McDuffie Grabs Ward 5 Seat

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

This election was the first in many years that a Thomas was not on the ballot. Harry L. Thomas, Sr., was a well-respected councilmember who held the Ward 5 seat from 1986 until his death in 1999. His son succeeded him when he won the seat in 2006.

Hunter, 28, won the Ward 5 Democrats straw poll earlier this year and received the endorsement of AFSCME District Council 20. Republican Candidate Tim Day, 40, received the endorsement of The Washington Post, which at one time in the city's political history was highly coveted by candidates.

However, Hunter was dogged by his former stance as being opposed to same-sex marriage and problems with his personal finances. Day, who has been credited with starting the political downfall of Thomas, could not convince an overwhelmingly Democratic ward that they would be best represented on the D.C. Council by a Republican.

A former policy advisor to the deputy mayor for public safety and justice, McDuffie was endorsed by organizations such as the Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO, the Washington Teachers' Union Local 6, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, Greater Greater Washington and the Sierra Club.

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D) and Councilmembers Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), as well as Washington Teachers' Union President Nathan Saunders were among the revelers.

"Kenyan seemed to more clearly come down on the same side of where I am on some major issues, such as ethics and ending corporate contributions in local elections," Wells explained after McDuffie's victory speech. "He seemed very progressive and had an 'open tent.' He appealed to blacks, whites, young, old and that is reflected in his landslide victory."

At Colonel Brooks Tavern in Brookland, Wilds supporters looked weary and some appeared shell shocked. A few dozen campaign staff and supporters sat around, chatted and consoled each other. Wilds said in a recent interview that he expected a large senior turnout to power him to victory but that element was never a factor in the race because, as one campaign staffer explained, Hunter and McDuffie were able to each attract sizeable chunks of the elderly constituency.

"I'm fine. I feel great. Hey, I gave it my best," Wilds said with a smile. "He [McDuffie] got the vote across all sections [of the ward]. He killed us. All I can say is congrats. He won hands down."

Wilds, a 67-year-old businessman who has lived in the ward for more than 30 years said the electorate chose youth over real-world experience.

Campaign Manager Windy Carson-Smith said the turn of events was unexpected and after the polls closed, she said she and others "got a sense of the tide turning."

"My reaction is surprise," she said. "We ran the best campaign we knew we could. He is one of the most honest people I know. He is a man of integrity but he was caught up in a wave of innuendo and speculation of what's going on at City Hall."

Wilds' Campaign Chairman Mark Jones said now that the combativeness of this political campaign is over, it's time to coalesce.

"Kenyan appealed to everybody and that's why he won the race," said Jones. "He ran a good race and now we have to come together and heal. Frank ran a good race. He will still be in the community and we will work with our new councilman. That's our new charge."

Saunders noted that McDuffie is an example that young people who are the products of the District's school system can succeed, and tabbed him as someone to watch.

"Kenyan grew up with caring parents and he is an example of what our students are capable of," said Saunders, 47. "He can write his own ticket. It's up to him how far he goes."

McDuffie will serve out the remainder of Thomas' term, which ends in 2014. If he is declared the winner after the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics certifies the results, he will be sworn in on May 30.