If there was a primary contest this year that underlined how much weight every vote has, it was in the Lower Northeast’s 179th Legislative District.
As of Tuesday morning, with 100 percent of the votes counted, fewer than 100 votes separated challenger Jason Dawkins and incumbent state Rep. James Clay Jr.
The exact number is 89 — not even enough to fill two cars on the Frankford El — and that vote count gave Dawkins the Democratic Party’s nomination to run for a state House seat in November.
Don’t expect turnout to rise in the fall. The general election will be a no-contest contest since there are no Republicans running to represent a district that runs from a few divisions in Mayfair through Wissinoming, Frankford, Northwood and Oxford Circle to Olney and Feltonville.
The impact of the small number of votes that decided the race is underscored by what could be called a very lousy election day turnout. The total number of votes cast, about 4,300, represent only a fraction, maybe not even a sixth or a seventh, of the district’s registered Democrats.
The majority of voters, in other words, stayed home on May 20.
“It’s horrible,” Dawkins said of the turnout. “We should be able to produce higher turnout in a low-income neighborhood because we need the most services.”
About a third of the Democrats who did go to the polls cast ballots in the 23rd Ward, and most of them did not vote for the winner.
“I got whomped in the 23rd,” Dawkins said May 22. He lost by more than 200 votes and had been certain all along that he would lose in his home ward, which includes Frankford.
Danny Savage, the ward’s Democratic leader, backed Clay. He was a candidate himself May 20, but was beaten in a three-way race for the state Senate’s 2nd District nomination.
By contrast, Dawkins made up his 23rd Ward deficit and some by besting Clay by about 300 in the district’s 42nd Ward.
That back and forth made for a longer night of counting on May 20. Sometime as the final divisions’ results were trickling in about 9:30 p.m., Clay’s campaign manager, Thom Neilson, knew the race was lost. He said that night he expected Dawkins would win by 90 votes.
Dawkins said Clay called him to concede about 11 p.m. The nominee said the campaign was not particularly nasty, but it divided the neighborhood.
“We’re going to work together to unite the community,” Dawkins said. ••