Former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides and accountant Joan M. Pratt were locked in a tight race for comptroller last night in a contest that brought Ms. Pratt from political obscurity to within striking distance of the city's third highest office.
With 90 percent of voting precincts reporting last night, Ms. Pratt held a narrow lead over Mr. Lapides in the Democratic primary. The hard-fought campaign, which broke down along racial lines, ended with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke endorsing Ms. Pratt on its final day, after the mayor said he would remain neutral.
Ms. Pratt, who said earlier this summer 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," Mr. Lapides 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, a certified public accountant 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 combing neighborhoods for votes.
By Election Day, Ms. Pratt -- completely unknown in political circles six months ago, -- 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.
Each weekday morning, beginning in February, he greeted city jurors at the Clarence Mitchell Jr. Courthouse on their way to duty. He called it his "secret weapon" and believed it to be a clever way to meet 200 registered voters in just 40 minutes each day.
While campaigning, he tailored his political pitch to each voter. To young white voters, he touted his environmental record; to black voters, he noted which black politicians endorsed him and often took African-American volunteers along while campaigning.
His early attendance at community and political meetings gained him endorsements from both black and white organizations. He raised about $210,000 -- including $50,000 of his own money -- using it for early television ads and campaign literature.