General election season in the District of Columbia is when most non-Democrats either grind their teeth or develop a sense of humor.
Take Julie Servaites.
Until Sept. 14, Servaites was just one of 2,287 registered Republicans in Ward 6, which stretches south and east from Capitol Hill to parts of Anacostia. On primary day, she, her husband and two friends wrote in her name as the ward's GOP nominee for City Council.
It was a close fight for the nomination. But when the results were in, Servaites had prevailed over her nearest write-in opponent. The vote was 4 to 2, and Servaites became the Republican nominee to unseat Democrat Nadine P. Winter in the Nov. 2 general election.
"I wanted to get a Republican candidate on the ballot," said Servaites, "to give people an idea there's more than one party in this city."
Servaites says she has "zilcho money" for a campaign. An election strategy has yet to emerge. Until yesterday, the party chairman didn't even know she was in the race. Does she think she can win? "When it comes down to the bottom line, I don't know. But then, who knows?"
Democrats outnumber other voters in the city by an 8-to-1 margin, and that Democratic dominance has never been seriously challenged in council elections. Republicans, independents and D.C. Statehood Party members in the past have mounted serious, well-intentioned campaigns, but only one -- Albert A. Rosenfield's 1974 race against Polly Shackleton in Ward 3 -- ever came reasonably close to defeating a Democratic nominee. Shackleton finished with 55 percent of the vote, Rosenfield with 37 percent.
On the 13-member City Council, only two members are not Democrats -- Republican Jerry A. Moore and D.C. Statehood Party member Hilda Mason -- and they have benefited from a city law that prohibits any single party from occupying more than two of the four at-large council seats.
"Obviously our opponent is whoever is running against the Democratic nominee," said Democratic State Committee chairman Theodis R. Gay of his party's traditional prohibitive strength. "I don't see that as a problem, because Democrats will turn out to vote for the Democratic nominee."
Activity in the election, for Democrats, has centered around national themes and tangential local issues as much as around candidates. Republicans, meanwhile, say they have hopes of capturing ward-level council seats. And the D.C. Statehood Party is concentrating on lobbying for passage of the proposed statehood constitution and reelecting its lone council member.
Gay and other Democratic party officials say they are hoping that initiatives on a nuclear weapons freeze and the proposed constitution will induce voters to turn out in force on Nov. 2.
With some assistance from anti-GOP television advertisements being aired by the Democratic National Committee, the local party is aiming to make a statement about the Reagan administration and "render a strong voice of opposition against unemployment policies that are not working."
Democratic winners from the primary have formed a unity slate, letting the state committee take over some of the burdens of campaigning.
Republicans, meanwhile, are hoping to make up to 18,000 phone calls and mail 50,000 pieces of campaign literature to party members and independents on behalf of candidates for mayor, congressional delegate and three council seats. They also are attempting to stir up opposition to the proposed state constitution.
Bob Carter, Republican State Committee chairman, said, "I think we have a reasonable chance at two or three City Council seats. To pick up two of those, well, it would be 200 percent more representation on the council than we have now."
David A. Clarke, who came from behind in the primary to beat incumbent Arrington Dixon for the Democratic nomination for council chairman, has no Republican opponent. He does face Gregory A. Rowe, who won the Statehood Party nomination with a single write-in vote.
In the at-large council race, the Republicans nominated no candidate to challenge incumbent Democrat Betty Ann Kane and incumbent Mason of the Statehood Party.
Carter said Republicans are pinning much of their optimism on the council race in Ward 5, spanning most of Northeast Washington, where incumbent William R. Spaulding polled only 33 percent of the Democratic vote in the Sept. 14 primary but still managed to turn back four other candidates.
"He just has a record of eking out of every election he's been involved in," said Carter. "Plus, one of the big issues in the city is all the foul-ups at the election board."
Spaulding chairs the council's Committee on Government Operations, which has oversight over elections. He is being challenged by Republican W. Ronald Evans, a realtor and businessman, and by independent Virgil Thompson and Statehood Party candidate Martin L. Chivis. Chivis won his party's nomination with one write-in vote.
