- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

Welcome to the wacky world of D.C. politics, where the antics get more bizarre by the day.

Now former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry enters the fray. Why, pray tell?

The District may have lost its bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games to New York and San Francisco, but you don't have to go to the Big Apple to get a front-row seat to "Saturday Night Live." Just pull up a chair at any community meeting billed as a "candidates' forum" for the elective offices up for grabs in the District.

As one watcher indicated, "This is all-the-way live entertainment."

No joke. It's "off the hook," as the teenyboppers say. For those of us of the baby boomer generation, that means completely out of control.

Yours truly was asked to "moderate" a mayoral candidate forum sponsored by the D.C. Democratic Women's Club Wednesday night at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Northwest. Believe me, it was more like refereeing.

Seems the "D" in D.C. no longer stands for decorum. Judging by the disrespectful comments and behavior of some of the candidates, as well as the backroom commentators, some folks have clearly forgotten their good 'ol Southern hospitality and home training.

In fact, a candidates' forum in Ward 5 on Monday became so unruly, I'm told, that Metropolitan Police thought they had an unscheduled World Bank protest on their hands. One candidate reportedly stormed out of the Greater Mount Calvary Church amid jeers.

When I was congratulated for keeping order during Wednesday night's forum, I had to wonder aloud, "This is order?"

At one point, I caught myself saying, "We're not going to have any of that [nonsense] here." I was beginning to feel like I was hosting "The Jerry Springer Show." Only audiences differ with D.C. crowds shouting, "Tony, Tony, Tony," for Mayor Anthony A. Williams or, "Willie, Willie, Willie," for the Rev. Willie F. Wilson. Both are running write-in campaigns for the Democratic primary.

Not to feel left out, the bugle-blowing candidate Faith admonished the audience, "How about clapping for me sometime?"

They obliged, but I'm not sure she realized that, more often than not, they were laughing at her, not with her.

You've got to love D.C. politics. It is nothing if not a hoot and a holler.

While great fun is being had by all, it is also painfully clear that much of this passion is simply masking deeper fears and anger. Some of it directed at the present local administration. Some of it directed at an insidious "system" over which so many feel they have no control.

As one woman said, "What you saw here tonight was frustration, serious frustration with this whole [election] process."

Now it's crystal clear why Mr. Williams insisted that he would not participate in any candidate forum unless all the declared Democratic candidates were allowed to speak. The oldest politician's trick in the book is to make your strongest challengers look like they are among the "fringe" in the back of the pack.

It's also clear why the D.C. Democratic State Committee, another "Def Jam Comedy Hour," spent mindless minutes at its last meeting debating whether to allow a straw poll after its upcoming mayoral forum. The last thing the local party with its unabashed support for the incumbent desires is a straw poll that is essentially a "beauty contest" it can't control.

So far, from where I was seated, the Wilson flock can shout out the loudest. In the remaining days of this campaign, D.C. voters should hear from only the main contenders in the mayoral race Mr. Williams, Mr. Wilson and the Rev. Douglas Moore who have a grasp on the issues and specific suggestions and solutions for the problems facing this rapidly changing metropolis.

Mr. Wilson's experience working with violent youths, Mr. Moore's ideas to preserve rent control and affordable housing, and Mr. Williams' financial savvy in reassuring Wall Street investors are all worth further review.

At least three of the lesser-known contenders, who should be commended for getting their names on the ballot properly, are more disruptive and distracting at this critical juncture within days of the election.

The ramblings and rantings of Osie L. Thorpe, James W. Clark and Faith are a disservice to the confused public, which is seeking substantive information by which to cast their votes on Sept. 10.

Mr. Clark's suggestions that electing him will "cut off the water and the electricity to Congress" or "tear off every board of the White House" or "take this city back for the black and poor" just don't wash.

Neither do Faith's suggestions that the city should create art centers and that "we do away with government" altogether.

As for Mr. Thorpe, his only reason for running appears to be to utter crude cracks about the incumbent mayor. Though he claims to be for education, he passed on answering a question about raising SAT scores. His pat answer to every question is to "get rid of politicians who take bribes, drink, do dope, just say S-T-O-P."

I leaned over to ask Teflon Tony about to whom this challenger was referring. "Me, I suppose," the mayor shrugged.

Now, I'll never be mistaken for a Williams cheerleader. But I've never seen this mayor unlike the last drink so much as a drop of wine in all the years I've been covering him.

Granted, a friend gently reminded me that, in a democracy, everyone has a right to seek public office and a right to be heard.

But at some point, there ought to be a way to cut the wheat from the chaff and get down to real business.

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