- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 20, 2000

The 1998 mayoral race became interesting with the entry of Tony Williams, the city's former chief financial officer, whose unexpected candidacy energized the mayoral race and offered voters a real contest. Do not expect such surprise candidacies during this year's D.C. Council campaigns. There are, though, interesting challenges (and politicking on the part of Mayor Williams) being mounted in Wards 4, 7 and 8. The incumbents, mind you, are not merely lawmakers. They hold the chairmanships of powerful committees, and over the next two years their committees will make decisions that essentially will reshape the entire city. So voters everywhere must ask themselves whether these lawmakers deserve victories in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary.

Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis, whose full-time job is the presidency of Southeastern University, shepherds all aspects of economic development, including banking and housing, on behalf of the council. The Ward 4 lawmaker is no shoo-in. Her opponent, former council staffer Adrian Fenty, is making certain of that by campaigning the old-fashioned way. Going door-to-door since winter, Mr. Fenty says he prefers a "direct appeal" to voters, and his strategy is paying off. Fenty yard signs are all over "Charlene territory," as her staunch supporters call Ward 4, which stretches from Rock Creek Park to Children's Hospital.

Mr. Fenty knows the turf as well as Mrs. Jarvis, who was first elected in 1978. He knows Ward 4 claims the largest voting bloc in the city (46,134), the most active voters in the city (historically has the highest turnout) and the second-highest median income in the city (1990 census says $33.00). Mr. Fenty knows, too, that Ward 4 is home to the one person who has held elective office longer than anyone else in D.C. history has. Mrs. Jarvis' unbroken string of council victories proves she likes Ward 4 and Ward 4 likes her. But that is where the relationship begins and ends. Try as she might and she has tried three times, including twice as a mayoral candidate Mrs. Jarvis can't get beyond being a ward boss.

The big boss, just like the Barry machine before him, is giving Mrs. Jarvis a big hand. Mayor Williams has taken several opportunities this summer to push his economic development strategies in Ward 4. Chief among those plans is to revitalize Georgia Avenue. Now voters in Ward 4 are not stupid. They know Mrs. Jarvis and the city have been pushing for revitalization for years. "As part of an effort to stimulate investment by the private sector in Ward 4, the District government has implemented a demonstration program for economic development and revitalization in three areas on Georgia Avenue." That is what the Barry administration promised in 1990 prior to the elections, and here voters are 10 years later at election time.

To be sure, Mrs. Jarvis isn't the only incumbent facing those demons. Education Committee Chairman Kevin Chavous and Human Services Chairman Sandy Allen have to answer to voters in their wards about the lack of economic development as well. Mr. Chavous is so confident of victory he doesn't even have a campaign war chest. Ms. Allen, meanwhile, should be a little uncomfortable. Ward 8, which encompasses much of Southeast and Southwest, has no supermarket, a horrific crime problem, is the poorest ward in the city, and usually has a very low voter turnout. The situation was that way when Ms. Allen was elected four years ago, and no noticeable changes have occurred since. The candidacy of Sandra Seegars, an official with the D.C. Taxicab Commission and never one for political rhetoric, certainly presents a challenge for Ms. Allen. A straight shooter, Mrs. Seegars doesn't make a lot of promises. She's smarter than that. She knows that sometimes just calling the shots as she sees them will suffice. The Seegars platform spins around a single issue: public safety. But, from there, she can go in any direction law-enforcement, education, health and welfare, parking and traffic, and just about any other quality-of-life issue. Mrs. Seegars is a smart politician.

To some, these ward races might seem unimportant. To the contrary, the same issues in the forefront of national politics health care, the economy and education are playing themselves out in this city of 520,000. That is why it is important that voters make sure they are not just casting ballots based on promises and name recognition. They must be certain they choose the right politician for the right legislative task.

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