The race for the D.C. State Board of Education seat in Ward 8 has become one of the most contentious of this election season, with accusations being hurled regarding poor attendance at board meetings to public outbursts, emerging as the primary issues.
Ward 8 D.C. State Board of Education member Trayon White and Philip Pannell, a longtime activist, are engaged in a Nov. 6 election that has the ward's political class split.
"I am supporting Trayon White because in the year that he has served as our representative on the State Board of Education, he has come into himself," said Wanda Lockridge, a former chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee. "Trayon is a real leader and a fighter. I see his heart and he is for the young people of Ward 8."
Jacque Patterson, a former president of the Ward 8 Democrats, said that Pannell has the interest of the ward's children as well. He also commends Pannell for his decades of community involvement.
"When my daughter entered college, she needed financial assistance," said Patterson, 47. "Phil helped me find money for my daughter to go to school. He has been around the ward and the city a long period of time and he is constantly busy and staying active to serve the people."
White, 28, won the special election on April 26, 2011 to replace Wanda Lockridge's husband, the late William Lockridge, on the board of education. Pannell placed second, followed by several other candidates.
Political observers note that White, since his election, has stayed close to D.C. Council member Marion Barry [D-Ward 8] while Pannell, 61, has been a staunch critic of the former four-term mayor who now represents his ward.
Pannell recently turned up the heat when he accused White of neglecting his duties by not attending a number of work sessions of the board of education.
White supporters have accused Pannell of walking away from organizations when he doesn't get what he wants. And, they say, Pannell doesn't leave organizations without first voicing his opinion in a forceful manner and directing his wrath at those who disagree with him.
"I have known Phil for 30 years and I think his behavior is not consistent," Wanda Lockridge said. "At my husband's funeral, he was politicking for votes. He quit when he was a member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee and I told him I would not support him for anything again."
However, Charles Wilson, the president of the Historic Anacostia Block Association and an advisory neighborhood commissioner, said that Pannell works for him.
"I have witnessed firsthand over the years his leadership and commitment on behalf of Ward 8 youth," said Wilson, 36. "I think he will be the best candidate for the position."
Pannell has served as president of major ward organizations such as the Ward 8 Democrats and the Congress Heights' civic association. He single-handedly reinvigorated the Ballou PTSA and has raised money for its nationally acclaimed marching band, the Ballou Knights.
White is the executive director of HICKS or Helping Inner City Kids Succeed, a nonprofit designed to help youth excel in school and in life. While on the board of education, he has pushed for more resources for Ward 8 schools and greater parental involvement.
Mary Lord, who represents Ward 2 on the board and is a candidate for the at-large position as well, said that "Ward 8 has two very strong candidates and I want them both."
"Phil has done extraordinary things and he has had a lasting impact on schools and parents," Lord said. "Trayon, who I serve with, represents the views of young people well and that is a community that needs representation."
D.C. political analyst Chuck Thies said that the White-Pannell race could have far-reaching ramifications.
"Trayon is seen as a product of Marion Barry and if Trayon loses, it will be a political blow to Barry," said Thies, 47.
Pannell is known nationally as a gay rights activist and if he should win on Nov. 6, he would be the first openly gay black to be elected to a major office in the District. Thies said that achievement would be noteworthy, but for the most part, irrelevant.
"Phil's election would open doors for African-American gay candidates but the goal should be to move beyond labels," he said. "The real issue should be who would be the best for the kids in Ward 8 on the board of education."
Wanda Lockridge said that it's time for seasoned activists like she and Pannell to step aside for the younger generation.
"It is time for these young people to take the banner and for people like Phil and me to guide them," she said. "I will be with Trayon until the end."