April 27, 2011 at 8:18 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Pannell trailing in D.C. school board race

Phil Pannell (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay Democratic and Ward 8 civic activist Phil Pannell was running second in a nine-candidate race for a seat on the D.C. Board of Education representing Ward 8 in the city’s special election on Tuesday.

Unofficial returns from the Board of Elections and Ethics showed Pannell with 716 votes, or 27.8 percent, trailing political newcomer and community activist Trayon White, who had 885 votes with 33.2 percent of the total.

D.C. voting rights advocate and LGBT rights supporter Eugene Dewitt Kinlow was running third, with 434 votes and 16.3 percent of the total.

An election board spokesperson said it would take another 10 days for the board to count absentee ballots cast by mail, curbside ballots cast by senior citizens or voters with disabilities, and special or provisional ballots cast by those who register to vote on the same day as the election.

Spokesperson Alysoun McLaughlin said the board sent out 3,953 absentee ballots by mail and had received only 785 back as of earlier this week. She could not predict how many more would come back. They must be postmarked no later than Election Day, April 26, to be considered valid, she said. It could not be determined at press time how many ballots cast in Ward 8 remained uncounted.

Pannell said he contacted White by phone on election night to congratulate him on his apparent victory. Pannell’s campaign workers and supporters gathered at the Player’s Lounge restaurant on Martin Luther King Ave., S.E., on Tuesday night to await the election returns.

“I think I ran a good campaign and did everything I possibly could have done,” Pannell said. “Obviously I’m disappointed.”

Michael Sainte-Andress, a longtime friend of Pannell’s who served as the Pannell campaign treasurer, called Pannell a highly skilled and “tireless” advocate for the Ward 8 community over a period of at least 30 years.

Sainte-Andress said he believes Pannell was the most qualified among the candidates running in the Ward 8 race but was concerned that some conservative voters in the majority black ward would be reluctant to vote for an openly gay man.

“They know all of the good things Phillip has done in this community for so long,” said Sainte-Andress. “They acknowledge that he has helped many of them over the years. But for some in this community – they just can’t bring themselves to vote for him.”

Others familiar with the Ward 8 race said Pannell was placed at a disadvantage to at least some degree over the circumstance that resulted in the Ward 8 seat becoming vacant. Longtime community advocate, teacher and Ward 8 school board member William Lockridge, 63, who was well known and liked in the community, died suddenly in January of complications from a stroke.

Lockridge’s widow, Wanda Lockridge, played a key role in recruiting Trayon White, 26, a family friend, to run for her husband’s seat, according to sources familiar with the race. Although most political observers in Ward 8 who know White consider him a bright and enthusiastic community advocate, some feel he lacks the experience and knowledge of others who competed for the seat, including Pannell.

White won the endorsement of Ward 8 D.C. Council member Marion Barry, who many view as one of the lead power brokers in the ward. The Washington Teachers Union also endorsed White, who recently graduated from the University of Maryland.

The Washington Post endorsed Pannell, citing his many years of community service in the ward and involvement in Ward 8 school issues.

Pannell also won the endorsement of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group.

Unofficial returns from the election board show the following results for the Ward 8 school board race: Trayon White Sr., 33.2 percent; Phillip Pannell, 26.8 percent; Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, 16.3 percent; Anthony Muhammad, 8.7 percent; Sandra S.V. Williams, 6.9 percent; W. Cardell Shelton, 2.8 percent; Tijwanna Phillips, 1.8 percent; R. Joyce Scott, 1.5 percent; Larry Pretlow, 1.4 percent.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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