Bowser protege Brandon Todd wins Ward 4 seat; Ward 8 too close to call

Bowser protege Brandon Todd wins Ward 4 seat; Ward 8 too close to call

By Aaron C. Davis and Abigail Hauslohner April 28 at 9:58 PM

A little-known political aide to D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has won the seat she left vacant on the D.C. Council, while another Bowser operative held a razor-thin lead Tuesday night in the contest to succeed the late Marion Barry.

With all precincts reporting, Brandon Todd, Bowser’s former constituent-services director and chief campaign fundraiser, led his nearest competitor by nearly 2-to-1 in unofficial results. Some absentee and provisional ballots remained uncounted, but there were not enough to sway the overwhelming outcome.

In Ward 8, LaRuby May, a Bowser field director during her run for mayor last year, narrowly led Trayon White, a former State Board of Education member and Barry protege.

In a crowded field of 11 candidates, White emerged as the anti-establishment vote, siphoning support from other candidates — including Barry’s son, Marion Christopher Barry, and Sheila Bunn, a former top aid to former mayor Vincent C. Gray.

With hundreds of absentee and provisional ballots likely still outstanding, May led White by a scant 152 votes out of more than 6,200 ballots cast. Elections officials said the Ward 8 race remained too close to call Tuesday night.

Ward 8 residents cast their votes in a special election to fill Marion Barry’s council seat. With hundreds of absentee ballots still outstanding, officials said the race was too close to call Tuesday night. (Erin Schaff/For The Washington Post)

At his election night party, White, who was outspent 16-to-1 by May, credited his late campaign surge to “everyday voters who turned out to support our vision. We put people first, and they supported us,” White said. He called on the public to watch carefully as final ballots are tallied. “We know there are a lot of absentee ballots out. I just hope we don’t get cheated,” White said. “There has been a lot of interference in this race by the mayor.”

Speaking at May’s party, held at the site of her own primary victory party a year ago, Bowser declared May “winning” and implored her supporters to also watch the final count carefully. “We’ve got to fight to make sure that every one of her votes is counted.”

Hanging in the balance was Bowser’s ability to gain two political confidants on the D.C. Council, potentially tipping close votes in her favor.

Early in her first term, Bowser could use the firepower. She has asked the council to grant her office clear authority to provide legal reviews of land deals, contracts and legislation. Doing so could consolidate power in her office — and away from the city’s first elected attorney general, Karl A. Racine.

Bowser has also asked the council for the authority to hire and fire several agency directors who are now confirmed by the council. In the past, divided councils have balked at giving a mayor that authority.

At May’s election night party, supporters lamented the night ending without a conclusion.

“It means we have a lot of people who don’t believe in change,” said Linwood Bunch, a campaign worker. Trayon White “cannot save Ward 8, but she can. We have people here who want to work . . . and others who want to stay stagnated.”

One May campaign volunteer, who declined to give his full name, said that the final count would say a lot about the reach of Bowser’s power, especially in Ward 8, which she lost by 26 percentage points during last year’s Democratic primary and where many voters remain suspicious of politicians from elsewhere in the city.

“This is going to tell how the power is wired — if Muriel Bowser has the power she wants, if it flows all the way from Ward 8 to Ward 4,” said the volunteer, who said only that his name was Robert. “All the people across the city are waiting to see who’s in charge — who’s really in charge. Is Muriel Bowser able to make a king? If she pulls off an election in two wards, people will be lining up to kiss her hand, whether they like it or not.”

The off-year, special election drew more than 75 percent of the turnout of last year’s mayoral primary, eclipsing most predictions.

Interest in the race to fill the seat left open by Bowser (D) in the District’s northern Ward 4, however, was more anemic. Overall turnout there was 17 percent, or less than half the number who voted in the mayoral primary a year ago.

Campaigning Tuesday, Todd called the experience humbling. “You actually see your name on a ballot, and you’re voting for yourself. It’s been a very humbling experience just to know that people are putting their trust in you and casting their vote for you to go downtown and make a difference in their lives.”

Todd won on a promise to continue the course charted by Bowser, and he embraced his close relationship with the mayor, saying he was the only candidate in the field who would be able to pick up the phone and discuss the ward’s needs directly with her.

Renee Bowser, a labor attorney who is no relation to the mayor, came in second with about 22 percent of the vote to Todd’s 42 percent. Leon T. Andrews Jr., a senior fellow with the National League of Cities, came in third with 15 percent.

Both Todd and May jumped out to early leads in the special election with the help of hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from Bowser donors and endorsements from her political allies. The two became targets of criticism from competitors over their relationships with Bowser and spent considerable time in the campaign’s closing weeks assuring voters that they would be independent voices on the council.

Still, May and Todd welcomed Bowser’s public support in the campaign’s closing days.

Bowser headlined get-out-the-vote events with both Todd and May during the first day of early voting in each ward.

And on Election Day, a grinning Bowser arrived at May’s campaign office at 7 a.m., just as a dawn rally for dozens of supporters wrapped up with chants of May’s campaign slogan: “So Eight may rise!”

Speaking Tuesday night, LaRuby promised to work “overtime” to finish the job to win Barry’s vacant seat.The death in November of Barry, the D.C. legend and four-term mayor, marked the end of an era for Washington politics — especially for the District’s poorest neighborhoods in Ward 8, where Barry held the council seat for a combined 15 years.

Barry never tapped a clear successor, leaving the race to replace him wide open.

The younger Barry, known to many as Christopher, began using his full given name of Marion Christopher Barry shortly before he launched his bid for his father’s seat last fall.

The younger Barry ran a troubled campaign, with little money. He also was involved in an incident at a downtown bank in which he broke a security camera. Charges are pending.

In a statement late Tuesday, Barry suggested that he would launch a second campaign for the next full term for the Ward 8 seat. Barry’s term expires in about 18 months.

“This time, money spoke. Next time, the people will speak,” Barry said. “My campaign for my father’s seat in Ward 8 begins tomorrow.”

The new council members could be sworn in as early as May 14, the day the city’s Board of Elections is to certify the election results.

Victoria St. Martin contributed to this report.


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