When Ward 7 City Council candidate Emily Y. Washington tells audiences that she is "unbought and unbossed," she doing more than just tossing off a campaign slogan. She's speaking in code about here two better-financed opponents.
The "unbought" is aimed at realtor H.R. Crawford. The "unbossed" points to legislative aide Johnny Barnes. Both references are among a series of silent issues that have been a constant undercurrent in the hard-fought Democratic primary campaign.
For Crawford, the major unspoken issues is his history of business dealings and other actions whose porpriety at times has been challenged publicly.
For Barnes, the silent factor is the whispered charge that he is a "carpet-bagger," based on his status as a relative newcomer to the ward and his close association with powerful politicians from other parts of the city -- like his employer, D.C.Del. Walter E. Fauntroy.
In the course of their travels from fund-raiser to forum to candidate's night throughout the ward, which lies east of the Anacostia River, Barnes Crawford and their supporters have also learned to speak and write in code.
During a forum at Peace Lutheran Church in far Northeast, for example, aides to Barnes pass out literature proclaiming their candidate's "honesty" and "integrity." Crawford cites his "25 years as a resident of Ward 7," and points out a window and tells the audience that he went to school "right over there."
At a subsequent forum at St. Francis Xavier Church in Southeast, Barnes partisans in the crowd question Crawford sharply about circumstances surrounding his firing in 1976 from a job as assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Crawford supporters in turn ask Barnes about the endorsements he has received from Fauntroy, City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon and other District elected officials from outside Ward 7.
Both candidates try to deflate the silent issues. At times, both have had to take them head-on.
Crawford was fired from the Hud job by then President Gerald R. Ford after officials said they had discovered he was negotating with several municipal housing authorities around the country for employment after he left government. Meanwhile, the housing authorities had to go through Crawford for public housing funds. The government eventually dropped a conflict-of-interest investigation of Crawford's actions.
"There was nothing -- nothing -- that I ever did (at HUD) that I wouldn't do again," Crawford answered a questioner at one forum. "I would never have thrown my hat into the ring if I thought I had done anything I could not defend later."
Crawford, who once bought a number of boarded-up houses in the city and resold them for a $150,000 profit without making any improvements, has refused to divulge his financial worth or current real estate holdings. "There's nothing wrong with making money," he says, maintaining that he would face no conflict of interest in voting on housing legislation.
Barnes, in handling the "carpetbagger" charge, has also developed a standard response. "I think you should examine the quality of my service to the ward," he tells questioners who ask about his three years' residency in the ward.
Prior to moving to Southeast, Barnes lived for a short while in Ward 5, and he acknowledges "there was some talk" about his running for the council from that ward. He says, however, that he moved to Ward 7 not to enter the current race, but because his wife didn't like their house in Ward 5.
Barnes admits that the "carpetbagger" charge has hurt somewhat, but he says he is convinced that "the election will not turn on it." Crawford does not acknowledge that his integrity is an issue, though some voters interviewed have said they doubt his sincerity.
Other silent issues have cropped up as well, among them the recent endorsement of Barnes by The Washington Post. Workers in both camps say the endorsement will help Barnes with the young professionals who are moving into the southern reaches of the ward. But The Post, as an influential white-owned institution, is held in suspicion by many blacks, and some observers said it might hurt Barnes.
"I think people really feel there is a (white) consipiracy to control and influence the city," said longtime Ward 7 resident and political activist Herbert Barksdale, who favors Crawford.
Crawford partisans at some forums have questioned Barnes about his family life. He has been divorced, and his current wife is Asian. Crawford mentions to audiences that his wife Elenora is a "native Washingtonian." Barnes calls the raising of this issue on "act of desperation."
Crawford, on the other hand, is often quizzed by Barnes supporters about his reputation for being a "guntoting landlord" as manager of various public housing projects around the city. Crawford defends his record as a tough manager, and says residents of public housing need a thing called discipline."