Fours years ago, Robert Artisst came up 70 votes short of a seat on the D.C. City Council - the same seat he hopes to occupy in January 1979.
Artisst formally announced his candidacy Sunday, but said he had been thinking of making the race again almost since his defeat in 1974. "I have not gone into the woodwork and crawled under the mat," said Artisst, a 45-year-old former commercial artist who is now a coordinator of audio-visual programs for the University of the District of Columbia and, after hours, is president of the Brookland Civic Association.
If he wins, Artisst promises to try to promote economic development - the retention of existing busenesses and the addition of new ones - in the wide swath of Northeast Washington he aims to represent.
He has identified crime, transportation, housing and education as his other principal areas of concern, although he resisted outlining a specific legislative program during an interview earlier this week. The last time around, Artisst recalled, he would arrive at public forums and find his opponents echoing ideas he already had put forward in position papers. So this time, Artisst said, he has decided to unveil his proposals in a series of carefully timed campaign appearances.
But he was specific about one plank in his platform - opposition to the record of his presumed opponent, William Spaulding, who currently represents Ward 5.
Artisst criticized Spaulding for supporting the initiatives of Council Chairman Sterling Tucker rather than introducing proposals of his own.
Spaulding has a habit of "popping in on civic meetings an having no solutions," said Artisst.
When the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station opened, "the incumbent did not come forward . . . to help the community with commuter parking," Artisst said, adding that he and the Brookland Civic Association had been instrumental in gathering the signatures required in order to implement a residential parking program.
Artisst also cited his role in organizing a volunteer anti-crime program called "BAT" (Block Action Teams) in Brookland. "We said the men in the community should protect themselves and their children and their women," he recalled.
Artisst is critical, although not flatly opposed, to hardware magnate John W.Hechinger's plan for a shopping center at bladensburg and Benning roads NE, adjoining the H Street shopping corridor.
"The concept is a great idea, but he's asking the D.C. gevernments to give him federal monies (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds) whereas he is in the process of developing similar projects in Richmond and Philadelphia with no federal money," said Artisst.
He said he was unsure about the effect of Hechinger's proposal on existing small businesses along H Street and in the surrounding neighborhood.
"Will it engulf them and cause them to crumble?" he asked rhetorically.
"I am not a guy that bites my tongue," said Artisst. "I don't owe the Board of Trade. I owe nobody downtown."
Splaulding has not formally announced his candidacy, but he said Tuesday he will do so soon.