One big problem in our ward is housing. The elderly living on fixed incomes are having it rough," said Mary Butler, president of the Edgewood Civic Association in Ward 5. "Then there is the problem of big utility bills and poor trash service."
"The voters really need to know more about the candidates who're running and how they stand on the issues," added Butler, who said she has met only four of the nine candidates running for the Ward 5 City Council seat now held by incumbent William Spaulding.
With about four weeks left before the Sept. 12 Democractic primary, the ability of the nine campaigners to deliver their messages to the ward's voters has become a major concern of candidates and voters alike.
One day recently, one candidate ignored a major candidates' forum at Dunbar High School, saying that his door-to-door campaign would be more fruitful. That night it rained, somewhat dampening his activities.
Another candidate who attended the citywide forum decided not to speak when it came her turn because the audience remaining at that point numbered a dozen, all of them candidates and their families.
Without funds of pay for major media campaigns, the candidates of Ward 5 are depending on time-honored tecniques - block parties, door-to-door speeches, leaflets and brochures, and church and school gatherings - to reach the ward's 25,922 registered Democratic voters.
Despite these efforts, many voters maintain they still cannot see appreciable differences among the nine Democrats running.
"We think there are a number of good and qualified candidates in this race," said John D. Kelly, projects director of the Upper Northeast Coordinating Council, an umbrella organization of 40 Northeast community organizations. "But one of the big problems is that the candidates are not too visibly different from each other."
Ward 5, characterized by such tree-shaded communities as Brookland, Woodbridge and Blunker Hill, is one of the most stable and most politically active sections of the city. It is bounded roughly by Benning Road, the Anacostia River, Eastern Avenue and the Baltimore and Ohio railroad tracks.
According to a 1970 census report, one large section of the ward - the area north of New York Avenue - has the highest percentage of home ownership in the District (about 60 percent).
One the 94,453 residents in Ward 5 during the 1970 census, only 12 percent were considered poor, with most of the low-income residents living in the Trinidad and Ivy City areas, slated for renewal.
Although Rhode Island Avenue, the ward's central corridor, is cluttered in places with liquor stores, fast food restaurants and some boarded-up stores, the ward is also the home of some of the city's finest scenery and institutions.
Gallaudet College, Catholic University and Trinity College are located in Ward 5, as well as the National Arboretum and large tracts of undeveloped green space, mainly owned by Catholic monasteries and colleges.
William Spaulding, 52, a mechanical engineer and teacher, was elected to the City Council by Ward 5 voters in the 1974 election.
In the Sept. 12 primary, Spaulding will again face eight opponents who for the most part are charging that he has failed to adequately represent the ward during his three years in office.
However, Spaulding is quick to point out some of his City Council accomplishments: He sponsored legislation creating the new University of the District of Columbia; authored the Emergency Water Bill Act, which prevents the city from turning off water in homes as a result of disputed water bills, and sponsored a talent contest for gifted D.C. residents.
Among Spaulding's harshest critics is Robert Artisst, 42, a commercial artist and a teacher at the University of D.C. Artisst, one of four Wards 5 candidates running for a second time, was defeated by Spaulding in 1974 by only 70 votes.
"Mr. Spaulding has proved to the people of Ward 5 that he cannot handle the job on the City Council," Artisst said. "He is out of tune with the trends of modern times and has not kept in touch with the concerns of his constituents."
Artisst said he offers voters a "proven record" of service to the community. He said he has testified in his community's behalf before the City Council and the Congress; he is a member of the D.C. Citizens for Better Education, the D.C. Association for Retarded Citizens and the McKinley High School Committee of 20.
He favors developing the 40-acre Trnity tract of North Capitol Street and Michigan Avenue with new homes. Artisst also favors light commercial development around the new Brookland Metro subway station.
To date, Artisst is the only candidate in the ward who has brought radio commercials. He has opened a campaign office and occasionally dispenses his literature and cold drinks from a motor home he drives throughout the community.
