John E. Warren spends much of his time now attending meetings -- political forums, fundraisers and coffees -- trying to be reelected to his Ward 6 seat on the D.C. Board of Education. He has posted thousands of posters throughout the ward, he says, but almost as soon as they go up, they are torn down.
Philip E. Pannell, aiming to be elected to the board in Ward 4, smiles against the wind as he hands leaflets to the rush hour crowd at a chilly, windy bus stop at Kennedy Street and Georgia Avenue NW.
Surrounded by African art in a neighbor's cozy recreation room, Nathaniel Bush, a candidate in Ward 7, tells his 20-member audience he has misgivings about a citywide basic education test for high school students before they graduate.
With limited campaign contributions, makeshift political headquarters, few campaign workers and what political observers call a lack of voter interest in the school board are campaigning for five ward seats and one at-large seat in Tuesday's election.
The candidates are facing an uphill battle.
Political reality in Washington today is that the school board no longer has the prestige it once did. Since the advent of limited home rule in 1974, the prestigious local offices are those of the mayor and the City Council.
The lack of policital prestige has meant less campaign funding from bankers, realtors, businessmen, professionals and labor groups -- the primary financiers of political campaigns in this town.
A concern among some parents is that the school board has become a launching pad for political careers instead of a solution to the problems of the troubled school system.
What makes this election even tougher is that political experts are predicting that only 10 percent of the 241,711 eligible voters will show up at the polls. In past elections, except in 1977 when both the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners and the school board candidates ran together for the first time, only about 10 percent of the District's voters turned out for school board elections.
D.C. City Councilman John A. Wilson, (D-Ward 2), a knowledgeable observer of city politics, said all past school board races have had problems attracting voters because many of those who vote in mayoral and City Council elections do not have children in public schools. He also said this race in particular is having trouble attracting voter attention because there are no "flamboyant" personalities to draw voters to the polls.
Lack of funds is a serious obstacle. The fact that several school board candidates interviewed average less than $3,000 in campaign contributions has also had a tremendous impact on their campaigns.
One political expert said installing a bank of eight telephones in a campaign headquarters would cost more than $800. He said mass mailings are also expensive -- $6,000 for a citywide mailing and $3,000 for a ward mailing.
Television spots, which cost between $125 and $2,000 for a 30 second commercial, have been out of the question for candidates like Jeannette Feely, a former District teacher, running at-large for the school board.
"Since I don't have media money, I can't hit the tube," she said. "It is important that voters see my name, however, so I brought 4,000 posters.
For Feely and other at-large candidates, the political race is particularly rough because they have to spend more money and reach more people than school board candidates in ward races.
Feely's solution is to run her campaign only in wards where other school boards candidates are running for ward spots. She said she believes there is more voter interest in those wards.
With limited funding and support, candidates have chosen a mass appeal rather than targeting specific voter blocs in this election. They have targeted limited mailings, candidate forums, PTA meetings, political coffees, door-to-door appeals and motorcades to reach the largest audiences possible.
Loraine R. Bennett, a Ward 6 candidate, said her campaign contributions have ranged $1 to $25. She and other candidates say they have very few large donations from anyone. The small contributions are a sharp contrast to City Council and mayoral races where candidates can raise up to $400,000 in campaign contributions.
Frank Smith, Jr., a candidate in Ward 1, who ran unsuccessfully for a Ward 1 City Council seat last September, said he knows his support is strong in several Mt. Pleasant area precincts only because of phone surveys and mailings he as conducted.
Candidate endorsements have also played a role in this school board race. Organizations like the Washington Teachers Union, the Greater Washington Central Labor Council, as well as Latino groups and those promoting gay rights have all made endorsements or rated candidates.
These endorsements are important, especially in low budget campaigns. The Central Labor Council, for example, prints a sample ballot that is distributed to its 35,000 members, makes contributions and works for candidates at the polls on election day.
Motorcades, however, are the secret weapon in Eugene Kinlow's strategy for re-election to his at-large seat. A campaign worker said he has had three motorcades recently in several wards.
As the campaign draws to a close, it has brought at least one candidate down to earth in terms of predictions for the outcome of the election and the number of votes cast.
Feely cut her projected vote totals almost in half. "I wanted to receive 50,000 votes, but as I campaigned, I ran across so many people who had not registered to vote and people without children in the public school system that I scaled down my estimate to between 25,000 and 30,000 votes." D.C. Board of Education Election At Large Eugene Kinlow* Charlotte R. Holmes Jeanette Feely Joseph Webb Stuart Rosenblatt Ward 1 Anwar S. Saleem R. H. Booker James W. Curry Conrad P. Smith* Frank Smith Jr. Ward 4 Laplois Ashford Vickie Street* Phil Pannell Linda W. Cropp Ward 5 Bettie G. Benjamin* Matthew F. Shannon Ward 6 John E. Warren* Linda J. Gilbert Loraine Bennett Ward 7 Emily Y. Washington America Crew Nelson Nathaniel (Nate) Bush Ed hancock *Incumbent