The turnout for the Saturday morning forum featuring the candidates for mayor of Washington was typically small, but the Rev. Henry Gregory assured the politicians gathered inside the Shiloh Baptist Church yesterday that they were not wasting their time.
"There may not be quantity, but there is quality of presence," Gregory said, pointing out the church ombudsman, the director of the board of trustees, the head of the Shiloh Brotherhood, the treasurer and the church's minister of education--all stern-looking, dark-suited elders who, like Gregory, would ultimately influence many votes from a church with over 5,000 members who make up one of the largest, most politically active groups in the city.
The candidates took the cue. Indeed, all of the major candidates showed up for this one, including Del. Walter Fauntroy, who heard himself criticized as the "singing delegate" by opponent Marie Bembery.
"I knew about Shiloh even before I moved here 33 years ago," said Patricia Roberts Harris, attempting to downplay criticism that she is unfamiliar with local politics. "I know the history of this church is significant not just because of what happens in the tabernacle but what it does in the community."
Betty Anne Kane reminded them that she, too, had worshiped at Shiloh many times and was aware of the work done by the church for handicapped children, especially the deaf.
Noticing that Harris had left the session before it ended, Kane fired a salvo:
"I'm sorry that she left because I wanted to know why, when there was a chance to locate a home for special children in her neighborhood, why she took an attitude of active opposition. I'm saying that as a parent of a child who has benefited from special education, I think these facilities should be spread out across the city, not concentrated in one or two neighborhoods."
Mayor Marion Barry preached a sermon at Shiloh a few weeks ago. Now, he embraced Kane--and the two other City Council members who are running for mayor, Charlene Drew Jarvis and John Ray--saying that even though they don't have his experience, they have more than some others who are running for mayor. He didn't mention Harris by name. "At least four of us," the mayor said sharply, "have worked hard at the local level."
Barry added that there were 8,000 jobs in the summer youth program when he took office and now there are 30,000. He tried to explain the bungling that characterized the early stages of the jobs programs by saying the increase was "too much for the bureaucracy to take."
He said over 6,000 houses have been renovated since he took office in 1979 and that over 3,000 people have been arrested in an effort to clean up Seventh Street NW. He challenged those in the audience to walk to the Seventh and T street area, which has recently been cleared of drug users.
"Being mayor of Washington is the toughest job in America," Barry said. "Candidates will attack me. If you ask them what their plans are, they attack Barry. Attacking me is a tactic, not a program. But if they are elected, they can't attack me anymore."
Harris led the attack, criticizing Barry as inefficient and incompetent. She accused him of selling District property "like the city was going out of business, rather than planning for the future." She directed her appeal primarily at the elderly in the audience who remembered the days of segregation.
"All of us in the community who have been here for the last three decades without the rewards of office, without a role in leadership had hopes for home rule and what we had to do to get it," Harris said. "Now we have to admit that these hopes have not been fulfilled and the grip on home rule is slipping away in disarray and confusion."
Jarvis and Ray followed suit, seizing on cutbacks in health care and noting concern about crime. Mayoral candidate Dennis Sobin, who embarrassed the audience by saying he had visited a prostitute at the D.C. jail, was politely applauded.
The forum was sponsored by the Shiloh Political Action Task Force, headed by Mary Ivey. Joe Beavers, the church ombudsman, said the church elders will meet regularly in the future to discuss the candidates and expect to have an endorsement recommendation for Gregory by July--"before everybody goes on vacation."
"It looks to me like it's down to the mayor and Harris," said Monteria Ivey, director of the Shiloh board of trustees, after the speeches had been delivered. "But we all have open minds."
"I'm a John Ray man myself," said Harold Schmoke, the church treasurer. "But there is still a lot of apathy out there, so who knows what will happen? I know a woman who boasts that she hasn't voted in 30 years and she isn't about to start now. I think it's something hereditary in the District of Columbia that we have to overcome."