Evans, 44, has mounted a full-fledged campaign, sending out a regular stream of press releases that criticize Spaulding on a variety of issues, among them rising property taxes and the slow pace of economic development in the ward.
Both Evans, who has lived in the ward about 20 years, and Thompson, an unemployed Vietnam veteran, contend that Spaulding has failed to solve elections board problems. "The main problem," said Evans, "is not what he's doing. It's what he's not doing."
Spaulding counters by asking of his two opponents, "What have they ever done?" He also attacks Evans for being "in the party that means unemployment and Ronald Reagan."
In inner-city Ward 1, Democratic school board member Frank Smith won a tough primary battle against housing activist Marie Nahikian. He is being challenged by GOP candidate Charles Fisher, a former elections board chairman who is also campaign manager for Republican mayoral candidate E. Brooke Lee Jr.
"I bought a brand-new pair of Nikes," Fisher said, "and I'm running hard."
Ward 1 Republicans say they see the absence from the race of David Clarke, the ward's long-time representative on the council, as creating an opening for a non-Democratic contender. "It's a whole new ball game," said Elaine Dym, Fisher's campaign coordinator and secretary of the state committee.
Fisher accuses Smith of failing to "fulfill his obligations" to the board by running for council before his four-year school board term, begun 2 1/2 years ago, expires.
"I've proven my ability to deliver," said Smith. "I know this ward as well as I know my own family."
Fisher and Smith both complain about vacant houses and litter in the ward, and advocate tax incentives to attract business to the deteriorating commercial corridors along Georgia Avenue and 14th and U streets NW.
Maurice Jackson, an independent who heads the Communist Party in the District and Virginia, accuses Smith, who is endorsed by the Greater Washington Board of Trade, of fronting for business interests. Jackson proposes cutting Metro fares in half to boost ridership.
Ester McCain, a computer operator and independent who advocates turning vacant public facilities into vocational education centers, says: "None of my opponents has done anything."
Ward 3 Democratic incumbent Polly Shackleton, 72, survived her toughest primary challenge this year since first being elected to the council in 1974. She has cut back on campaigning in the race against Republican Lois DeVecchio.
DeVecchio, 62, is making her first bid for elected office here. She ranks crime as the No. 1 problem in the mostly affluent ward, which lies west of Rock Creek Park. "I don't put the blame on Polly, but we feel she should ask for stronger protection.
"I don't like to talk about Polly. I like Polly," DeVecchio said. "In her life she has done what she thought was right. Now, it's whatever the mayor wants is fine with her."
Shackleton campaign coordinator Jeffrey Slavin said the organization is planning a mass mailing to voters in the ward, where Republicans and independents make up half the electorate.
In Ward 6, Winter is widely considered a council member who works hard on constituent services. Still, opponents and some supporters alike contend that she has spent too much attention on some parts of the ward and not enough on others.
"We only see Mrs. Winter around election time," said independent candidate Charlotte Holmes, former chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6A and a delegate to the D.C. Statehood Constitutional Convention. "We do not get informed about what's happening."
Winter, who captured 60 percent of the primary vote against school board member John E. Warren, brushed the criticisms aside.
"The Capitol Hill people say the same thing, that I neglect them. I guess it's like a family where you have children and they're all looking for their momma's attention. People don't understand that I don't pick up trash. They don't understand that I don't take the boards off of houses."
Winter said she is concentrating most of her campaign efforts on mending fences with voters in Anacostia, where she suffered her only precinct losses.
Statehood Party candidate Walter M. Lee advocates forming a job pool for the ward's unemployed.
Servaites, meanwhile, says she is expecting no help for the GOP state committee.
Once an active party worker, she said: "I haven't talked with them at all about the race. I haven't had much to do with them since I voted for John Anderson instead of Ronald Reagan" in the 1980 presidential primary.
"They basically told me: 'Don't call us, we'll call you.' "