Accountant Joan M. Pratt, a political unknown six months ago, won the Democratic primary for comptroller last night, after a feisty, $200,000 campaign that relied on a power base in the city's black communities.
Ms. Pratt defeated former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides by 9,215 votes. The final tally was 63,920 votes for Ms. Pratt and 54,705 votes for Mr. Lapides.
Ms. Pratt called her victory "a miracle," saying, "I am elated that I am victorious and the most important thing to me is the fact that I'm qualified to do the job." Shortly before midnight, Mr. Lapides conceded, comparing the race with the fable of the tortoise and the hare.
"I look like the hare," Mr. Lapides said. "She did an amazing job in starting from ground zero."
Ms. Pratt will face Republican Christopher McShane, a certified public accountant, in the Nov. 7 general election. Mr. McShane had no opposition in the primary. She is expected to replace Jacqueline F. McLean, who resigned more than a year ago in a corruption scandal.
Ms. Pratt, a certified public accountant whose only previous experience in politics was raising money for the campaign of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, began the evening's vote count trailing Mr. Lapides but overtook him as the night wore on.
The hard-fought campaign, which broke down along racial lines, ended with Mr. Schmoke endorsing Ms. Pratt on its final day, after the mayor had said he would remain neutral.
Ms. Pratt, who said this summer that she wanted to remain independent, admitted she was thrilled with the last-minute support as she campaigned at one of 20 polling places yesterday.
But Mr. Lapides was angry.
"I'm disappointed, but I understand politics is not always the most honorable of professions," he said as he campaigned at Northwestern High School, where he greeted Orthodox Jewish voters with his Hebrew name.
When the race began earlier this year, Mr. Lapides -- a fixture in the state legislature for 32 years -- and his supporters thought he had little significant competition and believed he would easily win election.
He began with a simple campaign theme, "A Watchdog is Back," a reference to longtime city Comptroller Hyman A. Pressman, a self-described watchdog of city spending.
But Ms. Pratt's campaign turned out to be a sleeper.
Bumper stickers and photographs of Ms. Pratt, whose only public appointment was on the city's pension boards, began appearing on thousands of telephone poles, cars and buildings in many neighborhoods.
Although Ms. Pratt has no experience in government, she gave her credentials as a certified public accountant who worked as controller of the Legal Aid Bureau.
While Ms. Pratt -- who is black -- gained steam in the African-American community as the preferred candidate, Mr. Lapides -- who is white -- hoped his civil rights record in the legislature would earn him enough black votes to win.
All summer, Ms. Pratt was on the phone, appealing for money to fuel her long-shot campaign. It poured in.
In the end she raised $225,000 -- enough to buy television and radio ads, pay for a poll and to foot the bill for thousands of glossy brochures hung on doorknobs across the city by a corps of workers.
By Election Day, she had been endorsed by The Sun, the Afro-American newspaper and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.
While Ms. Pratt ran an aggressive, high-profile campaign, Mr. Lapides' style was quiet, but intense.