had each other’s poll books, prompting a 15-minute delay to arrange a swap.

Mr. Orange’s foot soldiers were stationed at polling places along the South Dakota Avenue corridor in Northeast, relatively secure ground for the former Ward 5 council member.

“He’s been good for our community, and I want to see him back in,” said Vickie Pessagno, after voting at the Brookland Education Campus at Bunker Hill on Michigan Avenue in Northeast. Deborah Hairston, who said she lost her teaching job in 2009 layoffs, noted the Washington Teachers’ Union had endorsed Mr. Orange.

“So I support him 100 percent,” she said, exiting the Bertie Backus Middle School on South Dakota Avenue in Northeast.

Bunker Hill voter Brenda Gaines said Mr. Orange was the only candidate she recognized from the campaign trail.

In Northwest, the Georgetown Library recorded fewer than 100 votes in the opening four hours, with only a handful of signs lining the R Street sidewalk to indicate Tuesday was an election. St. Thomas’ Episcopal Parish in Northwest had a bit more traffic, with 130 voters coming through its Church Street doors by 11:15 a.m.

“We just had a board rep come by, and he said we were doing way better than some of the neighboring precincts,” precinct captain Bob Cardis said.

The 28-year veteran election volunteer said for a special election “it’s a little busier than we were expecting.”

Mary Braden, who voted at St. Thomas’ Episcopal, said she’s “very unhappy with the D.C. Council” and wants an independent thinker who will not go with the herd.

“I voted for someone really obscure, who probably will not win,” Ms. Braden said. “I’m voting today because I always do. I feel it’s important, even if it doesn’t seem important.”

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