- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Modest numbers of voters hit the polls throughout the District on Tuesday to potentially alter the make-up of the beleaguered D.C. Council and decide who will carry their political party’s flag into the general election in November.

Turnout in the primary elections appeared to be low among the city’s 143 precincts, with no counterweight to President Obama to drive residents in the heavily Democratic city to vote. Yet key contests among Democrats for an at-large council seat and the seats from wards 7 and 8 generated buzz and brought volunteers out in full force to tout their candidates one last time at polling places that will remain open until 8 p.m.

The District has more than 460,000 registered voters — about three-quarters of them Democrats — who are eligible to cast ballots in the city’s “closed primary,” meaning voters can only pick candidates from the party in which they are registered.

The election is widely viewed as a referendum on the current council, which has been plagued by ethical lapses and a federal investigation of one of the city’s top political donors, Jeffrey E. Thompson, who has given to Mayor Vincent C. Gray and all but one of the city’s council members. No one has been accused of any crimes, leaving the potential consequences — at least for now — up to voters.

“I’m paying attention to all the issues that have been raised,” Northwest resident Blanchita Porter said outside her Takoma polling place. “The process of review is being handled.”

For others, the primary was a chance to express dissatisfaction with incumbents’ performance.

“Truthfully, they are all crap,” said 56-year-old retired Metro worker Denise Washington, adding that she voted for fresh faces rather than incumbents in the Ward 4 and at-large races. “They always promise, but they never do. … I’ll give somebody new a shot.”

By 11 a.m., about 100 voters had visited the Brookland Educational Campus at Bunker Hill, the epicenter of Vincent B. Orange’s turf along Michigan Avenue in Ward 5. Mr. Orange, who once represented Ward 5 on the council is seeking a full term as an at-large member after winning a seat in a special election last year.

“There’s nothing wrong with Mr. Orange,” said Carl Siler, who voted for challenger Sekou Biddle. “He’s been around for a long time, and we need new blood.”

In other races, council member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, is widely expected to carry her seat against a slate of five challengers. Another incumbent, Jack Evans has no opponent in the Ward 2 Democratic primary and is expected to gain another term and become the longest-serving council member in D.C. history.

The story is different east of the Anacostia River, where challengers are hoping key endorsements will propel them past incumbent council members Yvette M. Alexander in Ward 7 and Marion Barry in Ward 8. It is an uphill task, as Ms. Alexander enjoys the benefit of several strong challengers who should split votes and Mr. Barry has amassed wide and lingering popular support from his 16 years as D.C. mayor.

The primary elections are playing another pivotal role, as foot soldiers for the D.C. Public Trust effort to ban corporate donations to city political campaigns gathered signatures of registered voters to get their initiative on the November ballot. Among the pre-work crowd at Shepherd Park Elementary School, the number of voters who signed the petitions outweighed the number who passed it by.

“They just sign it,” said Dorothy McGhee, a petition volunteer who gathered about 40 signatures in the first hour. “They say, ‘Oh, yes!’”

Some voters decried “pay-to-play” politics among contributors and politicians in the District, while others said they signed the petition to sent it to the ballot, even if they haven’t made up their own minds on the issues.

“I think we just have to get some of the influence out of the whole election process,” Ronald Flowers, a voter in Ward 4, said.

Ms. Bowser chatted with Shepherd Park voters around 8 a.m., while volunteers for opponents Baruti Jahi, Max Skolnik and Renee L. Bowser stood nearby. When Ms. McGhee asked the incumbent to sign the D.C. Public Trust petition, Ms. Bowser demurred and reiterated her belief that a ban would send corporate contributions underground with even less transparency and accountability.

“It will just move it around,” Ms. Bowser told signature gatherers.

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