McDuffie Grabs Ward 5 Seat

Barrington M. Salmon | 5/16/2012, 12:24 p.m.

Voters in Ward 5 handed Kenyan McDuffie a decisive victory Tuesday in a special election to replace former D.C. Councilmember Harry L. Thomas, Jr.

McDuffie, 37, captured 44.5 percent of the vote and fended off a host of challengers in an election that saw light voter turnout to the tune of 15 percent. Councilmember-elect McDuffie promised to be an ethical legislator who would work hard to win residents' confidence and respect. McDuffie told a throng of cheering, jubilant supporters Tuesday night that he would waste no time attending to the ward's needs. McDuffie, accompanied by wife Princess and his mother to the lectern, appeared humbled by his supporters' emotional and very vocal displays of affection.

"Today marks a bright new day in Ward 5," said McDuffie, who received 4,085 votes. "When the numbers came back, it was clear that Ward 5 wanted to send a mandate. Folks counted us out, they said the race was not important, said it was not about integrity. If it wasn't clear before, it's clear now. Without you, I wouldn't be standing here tonight. Let's get to work. We're going to roll up our sleeves and get it done."

McDuffie, a former prosecutor and resident of the Stronghold community, defeated 10 challengers in the May 15 special election. The newly minted councilmember swamped his challengers by a 20-point margin in unofficial election results released late Tuesday night. Delano Hunter, who garnered second place against Thomas in the 2010 primary, amassed 1,850 votes or 20.2 percent of votes cast. Frank Wilds, another frontrunner, earned almost 15 percent of the vote.

Other challengers such as Drew Hubbard and Republican Tim Day, had strong support in the ward, but could not come anywhere near McDuffie's totals.

This special election closes what many Ward 5 residents regard as a painful chapter in the ward's history and disappointment has been replaced by hope. When McDuffie strode into Layla's Lounge in Northeast, he was greeted as a conquering hero. Supporters whooped and hollered, cheered with reckless abandon, pumped their fists and surrounded their man, hugging him, kissing him and pumping his hand vigorously.

Almost every person in the building wore a red T-shirt and red balloons festooned the entrance and various sections of the lounge.

"Ladies and gentlemen, he is in the house, ladies and gentlemen, our new councilman from Ward 5," said Ward 5 Democratic Chairman Robert Vinson Brannon. "Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come. He is going to take us to places we've never been! This is a wonderful day for Democrats, a wonderful day for Ward 5. I'm so very proud of Ward 5."

"We have outworked, out-funded and raised more money in this election - and you did it without bundling. We're creating history in Ward 5. We have taken our rightful, righteous place in the political leadership of this city."

McDuffie's elevation to the council seat, brings closure to an episode in Ward 5 life that sullied and shamed residents after Thomas admitted in January - after months of denial - that he had stolen at least $353,500 in federal funds meant for disadvantaged youth in the District of Columbia. Thomas, 51, used nonprofits he created such as TeamThomas, to funnel the money he then used to buy a luxury sports utility vehicle, a motorcycle, fancy clothes and shoes and to pay for golfing trips. On May 3, U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates sentenced Thomas to three years and two months in prison for his crimes.