- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 26, 2015

Voters in Wards 4 and 8 will head to the polls Tuesday to choose new lawmakers in special elections that could win the District’s mayor crucial allies on the D.C. Council.

Eleven candidates are vying for council seats in each election — the Ward 4 seat was left vacant when D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser took office in January and the Ward 8 seat when longtime political powerhouse Marion Barry died in November.

Bowser-backed candidates hold significant advantages in both races, making it likely that the new mayor will acquire support among the 13-member D.C. Council as she pursues her first-year agenda.

Ward 4 candidate Brandon Todd, who previously worked as Ms. Bowser’s constituent services director, has raised more than $360,000 in his bid, in part by raking in funds from donors who also have contributed to Ms. Bowser. With more than $160,000 on hand as of April 20, Mr. Todd entered the home stretch of the race with the most money to spend.

Ward 8 candidate LaRuby May, who served as Ms. Bowser’s Ward 8 coordinator in last year’s mayoral campaign, has similarly benefited from donors. Ms. May has outraised all of her competitors, bringing in nearly $270,000. While she had also $40,000 in the bank as of an April 20 campaign finance report, that was still more than double what her closest competitor has on hand to spend.

The Ward 8 race has centered on questions of who can authentically carry on Barry’s brand of leadership and whether a council member closely aligned with the mayor would be in residents’ best interest.

In the last month, two candidates dropped out of the Ward 8 race to jointly endorse former school board member Trayon White.

Meanwhile, a group of Ward 8 candidates promised a press conference last week to speak out against Ms. Bowser’s influence on the D.C. Council race only to cancel it at the last minute.

It has left community activist Eugene Kinlow; Sheila Bunn, former deputy chief of staff for Mayor Vince C. Gray; Natalie Williams, president of Ward 8 Democrats; Marion C. Barry, potential heir to his father’s council seat; and five others working frantically in the waning days of the campaign to build a groundswell of opposition to knock Ms. May out of front-runner status.

Civic activist Phil Pannell said voters in Ward 8, the city’s poorest, are looking for a candidate who will address their plight and advocate for the disadvantaged.

“Even though no one could ever fill Marion Barry’s shoes, they want someone who is at least out there speaking out for the economically disadvantaged,” Mr. Pannell said. “That’s one of the reasons you saw the candidates saying they are very much part of the Marion Barry legacy.”

He said he believes that because Ms. Bowser has been so visible in Ward 8 since her November election that residents will not see a candidate’s close ties with the mayor as a bad thing.

“It’s very beneficial to the ward to have a council member who is aligned with the mayor,” Mr. Pannell said. “It’s certainly not helpful to have one who is adversarial.”

In Ward 4, Mr. Todd vies with a bevy of Advisory Neighborhood Commission leaders, including Renee Bowser, Ron Austin, Judi Jones, Acqunetta Anderson, and Dwayne Toliver.

Mr. Gray, the former mayor, endorsed Mr. Toliver, a real estate attorney. Renee Bowser, who is not related to the mayor, has been backed by several unions.

As in Ward 8, at least one candidate backed out of the race to endorse another in Ward 4. Leon T. Andrews Jr., who works as a program director at the National League of Cities, received support from ANC member Doug Sloan. Mr. Andrews, who raised $144,000 thanks in part to a $90,000 self loan, is Mr. Todd’s closest rival financially.

Turnout is generally light in special elections, so a small number of voters could pick a winner in a tight race.

As of Friday, the D.C. Board of Elections reported that 1,068 voters had cast ballots at the Ward 4 early voting station, 1,092 residents had cast ballots at the Ward 8 station, and 486 people had voted at Judiciary Square, which accepted ballots from both wards.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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