After three long hours of sometimes sharp and at other times stilted political debate, the hall was almost empty at the second district police station on Idaho Avenue NW. At one time or another that night, nearly every one of the 10 candidated in Tuesday's special D.C. City Council election had appeared to give his or her views to an audience of about 100 persons.
As the evening drew to an end, Statehood party candidate Leo A. Murray sat on one of the bright-colored fiber glass chairs in the hall facing a lone reporter, who wanted to know if Murray really thought his virtually invisible campaign could succeed, with its low budget, lack of a campaign office and a campaign manager who doubles as a chef at The Round Table Restaurant.
It's not that I'm assuming people are going to rally behind me," Murray said, stroking his mustache. "I believe that anybody can win this election for the simple reason that there's 10 people running. In the last (school board) general election, only 10 per cent turned out, and this time I don't think it will even be that."
Murray and five others - Frank E. Sewell Jr., Susan Pennington, Wade H. Jefferson, James Clark and Richard R. Clark - are six candidates whose chances of winning the election are considered somewhat remote because their names are less well-known, they have less announced political support, have spent fewer hours in public office or have received very sparse campaign funds.
The four candidates expected to lead the field are former Department of Human Resources aide Susan Trutt, former D.C. School Supt. Barbara A. Sizemore. Hilda Mason, who has held the Council seat since Julius Hobson Sr.'s death, and Republican Paul Hays.
Still, the high costs of campaigning, the difficulty of gaining access to nearly 225,000 voters throughout the city and only token coverage by the news media have not dimmed the aspirations of the six other candidates, they say.
Instead, they are driven in part by strong ideological beliefs, social causes or the simple creed once stated by one perennial candidate that "every mother's son should have a chance to run for office." They think Tuesday's results could prove that the political "experts" who have downplayed their candidates are dead wrong.
In fact, the unique factors affecting Tuesday's election make for an unpredictability that these candidates believe could have upset any forecast based on past voting trends in the city.
It is the first special election in recent Washington history. Only one office is on the ballot. No one from the city's dominant Democratic Party can run. The election will be held on what will probably be a hot summer day when there are plenty of more comfortable alternatives to standing in a voting booth, if only for a moment.
"What have I got to lose?% one candidate asked.
Frank E. Sewell Jr. ran for the D.C. School board in 1973, but dropped out of the race before the election he said, when he realized that "politics is dirty and crooked."
This year, in a low budget, low visibility campaign Sewell has come back into politics despite his reasons for dropping out of the 1971 school board race.
"In talking with the people of this city, I've seen the need for social change and unity," said Sewell, a former Democrat who changed his party affiliation to Statehood a month after the seat became vacant.
Sewell said the type of social change he advocates would restore faith in the District government by requiring department heads to be more responsive to residents, and he lists social services as his first priority.
If elected to the Council, Sewell said he would focus his attention on the "need for rent control, a comprehensive health care plan and lowering taxes."
A 23-year-old resident manager of a Southeast Washington garden apartment complex, Sewell said his message to young and old alike is "peace, progress, hope and social change."
Susan Pennington's name should not be new to D.C. voters. She has run for local, political office every year since home rule, losing in the race for D.C. delegates to Congress in 1974 and 1976 and trying unsuccessfully for the school board seat from Ward One in 1975.
Pennington, a 34-year-old political organizer for the U.S. Labor Party, has a candidancy whose majot thrust is "to put before the people of this city the kind of program that will prevent the depression of the 1930s from happening all over again and instead launch a period of massive industrial expansion and general prosperity."
Oennington said this could be accomplished by the Council declaring a moratorium on paying some $120 million each year in debt service to the U.S. Treasury and instead using that money to avoid cuts in vital city services.
She believes that if dected, she could use her position on the Council to help mobilize people to support similar policies on a national level. "We want to declare a Chapter II bankruptcy for the U.S. economy." she said, in an effort to avoid "the old Vietnam ethic - destroy the country to save it."
Leo Alexandria Murray, a 39-year-old counselor at Federal City College, is working on a master's degree in adult education. He resigned his post as an advisory neighborhood commissioner in the Adams Morgan section to run for the Council seat.
Murray believes that many of the city's problems are closely interrelated and, before they can be solved, he says, they must be "clearly defined." Taxes, for example, could be kept lower if government could be more efficient. If elected Tuesday, Murray says, he would initiate studies to determined just how efficient government in the District can be.
He favors rent control and some reins being placed on real estate speculation, and would favor more citizen involvement in neighbourhood efforts to reduce crime.
Murray was born in Washington and worked in Republican Jerry A. Moore's successful 1974 Council campaign. A member of the Board of Change Inc., Murray changed his registration from Republican to Statehood in April.
Despite the heavy endorsements and contributions that some of the candidates have recieved, Wade Henry Jefferson, 48, said he still has a chance to win Tuesday's election because "those endorsements don't mean any thing."
"Since I've started this campaign, I have encouraged more young people," Wade said. "In my community, I have encouraged the young people to work and I've explained the poilitical process to them."
Jefferson, who lives in Northeast Washington near RFK Stadium, is divorced. He holds a bachelor's degree in sociology and he said he has reached the master's level in a sociology doctoral program at Howard University.
"People in this city are tired of rhetoric," Jefferson said, "They want problems solved. I would be the typed of City Council member who people could take their problems to."
Richard R. Clark, who is now running as an independent candidate, has tried twice before to win a seat on the City COuncil. In 1974 and 1976, Clark ran as a Republican candidate from ward four (Upper Northwest east of Rock Creek Park).
He left the Republican Party recently, Clark said, because he bacame "disenchanted" with the local party membership to include more minority members.
"I don't even want to be associated with the Republicans," said Clark, 40, a lawyer and Washington native who favors stronger Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and bringing major league baseball to the city.
If elected, Clark said he would work for "equitable distribution of taxes and services because people are not getting the quality of services that they are paying for."
Clark has refused to discuss his stratery for winning the election or describes what he sees as the base of his support.
James Clark, a 37-year-old pharmacy technician, is the candidate of the Jii Lunaa (pronunced Eye-Lana) or Black Poor People's Party. Clark's candidacy is aimed purely at black voters in the city.
At a recent candidates' forum attened mostly by whites in ward three which includes Georgetown and Foxhall Road, Clark clossed his remarks by stretching out his arms and saying "O white people, O white people: I am the Jii Lunaa candidate and I do believe and I am trying to run all or the white people out of the District.
"I do not ask for your vote. I do not want your vote," he said. "That would be foolish."
Clark a graduate of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, said the city could save money by cutting the size of the officers be black. He would also like to see more black history in D.C. public school system textbooks.
Clark expects his campaign activity to mushroom in the final days breeding the election. On the day before the voting, he said, his organization will put a black man on a cross in front of the White House to dramatize what its members believe is the economic crucifixion of blacks by whites.