Barrington M. Salmon | 4/28/2011, 12:45 a.m.
Orange, White and Anderson Win D.C. Special Elections
Unofficial election results indicate that Trayon White, the executive director of Helping Inner City Kids Succeed, Inc., has scored an up-set in the Ward 8 School Board of Education race Tuesday.
If the results hold, he will have defeated Phillip Pannell and seven other candidates. Pannell, a well known activist in Ward 8, was endorsed by the Washington Post and the powerful Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.
White, 26, is a Ward 8 resident who graduated with honors from Bally Senior High School in Southeast. He also graduated magnum cum laude from the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.
White, who received the endorsement of Ward 8 Council member and former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, managed to garner 33 percent of the vote by midnight in a special election marked by low voter turnout in many of the 143 precincts scattered throughout the District. Unofficial returns show that a scant 12.1 percent of voters made their way to the polls.
The Ward 8 candidates had been jostling for position in a crowded race that hinged on who best articulated the desire to push education and education reform forward. The vacancy on the School Board came following the death of incumbent and longtime Ward 8 champion William Lockridge.
Barry, who served on the city's School Board, said in published reports that White, 26, would be a champion for Ward 8.
Others vying for the seat included: Eugene Dewitt Kinlow; Tajwanna U. Phillips; Anthony Muhammad; W. Cardell Shelton; Larry T. Pretlow II; R. Joyce Scott; and Sandra S.V. Williams.
The Board has lost a great deal of power and prestige and is a shadow of its former self, after the Fenty administration stripped it of much of its power in 1998. Yet, board members will have a decidedly more meaningful role in determining the future of the city's children going forward. They will help make decisions on how to spend the District of Columbia's federal allocation of Race to the Top program monies and other pertinent issues.
Political pundits and political observers feared that voter turnout would be low. The fact that this is an off-year election proved to be a factor. Then there is voter cynicism and widespread disappointment and concern with the missteps made by some members of the Gray administration and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown.
Louis Simmons reflected the disappointment.
The longtime Anacostia resident said he didn't bother to vote because none of the Ward 8 candidates impressed him.
I'm not voting because there is not that much to choose from," he said. "If I did vote, it would be tricky. There are too many numbers to choose from."
Simmons, a registered Republican, said he questioned the commitment of the group. And for, all intents and purposes, he said anyone who serves on the school board is merely a figurehead.
"I know them all - all these individuals - what are their real reasons for running?" he asked.
"I haven't seen them as advocates toiling in the trenches. Is it for a payday or are they really interested in keeping us on the (right) path? If they are running just because the seat is available, that's a problem."
A concerned citizen, who asked to remain anonymous, sipped a drink, and proudly sported the 'I Voted' sticker.
"Going to vote is very important," she said. "That's the only way I know how to make my voice heard. I keep myself informed so I knew who I wanted to vote for."
District Statehood advocates who chafe under the dictatorial commands of Congress and those who accuse the body of the highest form of hypocrisy, say choosing to forego elections plays into the hands of critics who would argue that District residents don't deserve and can't handle democracy.
"I think the term 'idiot' comes from the Latin word for a person who doesn't vote," said a commuter who declined to give his name or occupation.
"It is imperative that we vote."
Twenty-four-year-old David Lemus, a receptionist with the D.C. Department of Health, said he had been watching the Ward 8 races with a great deal of interest.
"I'm aware of the race. I've seen the posters and billboards and people sound interested and excited," he said.
"I feel that our voice counts. Ward 8 is the face of the School Board in D.C."
Lemus, who said he was on his way to the polls, said the criteria he uses to choose a candidate centers on motivation and integrity.
How does he know for sure?
"Anyone can sense a person's energy," said Lemus, who has lived in Southeast for 18 months.
Simmons argued persuasively that because a candidate makes promises while running for office, doesn't mean that that person will fol-low through if elected.
"What if they want to stay in the Dark Ages? What if they don't want to move education forward? You have to be committed with a track record and be an advocate for change."
In other races, former Ward 5 Council member Vincent B. Orange will return to the D.C. City Council. At midnight on Tuesday, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics had called a close race for Orange. His closest rival was Republican Patrick Mara, while incumbent Sekou Biddle, who was appointed to the seat in January, came in third. Orange and his competitors were vying for the at-large seat vacated by Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown who stepped down to assume leadership of the D.C. City Council. Biddle gave up the Ward 4 School Board of Education seat to accept the temporary position.
Leo Alexander, a candidate in the mayoral race against former Mayor Adrian Fenty, said he proudly voted for Vincent Orange.
"Orange will take it," he asserted early Tuesday afternoon.
"I thought he would have been a damn good chairman. He is more than skilled and capable and I feel stronger about that after the two Escalades incident."
Unfortunately, Alexander, a commodities dealer said, the majority of Washington voters do not equate their vote with how it affects them directly. He said an unspoken secret of low voter turnout is illiteracy.
"Illiteracy is a major issue," said Alexander, 47. "I have not heard anyone talk about it since the '70s. We need to teach people to read. We need to reintroduce literacy campaigns."
Another way to attract and hold voter interest, he said, is for news outfits like Channel 16 to air debates in their entirety.
"They need to air debates live, so that voters can watch it in their homes and not be left to read the paper to find out who they should vote for," he said.
Simmons offered his perspective on D.C. voting patterns.
"It's a personal choice. People vote when it means something. Rest assured, a candidate cannot expect to be in office for 20 years," he said.
"We vote in ebbs and flows. Does it make a difference? In 2008, it made a difference."
And lest anyone think otherwise, the vote is still very important, Simmons said.
"We have to vote and make our votes count."
In the D.C. School Board race, D. Kamili Anderson was leading in the Ward 4 race, 41.42 percent to Andrew Moss's 37.39 percent. If the results hold, Anderson would have earned the right to represent Ward 4 on the board. A Washington Post editorial supporting her candidacy described the mother of three as "an appealing blend of first-hand experience and expertise in education policy."
Anderson ran against academician An Almquist, Moss, who is a former teacher and Treasury Department employee and local lawyer Bill Quirk.