179th Legislative District race determined by 89 votes

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. ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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