Mayoral Hopefuls Take to the Pulpit

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 4, 2006

The people of Johnson Memorial Baptist Church were showing D.C. mayoral candidate Linda W. Cropp some love. A Sunday school teacher praised her performance in a recent debate against her chief rival, Adrian M. Fenty. Another church member said he prefers Cropp's 26-year record of experience to Fenty's "young, pretty face."

But their encouraging words did little to ease the tension as the campaign enters the final, grueling days before the Sept. 12 Democratic primary. When the Rev. Henry Gaston told his Southeast Washington flock yesterday that the election was two weeks away, Cropp corrected him when she stood to address the congregation.

"Reverend Gaston," she said with a smile, "please don't add any days to the election. It is not two weeks. It is nine days. Nine days! And I am ready for it to end."

Yesterday, Cropp, Fenty and other major candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for D.C. mayor trolled for votes among the faithful, enjoying a gospel-tinged interlude before launching their final, frantic push toward Election Day.

After church, Cropp campaigned for hours on the streets of vote-rich Ward 3 in Northwest Washington and laid plans for a citywide get-out-the-vote rally next weekend. Fenty, meanwhile, was in Shaw, pressing toward his goal of knocking on every door in town. And he appeared at the first of eight campaign rallies scheduled to be held nightly, one for every ward.

"We have 226 hours and 25 minutes until the polls open," Fenty told an enthusiastic crowd gathered late Saturday in the Kalorama home of his finance chairman, Jim Hudson. "You only get one or two chances in life to make a difference. This is our chance."

Polls show Fenty leading Cropp by about 10 percentage points in the race to replace Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), who is retiring after two terms. Fenty, a sophomore D.C. Council member representing Ward 4, is campaigning as a hands-on reformer who will fix troubled schools and dysfunctional agencies by holding city bureaucrats accountable. Cropp, the council chairman, casts herself as an experienced consensus builder who can unite the District's various constituencies while keeping a steady hand on the budget.

Other candidates are also kicking their campaigns into high gear. Former Verizon Washington president Marie C. Johns, who is running a distant third in most polls, is planning a "prayer fest" for next weekend and a motorcade through town. And lobbyist Michael A. Brown said that tomorrow he plans to start spending 19 hours a day, every day, reaching out to voters. Candidate Vincent B. Orange Sr., the Ward 5 council member, did not return calls.

Brown said his campaign is also planning to hold rallies in the city's eastern wards, where his message of empowering the poor is resonating most strongly.

"If we keep getting our message out, we're going to be tough to beat," he said.

That was not the prevailing opinion yesterday at the early service at Bible Way Temple downtown, where Fenty and Johns addressed the congregation. Speaking to about 200 people, many of them older women in elaborate hats, Fenty described himself as a public servant rather than a politician.

"A politician is somebody who does things to get elected. But a public servant is somebody who gets elected to help people," Fenty told the crowd in a brief speech, during which he never asked for anyone's vote or said the word "mayor."

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