The minister at the church in Southeast Washington introduced the City Council candidates as " a man of dignity, who's vitally concerned about housing."
And when the candidates, H. R. Crawford, took to the pulpit of the Allen Chapel A.M.E. church yesterday he drew some nods and collective "amens" from the congregation, by decrying the "moral decay in our neighborhoods" caused by drugs, crime and venereal disease.
Meanwhile, Johnny Barnes, Crawford's chief opponent for the Democratic nomination for the Ward 7 council seat, was also taking his campaign to church, waiting attentively in a front pew at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Northeast Washington for his turn in the pulpit.
Barnes gave a shortened version of his standard campaign speech to the congregation, citing his experience in government. Though the church is steeped in the call-and-response Baptist tradition, the only "amens" came at the end of Barnes' presentation. They were few and muted.
The pulpits and church pews of Northeast and Southeast Washington have become a major Sunday morning battleground in the heated Ward 7 Democratic primary race.
For any District politician, the support of the clergy is sort of a moral stamp of approval that goes down well with older votes and the city's large, black churgh-going community. In addition, the ministers can muster out volunteers and church buses to get people to the polls.
Crawford has made the ministers a key element in his self-proclaimed "broad-based coalition" of churches, labor unions, and prominent Ward 7 leaders, as he attempts to depict himself as both elder statesman and role model for the city's wayward youth Barnes has also been brying to solicit clergy support, but with little success so far.
Emily Y. Washington, the third Ward 7 candidate in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary, said she does not like to intrude into church services for politicking.She said she is not actively seeking any major endorsements for her self-styled "people's campaign."
Many of the city's ministers are now lining up behind Crawford's candidacy, and Barnes has lately been hard-pressed to name even one prominent clergyman supporting him. The ministers all cite Crawford's 25 years of residency in Ward 7, his moralistic pitch for a return to basic values, and his opposition to the Nov. 4 ballot referendum that would legalize gambling in the District. t"I like his firmness on some moral issues," said the Rev. Abraham Lincoln Colston, pastor of the 500-member Glendale Baptist Church in Northeast Washington. "People don't take too much stock in values anymore."
But Colston said he was a cautious supporter of Crawford. "They say if you have two evils, you go with the lesser of them," he said. "He (Crawford) may not be the best choice, but he's the the best we have to offer right now."
The Rev. Floyd H Gayles of the St. James Baptist Church in Southeast said, "Crawford has a little bit more experience, and some of the things he stands for makes the clergy feel that he will go over very highly." Gayles cited Crawford's oppostition to legalized gambling, and his espousal of traditional family values.
The five-minute sermon Crawford delivered to the Allen Chapel congregation yesterday was a shorter, more solemn version of the standard stump speech he has taken to forums and fundraisers, to meeting halls, and to television audiences.
"I find that we are a race in trouble," Crawford told the congregation yesterday, "They are actually shooting hard narcotics a block from this church and selling drugs from ice cream trucks."
Crawford then rattled off a list of societal problems -- citing among other things statistics he said showed that venereal disease had reached epidemic proportions. He then told the parishioners to remember a time, like his own childhood in Southeast, when, "you had to respect yourself you had to respect your body, you had to respect your neighbors and you had to respect your elders."
"Something happened," Crawford said, "We have those youngsters who don't respect anybody."
Despite the fact that Barnes works for Del. Walter E Fauntroy, perhaps the city's best known Baptist minister, he hasn't been able to attract much support from the clergy.
Fauntroy's involvement -- or lack of it in Barnes' campaign highlight a touchy issue: Barnes has worked hard to deflect the charge by Crawford supporters that he s a "carpetbagger" runing at the behest of a string of elected officials -- including many current Council members -- who support him.
Barnes' campaign workers say privately that they fear any overt involvement by Fauntroy, even among the ministers, would make Barnes more vulnerable to that charge.
"I have deliberately not played a high-profile role in the campaign.' Fauntroy said in an interview. He said he considered calling a meeting of Baptist ministers to lobby them on Barnes' behalf, but decided against it.
"Convening a meeting would be highly visible and could open Johnnny to that carpetbagger charge," Fauntroy said.
Barnes plays down the importance of endorsements by ministers. "For some members of some churches, the minister's endorsement may be the final word but I don't think the majority rely that heavily on what the minister says," said Barnes.
There was some evidence at Taberncale Baptist Church yesterday to support Barnes' view. Crawford addressed the congregation several weeks ago at the invitation of the pastor, the Rev. William B. Stroman. While Stroman has made no official announcement, he told a reporter he is "leaning toward Crawford" in the race.
But several parishioners interviewed after hearing Banres' presentation yesterday said they preferred Barnes. "He has a quality of sincerity," said James Jordan, 40, a federal security guard who lives near the church. "I can't put my finger on i. There's just something about Crawford that does't ring true."