When D.C. Council member John A. Wilson announced last week that he was quitting the race for the Democratic nomination for mayor, he pointed to his voting record as the major villain.
He acknowledged the difficulty of raising sufficient money in a field that included six well-known candidates. But, he noted pointedly, "The fact that I have the strongest legislative record of any of those running for mayor has proven to be a hindrance rather than a help."
Specifically, Wilson went on to say, he couldn't get enough money to keep his campaign going because of his stand in support of rent control and his work on the rewriting of the condominium conversion act to help tenants buy their buildings.
But a recent analysis of the voting records of council members on key pieces of legislation tells a different story.
On votes considered crucial by the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the group that represents most of the businessmen who make big contributions to political campaigns, Wilson sided with the board 79 percent of the time.
The only person who voted with the Board more often was Council Chairman Arrington Dixon, whose votes agreed with the board 87 percent of the time. The analysis was done by the Board of Trade.
In a similar analysis of council voting records by the Committee on Political Education (COPE) of the Greater Washington Central Labor Council, organized labor's counterpart to the Board of Trade, Wilson voted against them about 55 percent of the time.
So why didn't Wilson get the big bucks from big business?
"I'll tell you why," Wilson said. "Why is because Arrington has got a better voting record and the mayor got a better record because he signed everything they put before him. The labor folks want you to go all the way with them. If you oppose anything they want then they say they've got problems with you. Business can be the same way."
Candidates look to business groups, like the Board of Trade, for campaign contributions. They look to labor primarily for campaign workers. They look to ministers for kind words to their congregations. And in courting all these groups, voting records--and the way those records are perceived and presented--can be crucial.
Steve Harlan, president of the Board of Trade, said the board does take voting records into account, but he noted the board's political action committee has yet to endorse anyone for mayor. Voting records, he said, reveal where politicos stand on issues. But how do they judge the mayor, who, unlike council members, does not have a voting record?
"With the mayor you look at what he's done for or against you," Harlan explained. "It's not the voting record, but we've had some concerns and once we sit down and look at what he's done to help us we'll have an idea of what his record is like."
Dixon minimizes the importance of how voting records are perceived by those who, according to conventional political wisdom, can bring campaign support with them. As an example he tells the story of his 1978 race for chairman against Douglas Moore.
Moore attacked Dixon for a record of support for "the four Gs--Gays, Gambling, Grass and Gun control." By and large, preachers in the city were against the four Gs, and let it be known that they favored defeat for politicans who supported them.
Many of the city's ministers announced their support for Moore. But, as Dixon points out, it was he and not Moore who drew most of the vote from Wards 4, 5 and 7, the parts of the city where the influence of the church is considered strongest. "While an organization may say they don't like your voting record, the membership may not go along with the leadership," Dixon said.
When it's to their advantage, politicians say it's good politics to make the voting record known. For instance, Betty Ann Kane (D-At-large) says she regularly mentions to voters that she was the one council member to vote against giving "appreciation bonuses" to non-union city employes, essentially department heads, at the end of last year.
"I want people to know," says Kane, "that I was not in favor of letting $1,000 of their money be used to give an appreciation bonus to the head of the water department or for a bonus for the person who ran the last election that was a mess."
At the same time, Kane, who is sometimes identified by her opponents in the mayor's race as a political friend of Realtors and big business, has to be careful in presenting her record on rent control. She voted for rent control on final reading of the bill, a vote tenants might approve of. But she also voted to increase the amount that rents could be raised annually, a vote landlords might like and tenants might not.
"It's important that people know how you vote," she said. "Usually people talk about single-interest groups using a voting record in a negative way to decide who they'll support. But I think of it in the positive. The voting record makes you accountable. And most people are smart enough to look at the whole record before they go to make their vote."