It comes as no surprise to Ward 4 residents that the race for Arrington Dixon's old council seat has attracted 15 candidates in the May 1 special election.
A largely affluent, upwardly mobile and politically energetic are, Ward 4 has frequently drawn a large field of candidates to its council contests.
In 1974, there were 15 candidates in the first crucial Democratic primary to initially fill the city council seat. Dixon won that race, and in 1976, he defeated three Democratic primary opponents before going on to win a second term in the general election.
Ward 4 also has been home to many prominent political figures. Del. Walter Fauntroy, City Council members Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large) and Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At Large), former council chairman Sterling Tucker, HUD Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris and James Dyke, special assistant to Vice President Walter Mondale, all come from the ward. A large number of those serving on more than 100 city boards and commissions also reside in Ward 4, which in the past decade has been a reservoir of middle-class black appointees.
"I doubt there is another ward like this," said Victoria Street, a candidate in the current council race. "There are many progressive, educated, alert blacks in this area who have secure jobs. Their social, economic and political level automatically means more people will be running."
The winner of the Ward 4 race will complete the remaining 19 months of Dixon's term. Dixon was elected council chairman last fall.
With the special election less than two weeks away, the 15 candidates apparently have created little in the way of campaign excitement. Last week, in two days of sidewalk interviews in several locations in the ward, a reporter found only mild interest in the race.
One ward resident, Larry Fischel, 27, a manager at Lord & Taylor in Falls Church, said candidates have only generated interest in their own families.
"It's kind of hard to pick out a candidate when you don't know them," commented Ernest Reed, a 73-year-old resident of the Petworth area.
Paula McKann, a retired teacher who lives on upper 16th Street noted, "This is ridiculous. There are too many candidates. The votes will be spread out."
In northern areas of the ward, at Shepherd Park and North Portal Estates, residents say they know several of the candidates but feel there are no "real" issues that separate them. As one Shepherd Park resident put it: "This is a race of personalities."
Another Shepherd Park resident, David Stratmon, a foreign service officer, said, "This race just hasn't caught the public's imagination."
He added that he believes most candidates are using the race just as a steppingstone to another office.
The candidates admit that their greatest challenge will be to get the vote out. In the last special election for the City Council in 1977, only 6,000 voters turned up at the polls to elect Hilda Mason to her at-large council seat. There currently are 37,309 eligible voters in Ward 4.
At community forums, especially in southern sections of the ward, discussions have focused on aid to the elderly living on fixed incomes and on cleaning up neighborhoods. Many of the elderly live in the older, southern parts of the ward, and complaints of poor city services, which are heard throughout the ward, seem to hit their highest pitch in these communities.
In fact, more than 60 percent of the ward residents live in these southern communities, such as Petworth and Brightwood, south of Missouri Avenue and Madison Street. At the turn of the century, Petworth was a street-car suburb of Washington where the wealthy spent their summers in clapboard houses.
Within these southern neighborhoods are the National Soldiers's Home and Catholic University, and the monotony of rowhouses and signs of decay strike a sharp contrast to upper areas of the ward.
Candidates who emphasize property taxes and high assessments seem to be pointing to the upper sections of the ward, where large homes and complaints of high property taxes are prevalent. Moreover, those in the upper neighborhoods are the ward's most dependable voters.
The upper part of the ward, for the past two decades at least, has been the place to live for up-and-coming middle class blacks and for those who already have made it. It has been the address for people like Howard University President James E. Cheek, and a host of doctors, lawyers, ministers, diplomats, teachers and upper-level federal and local government employes.
As a result, plenty of talent has been available each time there is an opportunity to gain a coveted elected government position.
In this special election alone, most of the 15 candidates point to advanced degrees and professional backgrounds as special qualifications for the office, not to mention the experience they claim in working for neighborhood organizations.
In each case, the candidates have support from specific nieghborhoods in the ward and, in many cases, from particular interest groups. The support may come from a local civic group or neighborhood, religious or business groups or from the more nebulous "old families" of Upper Northwest.
Ward 4, located toward the edge of Northwest Washington and east of Rock Creek Park, is 85 percent black. It has more than 50 percent home ownership, and is an area where some of the better public schools east of Rock Creek are located.
There are no large tracts of vacant land, and according to realtors like Andrea Brier, the are is "stable." Brier said there is not an "unusual" amount of housing turnover and no real estate speculation as in other areas of the city.
The major attractions for politically active middle- and upper middle-class blacks in Ward 4 are the so-called "gold and platinum coasts." These areas divide the ward's community jig-saw puzzle just north of Walter Reed Hospital and east of upper 16th street.
For the most part, the "coasts" are places where front lawns are show pieces rather than playgrounds for children and where housing prices start at six figures.
They are areas that include communities like North Portal Estates, Shepherd Park and Colonial Village. They are places where people often get to "know" a candidate through social connections.
In this election, there is the usual concentration of political activity in the upper sections of the ward, where the voter turn out is unusually high compared to the rest of the city. But all 15 candidates have placed increased emphasis on stumping the southern sections of the ward as well.
Candidates say this intensified door-to-door campaigning in the southern part of the ward has come about because there are so many candidates and "no section of the ward can be taken for granted." They say the winner of the Ward 4 race may only be separated from his or her opponent by 200 to 300 votes.
Dixon, who in the last 60 days of the 1974 primary stormed to victory over 14 opponents, noted: "Ward 4 voters are much more sophisticated since the 1974 election. They have gotten a chance to see how elected officials work and they know what they want." CAPTION: Map, no caption, By Richard Furno-The Washington Post