At-Large Statehood Party Councilmember Hilda Mason, 78, commands the respect that etiquette requires—at least, she does when she’s in the room. But once she is out of earshot, colleagues, friends, supporters, and even her staff whisper about Mason’s increasing dottiness. They shake their heads sadly over her refusal to recognize that she has passed the point where she should have stepped down voluntarily. But no one has yet been able to convince Mason to do so—not even her most trusted staff members, who tried in vain to talk her into retiring rather than seeking re-election to a fifth four-year term.
So now it is up to the voters to deliver the cruel message, and even they may lack the stomach for the task. Commented a Georgetown voter while watching Mason go through the motions at a candidate forum last week: “I think a lot of people are afraid that if she loses her office, it will kill her.”
Voters get to cast two ballots in the at-large race for two seats on the council. One-term Democratic Councilmember Linda Cropp is assured of snagging one of those seats, since she is the Democratic nominee in a one-party town. The other seat, though, will definitely not go to the Democrats: The home rule charter reserves for other parties two at-large seats, one of which Mason now holds. Because of that rule, most of the candidates in the at-large race left the Democratic Party to run as independents or under a third-party banner—and thus, they’re running against Mason.
Besides sympathy, several other factors work in Mason’s favor. First, she has higher name recognition than any of her six challengers. Remember, this is the woman who handily defeated Marion Barry four years ago when, following his drug conviction, he ran as an independent for her council seat. Second, she has actually been lucid at the candidate forums this fall; sometimes, she’s even refrained from proclaiming herself “grandmother to the world”—whatever that means. And third, none of her challengers has been able to emerge during the campaign as the single best alternative to her.
Mason’s challengers—five Democrats-turned-independents and one full-fledged Republican—afford her the same deferential treatment that everyone else does. They don’t attack her frontally. They attack the record of the D.C. Council and the D.C. government as a whole, and they urge voters against basing their choice solely on name recognition. But that’s about as brutal as it gets.
Retiring Ward 2 school board member R. David Hall is waging a vigorous campaign for Mason’s seat. But he wears the albatross of having served on the school board for 13 years and having presided over the continual decline of public education in the city. Hall, who switched from the Democratic Party in June, tries to overcome this burden by claiming that schools in his ward actually improved during his tenure. He also talks about how he tackled tough problems by closing schools to save money, firing school superintendents who did not perform, and instituting locker searches and security screening to remove guns from the schools. As councilmember, he promises to push for a 10 percent across-the-board cut in government spending and to strengthen penalties against repeat offenders.
Tax resister Charles Moreland—who says he hasn’t paid D.C. and federal taxes in years to protest the District’s lack of statehood—brings confusing ads to this council race. “I am your United States representative,” Moreland announces in his basso profundo radio voice. “I have been proud to be your United States representative for the last four years.” This introduction draws quizzical looks. “Isn’t Eleanor Holmes Norton our representative to Congress?” the puzzled listeners seem to ask.
In truth, Moreland has been D.C.’s “shadow representative”/statehood lobbyist to the U.S. House of Representatives for the past four years. So don’t ask how he voted on NAFTA, the crime bill, D.C. appropriations, or any other issue. Moreland, who departed the Democratic Party only two months ago, has rarely been spotted prowling the corridors of Congress on behalf of statehood. He is, however, running for the council as a staunch advocate of statehood and a commuter tax—never mind that D.C.’s financial survival as a state no longer seems viable.
Kemry Hughes, who quit the Democratic party in February to run under the banner of the newly formed Umoja Party, is also campaigning as a statehood supporter.
Jerry Moore III, on the other hand, doesn’t think the District is ready. “The notion of statehood strikes me as akin to the notion of going to heaven,” he responded at a Chevy Chase forum Oct. 18. “It’s a worthy goal, but there’s a whole lot we have to do to qualify ourselves for it.”
Moore, an attorney and board chairman of the Greater Washington Urban League, is the son of the Rev. Jerry Moore Jr., the first Republican ever elected to the city council. But before the younger Moore switched party affiliation a year ago to run as an independent, he was a registered Democrat. Because of his ties to both parties, many political observers expect him to emerge from the pack and pose the most serious threat to Mason on Nov. 8.
The 47-year-old Moore tells voters how happy and hopeful he was back in December 1973, when Congress granted home rule, and how disappointed he is now. “If you are happy with what you have after 20 years of home rule, then I’m not the guy for you,” he told some 150 Georgetown voters at an Oct. 17 forum.
In addition to taking the no-tax-increase oath normally pledged by Republican candidates—“there is no way I will vote to increase any single tax”—Moore also vows to rein in spending on human services, corrections, and D.C. General Hospital. The centerpiece of his campaign is the creation of a D.C. office of federal liaison to keep federal agencies in the city, obtain government contracts for D.C. businesses, and make sure the District no longer fails to get federal grants available to it.
