The debate before a coalition of Baptist ministers Monday afternoon was designed to air differences between the candidates for the D.C. Council chairman's post -- council member Kwame Brown (D-At Large) and former council member Vincent Orange.
The discussion before the Missionary Baptist Ministers' Conference of D.C. quickly turned heated, with pointed questions from the Rev. George C. Gilbert and other members of the coalition on property taxes, same-sex marriage and parking. Yes, parking, specifically tickets issued to churchgoers on Sundays.
Much of the pastors' ire was directed at the administration of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), which the congregations contend has been more aggressive about issuing tickets to those who double-park during services. When the talk turned particularly tough, one of the group's leaders insisted that the pastors have a sympathetic ear in the mayor's office.
"Be nice!" one pastor called out, gesturing toward a woman dressed in a pink blazer who sat with them in the sanctuary of Trinidad Baptist Church on Benning Road.
The woman was Blondine Hughes, a Fenty volunteer who worked in the mayor's satellite office when he was a Ward 4 council member. Hughes said she regularly stops by the group's meetings to keep up with the issues of the day.
Hughes collected a half-dozen parking tickets from the pastors Monday afternoon and said she planned to hand them over to the mayor.
"The mayor doesn't know people are being ticketed like this," said Hughes, who works for Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee as a coordinator for communications.
When it comes to parking tickets, the church leaders also found a sympathetic ear in Brown and Orange.
Brown, whose mother is a minister, said parking enforcement appears more aggressive on Sundays in the neighborhoods around 16th Street NW that attract large numbers of worshipers.
"When I go to U Street or Georgetown, I don't see the same aggressiveness," Brown said. "We shouldn't drive our churches out because of parking."
Orange also said parking restrictions should be relaxed on Sundays, but that it would be imperative to find an alternate source of revenue.