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One of the great fears haunting this city’s social elite is that they will give a party and no one will come —or at least no one important. That fear has infected the fall mayoral race. The civically and politically well-connected in this town worry that if they schedule a candidate forum, he—Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr., that is—won’t show up, and they will be stuck with the supporting cast chasing Barry in the Nov. 8 general election. That’s like getting the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger, Marla Trump without Donald, or the Muppets without Miss Piggy.
Event planners have reason to worry. Since his Sept. 13 primary victory, Barry has garnered more mentions for his no-shows than for his performance on the stump. The list of people and organizations Hizzoner has snubbed could read like a who’s who in D.C. politics by the time the fall campaign ends.
Last week alone, Barry stood up the Dupont Circle Merchants and Professionals Association, skipping his confirmed appearance at the group’s Oct. 13 breakfast. That evening, Barry kept the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations waiting, and they’re still waiting. He also pulled out of a candidate’s forum scheduled for that night at the refurbished Lincoln Theater on U Street NW; forum organizers chose to cancel the show rather than go on without the star. On Friday, Oct. 14, Hizzoner skipped the annual banquet of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, an elegant affair—and pricey, at $100 a ticket—that featured an eloquent Stevie Wonder. Barry has even failed to show for greet-the-voter gatherings in private living rooms.
The campaign’s excuse for these nonappearances is that Barry was on his way out of town Oct. 13. Borrowing a page from congressional Republicans, he has decided to nationalize the D.C. mayor’s race by campaigning in Los Angeles, Oakland, Memphis, and places unknown. His campaign refuses to release a schedule of his out-of-town activities.
What amazes LL is that Barry was heading for the West Coast, which during his previous terms was the site of some of his most infamous escapades—including his 1987 trip to the Super Bowl during a snowstorm that paralyzed this city. He has not even nailed down his election, and he’s already looking more and more like the mayor he used to be—constantly out of town, unconcerned about keeping scheduled appointments, and appreciative of the Democratic party (his party) only when he needs it to do his bidding.
Carol Schwartz, who says she’s a Republican but acts and sounds like a Democrat, doesn’t seem to mind Barry’s absence from the stage. Schwartz has been the John Thompson of the fall campaign: Like the Georgetown basketball coach who badgers refs to make them leery of calling close fouls on his players, Schwartz spent the early weeks of this campaign whining about her lack of media coverage. That tactic paid off with a spate of news articles and TV coverage in the last few weeks. Now “Carol” (as her posters and supporters refer to her) can be found somewhere in the pages of the Washington Post practically every day. With the leading character out of town, she has seized the spotlight.
But her deftness at garnering media coverage can be a double-edged sword. The energetic candidate stages frequent news conferences with different cityscapes as backdrops. Those conferences leave the unintended impression of a candidate who sweeps into a troubled neighborhood with an entourage of black and white faces to stand behind her while the cameras roll, then exits again as soon as the klieg lights switch off.
That happened last Thursday, Oct. 13, when Schwartz held a hastily called news conference behind Ward 5’s Edgewood Terrace public-housing complex at 4th and Edgewood Streets NE. The event was timed to take advantage of news about the city’s only residential alcohol- and drug-treatment center, Karrick Hall at D.C. General Hospital, which had been forced to stop accepting patients the day before. Schwartz said she favored treatment on “request.” She said she could fund such a program in part by ending corruption and inefficiency in the D.C. government.
“This government has waste galore,” she said. “This government always hurts its most vulnerable. This government is not short of money; it is short of foresight.”
During the news conference, Schwartz unveiled a 15-point plan to fight crime and drugs, calling to deploy more police officers on bikes, pump more money into recreation programs for youth, and deputize cab drivers to relay information about crimes in progress. She criticized her opponent for supporting a 10 percent cut in the city’s recreation programs, and for supporting reductions in prison sentences for good behavior. Barry signed that law when he was mayor.
But when asked why she was holding her news conference behind the public-housing project, rather than out front where she might actually talk to voters instead of reporters, Schwartz became defensive. She said her all-volunteer campaign hadn’t had time beforehand to leaflet the apartments, letting residents know she would be in their midst. She frostily snapped that if reporters spent more time covering her campaign, they would know she has been stumping for votes frequently in these neighborhoods, as well as holding news conferences in them. “I’ve been out in this area for four months,” she said. After the conference, Schwartz went door-to-door along Edgewood Street NE—perhaps aware that reporters might still be watching.
Later that day, she campaigned outside the Fourth District Police headquarters on upper Georgia Avenue, aiming to chat with officers during the afternoon shift change as news photographers captured the moment. But few officers were coming and going at that hour, so Schwartz plunged into nearby stores along Georgia Avenue looking for sympathetic voters.
Despite the occasional misstep or setback, Schwartz continues to crisscross the city, hoping to pull off the political upset of the century, if not the millennium. She remains confident and upbeat. “If all the people who want to vote for me vote for me, I can win,” she told a Georgetown crowd of about 150 on Monday night. “I don’t care if we are in Shaw or Anacostia or far Northeast, there is a lovefest going on.”