Republican Harry Singleton also has an outside chance of overtaking Mason, especially if Republican mayoral candidate Carol Schwartz has coattails. Like Schwartz, Singleton does not comfortably fit the Republican mold. He supports an increased federal payment to the city, greater self-government, and full voting rights in Congress. But he also advocates tougher council oversight of the D.C. government and mayor. For instance, Singleton says that the next time a mayoral appointee fails to apply for a federal grant, he would call that person before the council to explain why.
The most intriguing candidate in the race is David Garrett, who registered to vote in D.C. only this July. Garrett is founder and director of the D.C. Drivers Association, a group dedicated to fighting the city’s parking laws and parking tickets. On the stump, Garret points out that D.C. possesses 46,000 employees, a work force large enough to serve a city of 1 million people. But he concedes it’s politically unrealistic to propose cutting that work force by one-third or more, down to a size appropriate to the District. Instead, he proposes to demand better services from the bureaucracy as a way to attract people back into the city. Under his plan, the bureaucrats would provide those improved services or the bureaucrats would be axed.
But right now, Garrett and the other challengers face another task. They must convince voters to end the service of one city employee: Councilmember Mason.
SCHWARTZ VS. BARRY
LL is not surprised that Republican mayoral candidate Carol Schwartz is causing fits for Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. What amazes LL, who watched Schwartz and Barry go at it over the past week, is how effective she has been, especially compared to Sharon Pratt Kelly and John Ray‘s performances in the Democratic primary. Schwartz’s aggressive campaign makes Ray and Kelly’s efforts look timid. Barry’s Democratic rivals hardly laid a glove on him, and seemed afraid to try. As a result, Ray and Kelly were reduced to bystanders as Hizzoner waltzed to his Sept. 13 victory. Now, watching Schwartz, they must realize their strategic mistake. If nothing else, she is at least pinning Barry down on the issues.
Barry can hardly utter a word without Schwartz firing back a salvo that usually strikes home. When Barry talks about being the only candidate with the expertise to manage the city through its current fiscal crisis, and tries to paint the Republican as another inexperienced Sharon Pratt Dixon, Schwartz is ready with an answer. “I would like to remind you that this budget expert here was the one who ran this city into the ground,” she told a crowd of more than 300 at Adas Israel synagogueSunday night. She said Barry increased spending by $1.8 billion during his prior tenure, while city services deteriorated dramatically and 76,000 residents fled to the suburbs.
When Barry boasted during the Oct. 20 debate at the National Press Club that only he can get the guns off the streets, Schwartz returned the volley. “Under my opponent,” she said, “our murder rate rose a tragic 162 percent. The national average rose only 9 percent.” And when Barry depicts himself as the only candidate who can bring this polarized city together, Schwartz doesn’t back down. “You divide us at one point, bring us back together at another—whatever is politically expedient,” she told Barry Sunday night. “I’ve heard your rhetoric east of the [Rock Creek] park. I’ve heard your rhetoric west of the park. It’s like two different people talking.”
Last weekend, Barry resorted to reminding audiences that Schwartz is a Republican and “part of the Republican Party scheme to take over Washington.” This stratagem evoked the last days of Mayor-for-Life I, whose supporters sought to counter reports of his drug use and misdeeds by claiming they were all part of “the plan” to install white rule here.
Schwartz had an answer to Barry’s latest tactic as well. “If you have a problem with my being a Republican,” she said, “get over it!” That remark, mocking Barry’s statement that whites should “get over” their problems with his return to power, brought the Adas Israel house down.
WARD 3 UPDATE
After her stunning upset of Ward 3 Councilmember Jim Nathanson last month, newcomer Kathy Patterson has further amazed residents in her ward by failing to take stands on land-use and neighborhood issues. This wishy-washiness shocks many Ward 3 voters, who backed her precisely because she promised to be tougher than Nathanson.
Patterson drew a loud groan during an Oct. 4 meeting in AU Park when she refused to side with residents fighting American University‘s attempt to move its law school off campus and into the neighborhood. According to one resident at the meeting, Patterson “had her feet planted firmly in midair.” Nathanson strongly sided with the neighborhood in the bitter dispute. But Patterson said that she sees the move as inevitable, and she wants to work to improve “town and gown” relations.
“To not be as good [as Nathanson] requires some justification on her part,” said AU Park resident Neil Siegel.
Patterson also raised eyebrows in Glover Park when she refused to oppose the renewal of liquor licenses for two longtime Wisconsin Avenue strip joints, JP’s and Good Guys. And she was heckled at a Cleveland Park meeting Monday night for failing to support Schwartz in the mayor’s race. Patterson said she and her ward need to stay on Barry’s good side because he is likely to be the next mayor.
Philip Murphy, Patterson’s youthful Republican challenger, called on his rival to display some political courage, à la New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and endorse the candidate she thinks is best for the city. Murphy also sided with Glover Park residents in the nude bar dispute, saying the brouhaha validates his proposal to enhance the powers of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. He also campaigns to privatize nonessential services of the D.C. government.
As to Barry’s warning about the Republican scheme to take over D.C., Murphy spilled the beans to a Chevy Chase audience Monday night. “The only Republican scheme I know of,” he said, “is to leave the city.”