The apparent lack of old-fashioned, cutting issues in this year's mayoral primary was misleading. While the race sometimes seemed like a campaign waiting for an issue, beneath the standard political maneuvering news conferences there were ideas that deserve attention regardless of the outcome of the elections.
The absence of major issues is becoming something of a tradition in District politics. The political spectrum is a narrow one, bound by a black, Democratic liberal tradition of civil rights activity. Local politics has never had an issue akin to busing in Boston and Louisville, nor one like Vietnam, which dominated the 1968 presidential campaign.
The end of the hoopla -- at least for the moment -- has its advantages. It clears the air for discussion of several interesting ideas that were sidelined in the heat of political battle. Most deal with problems that will be around long after inauguration day.
Mayor Marion Barry made fewer proposals than his challengers. He ran on his record, his old proposals, so to speak, as incumbents often do. And to the degree that voters supported him, they said those proposals were worthwhile.
Barry did suggest that he would use $50 million to $100 million from the sale of city-owned urban renewal land to begin a development bank offering low-interest loans for housing construction. And he suggested a ban on school-aged students in video game arcades during school hours.
But most of the proposals came from the challengers. Candidates John Ray and Patricia Harris issued the most position statements.
Harris suggested that the city's retirement board use its $285 million to lend money at low-interest rates to home buyers, which would help middle-income families.
She also proposed that children in city public schools start at age 3 instead of age 5. The idea, an outgrowth of the old federally funded Head Start program, was to bring children from underprivileged backgrounds into schools earlier, reducing disadvantages associated with an impoverished environment.
John Ray proposed improving the schools by having the city establish a formula for determining the size of the school budget.
All the candidates suggested that the school system do more to train students for jobs in fields that have positions available, such as nursing, engineering, computer programing and paramedic work.
On unemployment, Harris suggested having the city pay for transportation to carry District residents to jobs in the suburbs. She also suggested that the city put more money into a year-round jobs program for youth instead of focusing on a sudden buildup of summer jobs, which often results in bureaucratic problems.
In one of the most interesting ideas of the campaign, Ray suggested that the city could bring jobs and tax dollars back from the suburbs by building an underground parking garage downtown -- at 14th and E streets -- and two river-front shopping centers, one at the Southwest waterfront and the other in far Northeast on the Anacostia River.
To bring down crime, Ray offered a major proposal: mandatory sentencing. In a crime policy paper he suggested that the city should open more drug treatment centers because its current centers are only out-patient facilities that he said do not help addicts get off drugs but instead provide methadone to keep them from getting sick until they can get more heroin. Candidate Charlene Drew Jarvis also stressed the need for improved drug abuse programs as a cure for crime.
The key issue in the race for many of the candidates was who could best provide competent leadership.
Ray said he would reorganize the government to abolish the city administrator's office. Ray also said he would begin additional training programs for city workers because the bureaucracy needs more able middle managers.
Jarvis said she would establish a separate health department to deal with the high rate of tuberculosis in the city and with infant mortality. She suggested eliminating the Department of Housing and Community Development and starting a department for zoning and building permits and a separate economic development department.
Campaigns are not devoid of ideas. Oftentimes, the ideas just aren't discussed.