Chavous Enters D.C. Mayor's Race
By Michael Powell
Chavous, 41, is a successful lawyer and two-term Democratic council member representing Ward 7, who chairs the council's Education Committee. He promised that his campaign would focus on the "obvious issues" of crime and schools. He said that if the D.C. financial control board offered him a voting position on the board, he probably would accept it.
But, as he stood outside the city clerk's office after filing papers to run for mayor, Chavous emphasized that such questions speak to a larger crisis.
"The election is going to be about the soul of the city," Chavous said. "On top of all these issues, there's a real problem with the way that people feel about the city.
"We have to get people feeling vested again in the city."
Tall and rangy, Chavous was born in Indianapolis, the son of a pharmacist. He moved to Washington to attend Howard University Law School. He and his wife, Beverly, and their sons, Kevin and Eric, live in the Penn-Branch neighborhood in Southeast Washington.
Chavous, who is black, is the second council member to enter the mayoral race. He joins Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who is white. Harold Brazil (D-At Large), who is black, is expected to enter the race later this year.
Mayor Marion Barry (D) has not yet announced whether he will seek a fifth term.
Chavous declined to take any pokes at Barry. His aides suggested that the council member perhaps hopes to gain a mayoral endorsement if Barry doesn't run; for his part, Chavous said he didn't want to stay "mired" in the past.
But Barry displayed no such inhibitions yesterday, predicting that he would knock out Chavous and all comers -- if he decides to enter the race.
"It doesn't matter who's running -- Jack Evans, Kevin Chavous, Harold Brazil or some unknown," Barry said. "If I were to run, I would beat all of them."
The larger question, one that hangs over this campaign like a vast cloud, is whether the mayoralty matters any longer.
The control board and its chief management officer, Camille C. Barnett, run nine of the largest city agencies. An independent chief financial officer oversees the city's taxes and budget.
A chief executive appointed by the control board runs the city schools. And a committee, including control board members, the U.S. attorney and the mayor, oversees the police department.
Chavous acknowledged this reality. But he frequently has lashed at the control board's "noninclusive, dictatorial approach," and he promised more of the same yesterday.
"Taxation without representation is still tyranny," he said. "We're going to end that."
More pragmatically, Chavous noted that the city produced a budget surplus this year. Under the terms of the congressionally sanctioned takeover, control of city government can revert to elected officials after four consecutive balanced budgets.
That means the next mayor might get back full control of city government halfway into the next term.
"If it's a nothing position, why are so many people running for it?" Chavous asked. "I don't worry about it . . . . I'll have the moral imperative of the people behind me."
Chavous is known as a collegial council member and a capable orator who can deliver a well-crafted quote. He has not hesitated to challenge the control board on issues ranging from bonuses for city managers to a pay raise for Police Chief Larry D. Soulsby, who has since left the force.
And he has tended to his electoral home turf, handily defeating former school board member Terry Hairston in his most recent city council election. Recently, however, there have been some rumblings in his ward that his leadership hasn't been felt strongly enough.
And some regard Chavous as an uneven monitor of city agencies. His attendance in his first years on the D.C. Council was sketchy, he has had difficulty retaining staff members, and advocates say his chairmanship of the Education Committee has been less than inspired. When city schools reopened last fall, Chavous offered vigorous quotes but waited many weeks before holding a hearing.
"He is a smart man, but what foundation has he laid in the city council?" said Dorothy Brizill, a longtime community activist. "He asks all the right questions but he doesn't follow through."
For Chavous, as with other candidates in the race, the challenge is to ignite the city's core of black and white working- and middle-class voters, people who some analysts say have grown weary of Barry's high-wire act.
"A lot of folks in Southeast Washington are tired of living on the edge," said Dwight Cropp, a professor at George Washington University and former high-level official in Barry's government. "They look at Atlanta and Detroit and ask, 'Why can't we have professional managers?' . . . . But the question for the challengers is: 'Can they articulate a vision? Can they tell us why they want to be mayor?' "
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company