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In Non-Democrat Race for At-Large Seat, Most of the Hard Running Is Still to Come

By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 15, 1996; Page J01

Republican Carol Schwartz and Umoja Party's Mark Thompson have the kind of campaign politicians love: They can't lose in the Sept. 10 primary for the D.C. Council.

They have no opponents.

In fact, outside the Democratic Party, the only competition in next month's primary for two open at-large council seats is between Statehood Party candidates Samuel Jordan and Bardyl R. Tirana.

Since competition isn't much of a worry now, the anybody-but-a-Democrat candidates are preparing for the general election, in which they will be pitted against one another, the top Democratic vote-getter and the independents.

D.C. law guarantees that even though the city is overwhelmingly Democratic, someone who is not a Democrat will get at least one of the two at-large seats at stake in the November election. Non-Democrats could get both seats if they finish ahead of the Democratic nominee, but that has never happened.

So the Republican, Umoja and Statehood nominees, as well as any independents who qualify for the November ballot, will more than likely be wrestling for the one seat set aside for non-Democrats. The clear front-runner, based on name recognition, a sizable political constituency and relatively recent success at the polls, is the GOP's Schwartz.

Schwartz ran against Marion Barry (D) in the 1994 mayoral election and garnered about 42 percent of the vote. She served one four-year term on the council in the late 1980s. And so far she has reported raising $30,000 for her campaign, one of the larger campaign treasuries of any candidate.

But she says she's taking nothing for granted.

"I never consider myself a front-runner," said Schwartz, 52. "I always run like I'm the underdog."

The real underdog in the race, however, is the Statehood Party's Tirana, a lawyer from west of Rock Creek Park, who, like Schwartz, once held a seat on the school board. Jordan, the other Statehood candidate, is a longtime party activist. And Tirana admits his name probably has faded from the memories of many Washingtonians.

"I've been out of the press for 16 years," said Tirana, who was on the school board in the early 1970s. He worked on President Carter's inauguration before eventually landing at the U.S. Department of Justice and later in private law practice.

Times have changed since then -- some candidates now communicate with voters over the Internet -- but Tirana says he'll campaign the way he did more than 20 years ago. No posters and no money. Just word-of-mouth, a forum here and there, and whatever media attention he can get.

But unlike Schwartz, Tirana speaks confidently of winning in the general election -- if, that is, he can get pass Jordan in the primary.

"The most difficult task I've got is winning the primary," said Tirana, 58. "I have no doubt about winning the election. Any Democrat likely to win is likely to have been part of the problem. Carol Schwartz, she's been there, too. I have not been there for 25 years."

Jordan has never "been there," as Tirana puts it. But he has come close to winning an election much more recently than Tirana. In 1992, he finished third in the general election for two at-large council seats, just behind incumbents John Ray (D) and Bill Lightfoot (I). Two years later, Jordan lost the Statehood Party primary to Hilda H.M. Mason, a longtime council member and Statehood Party activist.

"I don't think there's a candidate who is a better candidate," said Jordan, 50. "No one has given as much time to analyzing issues."

Jordan, a Mount Pleasant resident, self-employed construction contractor and research fellow for a think tank, says he remembers when Statehood opponent Tirana was on the school board. But he reserves his criticism for Schwartz.

"She's back to run for mayor in 1998," Jordan said. "Her campaign reflects that ambition, that intention to run for mayor. It's not a campaign that's very much focused on any kind of resolutions of the city's crisis. I think it's a campaign to revise Carol Schwartz's name recognition.

"A lot has changed in two years. It's not enough to say, 'I warned you.' . . . This campaign should discuss a lot more specifics."

Nonsense, Schwartz counters. She already has name recognition, she says, and the idea that she's only seeking office to prepare for a mayoral bid in two years is not true.

"I want to be on the council now because I'm concerned about us having any offices to run for in '98," said Schwartz, who lives near Dupont Circle. "We see the dissipation of home rule. I want the council to make the tough decisions it needs to make to keep home rule."

Umoja Party founder Thompson, a radio talk-show host, said: "It would be unscientific to suggest that a Democrat would not get one of the seats, but we, by no means, should concede a seat to Carol Schwartz. . . . The Republicans are the natural enemy of the District of Columbia. Why would we do something as self-contradictory as elect a Republican?"

Thompson, 29, who lives in Northwest Washington, has run for office before. This is his first bid for a regular seat on the council, but he ran unsuccessfully for council chairman in 1994 against David A. Clarke (D). It was the relatively strong showing of Thompson and another Umoja candidate that year that put the party on the D.C. ballot.

Thompson said he hasn't raised much money. But he's campaigning door-to-door, and, when asked, he contacts council members to help residents get services, such as trees pruned.

"If services are not delivered, we need to tell people the reason why," Thompson said. "Every problem is a direct response to Congress holding up our money."

Thompson added, "I'd like to continue the push for self-determination and reestablish the independent and outspoken identity of the council that existed before the death of [then-council Chairman] John Wilson."

The common objective among the candidates is ridding the city of the all-powerful, five-member D.C. financial control board. They want to participate on a council that takes the reins of the District and gradually puts the control board out of business.

"I want to see the council being so active in doing its oversight and balancing the budget by setting budget priorities, that you wonder why we have a control board," Schwartz said.

Jordan agrees. He said he has proposed a ballot initiative to permit the voters to get rid of the control board, since the city's elected officials don't have the power to do it.

"It's a first step," Jordan said. "We must regain control of the government."

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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