Four years ago, Ward 7 City Council candidate H.R. Crawford found it necessary to assemble a 39-car motorcade on the weekend before the Democratic primary as he struggled for votes against a heavily endorsed opponent.
That election, in which Crawford defeated his closest rival by only 164 votes, is a far cry from the final days of his current campaign, observers say. The two opponents he will square off against in the Tuesday primary have never before run for office. Crawford has raised nine times the amount in campaign funds (about $50,000) as the challengers combined.
Crawford also has most of the key endorsements, ranging from City Council Chairman David A. Clarke to the Washington Teachers Union.
"We are not going to do all that this time," a confident Crawford said in dismissing the need to close out his campaign with the amount of effort he put into the 1980 election. "We don't need all of that."
His opposition comes from 45-year-old sports promoter Harold Bell and Johnnie Mae Scott Rice, 43, a former executive secretary of the D.C. Commission on Human Rights. Both charge that Crawford has been inaccessible to constituents and ineffective in dealing with the ward's problems.
"Crawford has served only a selected few. Those who didn't support him in 1980 don't get newsletters and we are not kept informed," said Rice. "The issue is this: a nonresponsive council member."
Bell says that Crawford has not responded to the needs of the Ward 7 community and "has not represented this ward. Why is it that all of the economic development in this city is taking place across the river? Why can't some of it occur here?"
Crawford responds to these criticisms by labeling his opponents as idealistic candidates who will say anything to get a vote.
"There is a big difference in speaking as a candidate without the knowledge of what the job is about and in speaking from experience. I have the experience," Crawford said. "As a council member grows in seniority, his ranking for committee chairmanships increases. I would hope that the voters would consider that."
Those voters live in a ward that is wedged between the Anacostia River to the west and Prince George's County on the east. To the north, above Fort Dupont Park, lie the ward's poorest neighborhoods and public housing projects. More affluent and stable middle-class neighborhoods lie south of the park.
The biggest issues of the race include rampant drug trafficking, unemployment and housing needs in the ward.
Crawford's background is colorful and controversial. A reputedly wealthy man, Crawford was appointed assistant secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development by President Nixon.
He was fired in 1976 while the Justice Department investigated whether he had used his position improperly in lining up contracts -- an investigation that was dropped.
Crawford, a successful real estate manager and owner, has been known as a strict landlord who did not hesitate to kick out tenants if they failed to pay their rent. When Mayor Marion Barry announced that the city would be evicting the largest number of tenants in its history earlier this year, Crawford staunchly supported the move.
With his first term winding to a close, Crawford said, "I'm confident. I've asked the public to base this election on my record, what I have accomplished and what I have tried to accomplish."
Crawford said that his biggest accomplishment is the introduction and passage of a bill designed to establish a city fund that would help some homeowners make mortgage payments.
"We are finding many people who find themselves in serious trouble with a second mortgage. This bill will prevent that," Crawford said, but he added that he alone cannot solve the ward's drug problems and that a concerted effort by government agencies, law enforcement and families is necessary.
Clarke said of Crawford's first term, "He certainly has pursued his ward's interests with a great deal of vigor. I would hope that they voters would return him to the council."
Crawford is not the only Ward 7 candidate with a Nixon connection. Bell caddied for Nixon at the Burning Tree Country Club when Nixon was vice president. Being around such powerful politicians, Bell said, is what fueled his interest in politics.
Bell grew up in the Ward 7 housing project called Parkside and later served as a "Roving Leader" for the city Recreation Department. He has also worked to give college scholarships to teen-agers in the ward, and he once had his own local radio sports show, "Inside Sports."
Bell has consistently attacked Crawford as a slumlord, as a councilman who tries to ignore the ward's poorest residents and as an untrustworthy man who has been repeatedly investigated by agencies and departments.
Bell said that the crackdown on drug trafficking in other parts of the city has only shifted pushers into Ward 7.
"Our kids are using Love Boat PCP and going completely out of their minds. We are selling those kids out," said Bell. He said that one of his solutions is to demand regular foot patrols by police officers.
Bell said he is untroubled by the fact that he has no major endorsements. "I have the endorsements from the people in the street. That's what counts. I'm not a stranger to the people in this community," Bell said.
Johnnie Mae Scott Rice has served as an aide to former and current City Council members Hilda Mason, Sterling Tucker and Willie Hardy. She says she is running "because I'm qualified. I have been around D.C. government for 20 years in people-oriented jobs, working with the community."
Rice accuses Crawford of remembering the ward's problems only at election time. Rice said she, too, favors police foot patrols to combat the ward's drug problems. Rice has garnered the endorsement of some churches in the ward and said she believes that she has enough name recognition to win.
If elected, Rice said, she will try to bring more medical and recreation facilities to the ward and attempt to get the old Carver Elementary school, at 45th and Lee streets NE, turned into a cultural center.
Rice said she planned to end her last weekend of the campaign with a large motorcade "with a hearse as a symbol of burying Crawford's broken promises."