Johns Takes To Soapbox For a Better Uphill View

Candidate Marie C. Johns makes her presence known in the Palisades neighborhood's annual Fourth of July parade.
Candidate Marie C. Johns makes her presence known in the Palisades neighborhood's annual Fourth of July parade. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Marie C. Johns is kicking off a week of high-profile events to boost her underdog candidacy for mayor, starting today with street-corner stops in all eight wards, where she will be armed with a microphone and a wooden soapbox.

Johns plans to respond to District residents who say they would vote for her if they thought she could win the Democratic nomination. With five weeks left before the Sept. 12 primary, she's trying to convince them she can.

Standing on her soapbox, the former telecommunications executive plans to speak directly to voters whom she views as lukewarm supporters of the front-runners, D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) and Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D). Johns plans to pit herself against the two veteran politicians by emphasizing her private sector management experience, her track record of community service and her plainspoken style -- arguing that she has the best background to lead a $9 billion government.

The campaign to increase her visibility will climax Saturday morning, when Fenty responds to Johns's challenge -- a one-on-one debate.

Johns knows she faces an uphill climb. According to a recent Washington Post poll, Fenty is ahead among likely primary voters, with Cropp trailing him by 10 percentage points. Johns came in third, according to the poll, attracting 8 percent of those likely to cast ballots.

Johns's campaign supporters say at least one rival views her as a threat.

They point to a strange convergence of events leading up to Sunday's "voter roundup," during which Johns supporters were corralled to eat barbecue, ride horses and hear their candidate. The event drew hundreds to a park in Congress Heights, despite what the Johns campaign considered acts of sabotage, including the removal of signs and calls telling Johns supporters that the event had been canceled.

"It's coming from the Cropp campaign," said Johns's campaign manager, Leslie Pinkston. "They're threatened."

Yesterday, the Cropp campaign denied any effort to derail Johns but declined to comment further on the issue.

"If we are so low in the polls, and we are so not a threat, then why are people putting so much energy into undermining us?" asked Johns supporter Cora Masters Barry as she sat on her front porch to watch the roundup in the federal parkland just beyond her fence.

Campaign signs leading attendees to the event off Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE were put up the night before but had been mysteriously removed by the next morning, Barry noted. Some Johns supporters, including Everett Hamilton, were told that the event had been canceled.

Hamilton said he received a phone call Friday from a Cropp campaign volunteer telling him the campaign event was called off because of problems getting permits.

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