D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy, perhaps local Washington's most durable political figure, is running harder for reelection than he has in years. To date, he has raised more than $50,000 to campaign in a Democratic primary race in which he is technically unopposed.
Fauntroy says this year's enthusiastic politicking is due to the fact that in recent seasons he has had to spend more time stumping for other people than for himself.
In 1980 it was Sen. Edward Kennedy and his quest for the presidency. In 1978 it was Sterling Tucker's campaign for mayor. In 1976 it was Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign.
"So this year, I thought, when we don't have as much of a national focus and when I have resolved not to get as involved in the local races, I want to . . . return to the people for a mandate of the role of delegate," Fauntroy said recently. "No politician should get so smug that he doesn't stay in touch . . . "
Fauntroy, 49, stays in touch on Sundays at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Shaw, where he is pastor. He stays in touch at Labor Day picnics in Anacostia. Last Friday, he stayed in touch with a Gospel Fellowship Supper and fundraiser at the First Congregational Church downtown.
Although no name will appear in opposition to Fauntroy's on Tuesday's Democratic primary ballot, he does have a challenger: Marie Dias Bembery, a 38-year-old former special assistant to Mayor Marion Barry.
The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled this summer that Bembery's name could not appear on the ballot because she did not file her candidates' petitions by the deadline, and so she is running an aggressive write-in campaign.
"The 'Grand Daddy' of D.C. politics can be beaten," Bembery said recently. "I believe the District of Columbia is ready for a change for the better."
Fauntroy's intensive recent focus on local matters, on staying in touch, hits on a theme that Bembery has accented in her campaign: That Fauntroy, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and chairman of the House Banking Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy, spends too much time and effort on national concerns -- and not enough on Washington's concerns.
It is a criticism that rankles Fauntroy. There is method, he says, in moves like his decision to give up chairmanship of the House District Committee, where he had a direct hand in District of Columbia affairs, to head the monetary policy subcommittee.
Fauntroy, now in his 11th year in Congress, does not have a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. But, as he and his aides are quick to point out, the D.C. delegate can vote in committee and accrue seniority. It is through these tools, he and aides believe, that he can be effective.
"I've been moving into areas in which District residents are not accustomed to having a voice," Fauntroy says.
"It took me some time to make it clear that nobody comes to the District Committee for anything for their constituents. Because there's nothing that the District of Columbia does for people in Omaha. But they do come to the banking committee for things of interest and concern to their citizens . . . and that gives me a chance to raise my interests," and have leverage with which to deal.
He is also proud of the alternative federal budget that the Congressional Black Caucus drew up -- the first real alternative to Reagonomics, his aides call it, in complaining that the document did not receive the press coverage it deserved.
"I fashioned the budget that's been debated by Congress for two straight years," Fauntroy says.
People wonder, he says, why he's always traveling. Through traveling, he says, he contacts constituencies and politicians who then owe him favors -- favors he says he can cash in for the benefit of people of Washington.
"My strength has been the networking I have done for 22 years now," beginning in the civil rights struggles of the early 1960s.
There have been some setbacks, too, during those years, most notably during Fauntroy's Mideast travels in 1979 when he hugged PLO leader Yasser Arafat and, to the astonished outrage of some constituents, followed up that joining Arafat in a chorus of "We Shall Overcome".
Fauntroy has raised $52,000 for his campaign, and carries on his campaign finance reports some $6,700 in unpaid bills dating back as long as 10 years.
In addition, the Black Caucus failed to file the quarterly financial statement required of it by law last July, one of only two of some 70 legislative service organizations to miss the deadline.
Fauntroy says he's not sure how all this happened -- it was news to him, he said. "I'll have to check on that," he said in an interview, but he added, "I don't think it's any reflection on me."
Fauntroy, if he wins the Democratic primary Tuesday, will face Republican challenger John West in the November general election.