By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Board of Education member Nancy Navarro held her slim lead over Del. Benjamin F. Kramer yesterday, winning the Democratic nomination by 62 votes in Montgomery County's special election for an open seat on the County Council.
Election officials declared all votes counted yesterday after completing a final review of absentee ballots.
Navarro attributed her victory to a "message of inclusion" that she said resonated with voters who want to "enhance the quality of life in the district." Kramer did not immediately concede the contest and has until Monday to request a recount.
Navarro and Kramer were among six Democrats and three Republicans competing in last week's election to succeed Don Praisner, who died in January after surgery for colon cancer. Navarro will face Republican tax activist Robin Ficker and Green Party candidate George Gluck in the general election May 19.
The Democratic primary was closely watched in the eastern county's District 4, where the party holds a wide advantage over the GOP in voter registration. If Navarro prevails in the general election, her presence on the council could have broader implications for the balance of power on the often fractured nine-member council.
Navarro could provide a narrow majority to the four council members who backed her. Valerie Ervin (Silver Spring), Nancy Floreen (At Large), Michael Knapp (Upcounty) and George L. Leventhal (At Large) are an increasingly outspoken team on the all-Democratic council in taking on County Executive Isiah Leggett's professorial approach to governing.
Kramer had Leggett's endorsement and pledged to be an ally of the county executive, with whom he has long personal ties.
The competitive Democratic primary upended conventional wisdom about party politics in Maryland's largest jurisdiction. When Leggett (D) and Praisner's daughter formally endorsed Kramer, the campaign held the event at the politically active retirement community of Leisure World, which the county executive called the "center of the political universe."
Kramer swept Navarro on Election Day in the two Leisure World precincts with 70 percent and 64 percent of the vote. Navarro's victory, Ervin said, "shattered the mythology that you only have to win at Leisure World. Leisure World is always going to be part of the equation, but the district is large and diverse."
Navarro prevailed with 44.5 percent of the vote by assembling a broad coalition of supporters with her message of unifying the district, which has a more diverse and older population and a lower household income than the county as a whole. She capitalized on name recognition boosted by her unsuccessful bid against Praisner in last year's special election and her tenure on the school board. An existing campaign infrastructure helped her cultivate supporters among untapped new immigrant communities. Navarro reached out to African and Indian leaders, for instance, who in turn called and sent personal letters to their networks.
Navarro tried to make inroads in Leisure World, said her campaign manager, David Moon, but in an effort to highlight Kramer's General Assembly record, she might have turned off voters with hard-hitting mailers.
"Leisure World was a big weakness last time and even bigger this time," Moon said. "That was Kramer country."
Kramer's family has a long tradition in county politics. His father, Sidney Kramer, was a county executive and state senator. But Benjamin Kramer is less well known, having won his first election in 2006.
Kramer's campaign trained its attention on "the small universe of people who could come out to vote," campaign manager Eric Hensal said.
The campaign's literature stressed Kramer's record in Annapolis, primarily legislation aimed at protecting seniors and women. Kramer, who self-financed most of his campaign, portrayed himself as an independent voice in contrast with Navarro, who received thousands of dollars from labor unions and political action committees.
Kramer was also at a disadvantage because the campaign conflicted with his work in Annapolis, where the General Assembly session ended a week before Election Day.
"Was it difficult? Yes, especially at the end," Hensal said.