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  •   Mayoral Forum a Yelling Match

    By Hamil R. Harris
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, June 25, 1998; Page D04

    What was billed as a D.C. mayoral candidates forum in a Southeast Washington church was reduced to a screaming match last night as partisan audience members cheered their candidates and waved signs, making it difficult for questions to be asked and answered.

    Afterward, several candidates called the format unworkable and said future forums need to be more controlled.

    "We're just talking to one another's supporters. It's just a battle of the bands," said Anthony A. Williams (D), the District's former chief financial officer. The forum, at Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter, drew seven candidates and a standing-room-only crowd of more than 300.

    The moderator of the event, sponsored by the League of 8000 civic group, tried to ask the candidates questions on issues ranging from education to how they would deal with street vending in the city, but the cheering and screaming began even before all the candidates had an opportunity to give their answers.

    At one point, D.C. Council member Harold Brazil (D-At Large) got into a yelling match with moderator Erik Wemple, a senior editor at City Paper, saying he was not being given equal time to answer questions.

    Supporters of D.C. Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) were often the loudest. Afterward, Evans gave his impression of the night:

    "The Evans people came to Chavous territory and kicked ass," Evans said. "What is going to happen is Kevin and I, who have the ability to turn people out, are going to turn more and more people out, and they're going to get louder, and as long as you create this environment, I'm going to bring my people and outshout everybody."

    Education was one of the few issues candidates were able to discuss substantively.

    Statehood Party candidate John Gloster launched a scathing attack against the four candidates who serve on the D.C. Council. "All of the people up here are part of the status quo," Gloster said. "These people led our school system to disaster, including Chavous."

    After Gloster's remarks, Brazil jumped up and said: "As mayor, I would take control of the school system. Don't put me with this tax-and-spend crowd."

    D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) took an oblique shot at Chavous, chairman of the council's education committee, noting that his children attend private schools.

    "All three of my children were educated in District schools," Schwartz said. "Is there one other [candidate] who can say that? N-O."

    On a question of how to clean up city streets, Democratic candidate Jeffrey Gildenhorn said he would initiate a program similar to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's public works program and hire poor people to sweep sidewalks and roadsides.

    When the night was over, Williams suggested a televised debate in which candidates could answer questions completely and cross-examine one another, with minimal interruption from the audience.

    Marilyn Groves, co-convenor of the League, agreed that the format was problematic.

    "When we had our first debate, we had four [candidates]. It was really good. You could get a candidate to say something and get the others to respond. You had a real dialogue," Groves said. "But with seven candidates . . . you get these machine-gun responses and these clacks in the back of the room."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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