Juanita Kennedy Morgan, 63, who ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 1974, said that in this election she is intentionally keeping a low profile, while working "behind the scenes" to garner support for her campaign.
"The people in this ward know me because I've worked with them over the years," said Morgan, a former third grade teacher in the D.C. public schools who has been out of work with a back injury since 1975.
Morgan said she has been endorsed by the National Black Womens Leadership Caucus, the Northeast Community Organization for Preservation of Our Residential Property and the Bethlehem Fire Baptised Holiness Church.
She said her major concerns range from providing more jobs for neighborhood youth and better housing for the elderly, to planning some new commercial development along Rhode Island Avenue and rapid completion of Ft. Lincoln New Town.
Roland Rier, 33, a public high school teacher who ran for the Ward 5 City Council seat four years ago, has campaigned largely on charges that incumbent Spaulding used the public mails to distribute some of his campaign literature.
Spaulding said he would not "dignify" Rier's charges with a comment, but he added that he has not violated any law and that all of his campaign mailings were approved by the D.C. Corporation Counsel and the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.
If elected, Rier has promised to seek reduction in public utility rates as his first priority. Rier, endorsed by the Greater Washington Central Labor Council, said he would also work for improvements in such areas as property taxes, license tag fees, rent control and housing.
Also campaigning for the second time is John M. Thornton, 64, who has based his campaign largely on the public utilities issue.
"The citizens suffer every day from high utility rates," said Thornton, a former lobbyist for the United Steel Workers of America. "The City Council has the power to set a maximum rate. Twenty-one other cities have set such a rate. The District can also do it."
Thornton, who has gradually lost his sight in a bout with glaucoma, is among a slate of candidates endorsed by the Metro Coalition on the Utility Crisis, the National Capitol Voters Association and the People's neighborhood Protection Association. He is the only blind person to run for public office in the District in recent history.
Robert King, 38, long recognized for his efforts to help rebuild the riot-struck 14th Street corridor, maintains that as a city councilman he can put his planning and leadership experience to work for Ward 5.
King, who is director of social planning for the 14th Street Project Area Committee, moved from Northwest Washington to the new town of Ft. Linclon two years ago.
Among his campaign issues are the problems of high utility rates and property taxes, and the need to improve services for the elderly.
Bernice Just, 57, who was formerly a budget analyst at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said she is seeking election to the City Council to attack problems of housing, unemployment, crime and excessive taxes.
Just is a member of the D.C. Law Revision Commission and was formerly the director of the American Friends Service Committee's Pretrial Justice Program. (The program lost its funding last April.)
"The people of Ward 5 need active, accountable representation," said Just. "There is a strong trend for some people to be forced out of our neighborhood by economics. I can stop that trend."
Ervin E. Phelps, 27, the youngest candidate in the ward race, said his age is an asset because he is able to understand the concerns of both young and elderly citizens.
"My whole thing is putting controls on land speculators," said Phelps, an employe of the Judd & Detweiler printers. "I want to deal with the rape and robbery crisis in our community, the lack of programs for senior citizens and the inadequate delivery of city services to Ward 5."
Virgil Thompson, 32, said he recently resigned his post as a security guard for the D.C. Department of Corrections to run for the City Council. "The key issue is this campaign is the failure of the candidates to address themselves to the issues," Thompason said.
He noted that while other candidates may flock to forums and large meetings, his campaign is based on door-to-door "personal contacts." "I don't need much money to run my campaign," Thompson said, "just a lot of footwork."
Steven D. Abel, 30, of 20 Adam St. NW, is the Statehood candidate for the Ward 5 seat. Abel, who works as a program developer for the D.C. Public Defender's service, is the pastor and founder of the Universal Congregation of the Meek, an evangelistic organization.
Abel said the key issue in the campaign is the problem of high property taxes. He favors reducing property taxes and making up the lost tax revenues by increasing tourist trade in the District. He also said he favors tax incentives to draw new industry to the city.