Gay rights advocate and longtime civic leader Phil Pannell lost his bid for a seat on the D.C. State Board of Education in Ward 8 on Tuesday in a low turnout special election, finishing behind teacher Tierra Jolly by a margin of 49 percent to 42 percent.
With votes in all of the ward’s 17 precincts counted except for absentee ballots, Jolly, who teaches at a Catholic school in Maryland, received 704 votes. Pannell received 599 votes. Darrell Danny Gaston, a third candidate in the race, received 45 votes.
According to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, a total of 1,433 people turned out to the polls to vote in the nonpartisan special election, comprising just 2.65 percent of Ward 8’s 54,008 registered voters.
“The turnout was abysmal,” said Pannell at his election night gathering at Georgena’s Restaurant on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, S.E.
Pannell ran unsuccessfully for the Ward 8 school board seat on two previous occasions. He spoke to the Blade Tuesday night after returning from a visit to Jolly’s election night party at her home to congratulate her on her victory.
Pannell received an endorsement from the Washington Post and was backed by many of his fellow civic and public school advocates in the ward as well as by LGBT activists throughout the city.
In its endorsement of Pannell, the Post said both he and Jolly “have solid credentials and thoughtful ideas.”
“But we give the edge to Mr. Pannell, whom we endorsed in his two previous bids for the board, believing that he has a more expansive view on policy and that his longtime activism in Ward 8 would help him focus attention on local schools,” the Post said in a July 4 editorial.
Political observers following the race noted that Jolly received much of her financial support from a network of out-of-state donors affiliated with two national education organizations – Teach for America, for which Jolly was a volunteer teacher; and Education Reform Now, which advocates for charter schools and an end to automatic tenure for teachers.
“I would say the intervention of the national groups in this race made it a very steep hill to climb and even to be competitive, particularly in the closing week of the election,” Pannell said.
“She started with an immediate national network of donors,” he said. “I’ve lived most of my life in Ward 8 and the people in Ward 8 are not deep pocket contributors so I didn’t have much to draw upon,” said Pannell.
In the week before the election, LGBT community advocates participated in a fundraiser for Pannell hosted by local gay attorney Darrin Glymph. Pannell, while calling the LGBT fundraiser a boost for his campaign, said he was unable to overcome the advantage Jolly had from her nationwide network of donors.
“But I don’t begrudge her for that,” he said. “In a way maybe I handicapped myself by not applying for the Victory Fund endorsement so that I could have raised money from gays throughout the nation. She ran a wonderful campaign and she was successful.”
Pannell was referring to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national organization that raises money for LGBT candidates running for public office.
Asked if he plans to remain active in Ward 8 civic and political affairs, Pannell replied, “I will remain active but I’m not running for anything. The only thing you’ll ever hear me running for anymore will be cover.”