Her nonstop campaigning, coupled with Barry’s absences and lack of campaign activity, has led even some Barry backers to predict that Schwartz could reap more than 40 percent of the vote on Nov. 8. That would seem impossible for a white, Jewish, Republican woman—especially in the current climate. But Schwartz has become a vehicle for sending Barry a message. If she holds him to less than 60 percent, the momentum of his dramatic primary victory will have slowed considerably. And then Barry might be forced to pay a little more attention to matters at home, and not take his support for granted, or leave town so often. Barry, who compared himself to South African leader Nelson Mandela at the start of this campaign, might even be humbled a bit.
Nah. That’ll never happen, even if Schwartz manages to give him the scare of his renewed political life.
MAYORAL SUORTING CAST
If you’re one of those rare voters not planning to cast your ballot for either Schwartz or Barry, take heart. The general election offers a smorgasbord of choices, with six contenders in addition to the big two. That’s even more choices than the Democratic primary provided.
For the young and the serious, there’s Curtis Pree, a “Democrat running as an independent” who sounds like one of those policy wonks from the Clinton White House. “There is only one issue—our budget deficit,” Pree tells audiences.
It’s the deficit, stupid.
Pree has released a hefty, detailed analysis of the city’s budget. Apparently that analysis is too dense and weighty for reporters to tackle, since none have written about it. Pree concludes that the city is spending around $4.3 billion annually out of a budget of $3.4 billion. That’s right: According to Pree, the city racks up nearly $1 billion in debt in a year. His presentatation has impressed audiences and earned good responses on the campaign trail.
The highlight of Pree’s campaign came on Tuesday of this week, when he claimed an hour of air time on Mike Cuthbert‘s talk show on WRC-AM. (Yes, Cuthbert, the scholarly WAMU-FM talker of yesteryear, is back in town, but hidden away in morning drive-time babble.) Pree got the show all to himself after he complained about being excluded from the Barry/Schwartz debate on Cuthbert’s program two weeks earlier.
Pree, at the moment, represents the biggest failure of D.C.’s stagnant political system. Since the system is so closed and dominated by bigfeet (Barry and Council Chair Dave Clarke in 1982, Barry and Clarke still in 1994), a newcomer like Pree is unlikely to remain in politics. Promising upstarts can find almost no entry-level positions, because almost every officeholder tries to stay in place for life. At-Large Statehood Party Councilmember Hilda Mason is a walking argument for term limits, which may not make sense elsewhere but at least would guarantee some change—and new talent—within this system.
A proposal to set term limits in D.C. is on the November ballot.
For comic relief in the mayor’s race, there’s Faith. “Just Faith,” she cracks, when introduced. “You can call me Just.” Faith is running on a D.C. statehood platform. “I have been a mascot for the statehood movement for four years now.”
Global thinkers can try Socialist Workers Party candidate Aaron Ruby. He is running for mayor on a platform that calls for “hands off” Saddam Hussein, the lifting of sanctions on Iraq, immediate removal of U.S. troops from Haiti and an end to the Cuban embargo.
For the green-minded, there’s Jesse Battle, an independent running as the renewable energy candidate. Or Jodean Marks, the D.C. Statehood Party nominee who is on the November ballot by virtue of getting one write-in vote in the party’s primary, which did not have a mayoral candidate on the ballot. Marks proposes an energy-efficient economic development program that would put D.C. residents to work on fish farms and in plants bottling nut butter and juices. “We should not waste energy on environmentally unsound projects,” she says.
Finally, there’s Victoria Wells, an independent candidate waging a write-in campaign to save the city from further racial polarization. Wells, who is African-American, maintains that “the city is too polarized” for Schwartz to win—a claim Schwartz disputes—and that “Barry exploits his own people” for political gain. “I firmly believe he should not be allowed to take advantage of my people just to benefit a few,” Wells says.
There is also a rumor, reported recently in the Post, that former Bush administration official Arthur Fletcher is running a write-in campaign for mayor. But so far, no one has seen or heard from him.
LL erroneously reported last week that D.C. Council Chairman Clarke had quashed an effort to strip defeated mayoral candidate John Ray of his chairmanship of the council consumer affairs committee for the reason that Ray has so far failed to endorse Barry in the general election. But according to Denise Reed, spokesperson for the chairman, stalwart Democrats planning to punish Ray never contacted Clarke. Members of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, the party’s ruling arm, are kicking around the idea, but have determined that it would be “premature” to approach Clarke at this point. These Democrats are willing to give Ray a little more time to embrace Barry, who four years ago bolted the Democratic Party to run for a council seat as an independent.
Apparently, when it comes to Barry, party loyalty is a one-way street.
Also: Common Cause/D.C. says that its conflict-of-interest complaint about Clarke only covered his vote to make his job part-time so he could seek outside employment—a vote that would benefit him financially, the government watchdog group says. Its complaint did not involve his advocacy for legislation benefiting the D.C. School of Law, where Clarke used to teach and might teach again.
While LL is on the subject, let us mention that the chairman insists he introduced a bill to boost salaries at the law school only because the dean asked him to do so. Clarke claims he is required by law to introduce legislation that city agencies bring to him, regardless of what he thinks of it.