Five of six incumbents on the D.C. City Council face little or no legislature for what many see as a crucial period for the District's young home rule government.
The election to nominate persons for seats in wards 2, 4, 7 and 8, and for two at-large Council seats, comes at a time when a worsening financial crisis, highlighted by an accumulated budget deficit of $409 million, has put the city government to a severe test.
The city, already reeling from severe service cuts and taxed to the limits, according to Mayor Marion Barry, faces the prospect of still more drastic cuts and even higher taxes.
Moreover, the city is still confronted with a severe shortage in affordable housing and by spiraling rents that force many low-and middle-income residents out of the market or out of the city. The quality of public education is constantly criticized by parents and school administrators themselves, and the bleak financial picture has dimmed morale in the police and fire departments at a time when crime is rising.
Despite recurring criticism of the government from some residents and community group members, the primaries -- coming at so crucial a juncture in the District's short political life -- have so far attracted little attention.
This year the city primaries have been overshadowed by the national presidential politicking, and, unlike 1978, there is no mayor's race this year. Also, in sharp contrast to previous years, no great flock of candidates are rushing in for the chance to run for the council.
In only one race, the Ward 7 campaign, is there certain to be a new council member, since incumbent Willia J. Hardy is not seeking reelection.
Three Democrats are vying for the party's nomination. They are congressional aide Johnny Barnes, 32; Realtor H. R. Crawford, 41, and Emily Y. Washington, 36, a former Ballou High School teacher and school board employe.
Republican John West is unopposed for the Republican nomination in the overwhelmingly Democratic ward.
The candidates are competing for the seat to represent the eastern wedge of far Northeast and Southeast Washington between Anacostia and Minnesota Avenue. The area includes low-income public housing projects and middle-income neighborhoods north of Dupont Part, and an enclave of middle to upper-class blacks south of the Park.
In Ward 2, Democratic Councilman John A. Wilson, 36, has raised $59,959 for nomination to a third term in the seat representing the inner city, including Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom, Shaw and Southwest.
Ann Kelsey Marshall, 29, a former congressional aide, is unopposed in the Ward 2 Republican primary.
In Ward 4, the upper-Northwest section of the city, psychologist Charlene Drew Jarvis, 39, first elected in 1979, is unopposed for nomination in a key, heavily Democratic ward that usually fields clusters of candidates.
Israel Lopez, a retired District government worker, is unopposed for the Republican nomination.
In Ward 8, the area east of the Anacostia River and including some of the city's poorest residents, lawyer Wilhelmina J. Rolark, 61, is running unopposed for renomination to a second four-year term.
Leon Parks, 37, the owner of a janitorial service firm, is unopposed for the Republican nomination in Ward 8.
City voters will also be choosing nominees for two at-large council seats, one in the Democratic primary and the other in the Republican primary. Under the Home Rule Charter, a party is not allowed to compete for both at-large seats in the same year.
On the Democratic side, Councilman, John Ray, a 36-year-old lawyer, is being challenged by Raymond Powell, a 52-year-old private consultant from Nashville. Ray was a virtual unknown in local politics until Mayor Marion Barry handpicked him as his successor for the at-large seat in 1979.
In the Republican at-large race, Jerry A. Moore Jr., 62, first appointed to the council by President Nixon in 1969 and elected in 1974 and 1976, is being challenged for renomination by two historic preservationists.
Joseph Grano, a 35-year-old lawyer known for his fight to stop the demolition of the historic Rhodes Tavern downtown, and Clinton B. D. Brown, a 66-year-old retired government tax lawyer, are both challenging Moore primarily because of the incumbent's record on land use issues. They are waging the first known city council campaigns to grow out of a single issue or interest in the city's short political history.
Interest groups have not been as visible this year as in previous city elections, when the tenants groups, the gay organizations and others often took leading roles in the campaigns.
The one exception this year has been organized labor, which is the one group still chafing from a council revision of the worker's compensation law that sharply reduced benefits. The Greater Washington Central Labor Council chose Crawford in the Ward 7 race, largely because Barnes had been endorsed by outgoing council member Hardy, sponsor of the worker's compensation bill.
Union's have also been donating heavily to the campaigns, specifically to Crawford and to Rolark. Rolark has received the $400 maximum allowable contribution from the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 25 the Washington Building and Construction Trades Council, and $200 from the Washington Teachers Union.
In Ward 7, Barnes has been winning the endorsements from the city's elected officials, including D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy and five members of the council not running for reelection this year. Barnes is also receiving large sums of money from the political action committees of the D.C. Bankers Association and the D.C. Commerce and Industrial Political Committee.
Crawford, meanwhile, has been lining up endorsements of the seventh ward's more well-known ministers, including the Rev. Willie B. Allen of the Upper Room Baptist Church.
Mayor Barry, while attending public fund-raisers for all of the incumbents, has not officially entered the fray in Ward 7, where he moved last year, partially in search of a new political base. His political operatives in the ward are so far not falling in behind either candidate.
The city's business community has given money to most of the incumbents, especially Moore and Ray.Some Realtors have given hefty contributions to Crawford, himself a Realtor, but in the Ward 7 race, most business leaders are leaning towards Barnes.
Wilson, Moore and Jarvis were all endorsed by the Greater Washington Board of Trade's political action committee.
As the candidates appear at various forums before neighborhood and community interest groups across the city, the chorus of citizen concerns sounds familiar, with housing the issue mentioned most frequently.
Low-income residents in Ward 7 ask why the city cannot provide more housing and better upkeep for public housing projects. At a breakfast for elderly residents, Ward 7 senior citizens were worried about police protection, and how the anticipated police department layoffs would affect them.
But at a forum sponsored by the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club in a church basement in Northwest, young tenants were concerned about rising rents, and the shortage of affordable rental housing for the middle class.
The candidates usually end up agreeing that the city must work with the private sector to provide more housing and that the budget cuts must not cause undue hardship.