Political resumes are being rewritten in Ward 4 as the area's best-known politicians -- incumbent City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis and District school board member Barbara Lett Simmons -- compete for the same job.
Both candidates want to become the Democratic nominee for Ward 4 -- an affluent area in Northwest Washington east of Rock Creek Park -- in the Sept. 11 City Council party primary. Each of them is counting on her record to deliver enough votes for victory, and each is reinterpreting the other's record.
Jarvis, who has represented the ward on the council since 1979, has written her own version of Simmons' school board record.
"My opponent has done nothing to earn the support of voters in Ward 4," Jarvis wrote in response to Simmons' candidacy. "Having done nothing for years as a member of the school board, except create disorder, my opponent seeks to bring her divisiveness, intimidation, fractiousness and ineffectiveness to the City Council. She will once again be rejected by the voters."
Simmons, drafted to run by a group of Ward 4 voters, maintains that the council needs her leadership skills. Her view of Jarvis' accomplishments in Ward 4 differs from the one depicted in Jarvis' account.
"We are going to bring to a screeching halt the deterioration in Ward 4," said Simmons. "We're going to increase security and protection, get rid of drug trafficking and increase city services. I understand the mission of government. It ought to be clear that people are about service. She Jarvis thinks it is about herself and her friends. I don't address things, I advocate."
When the candidates meet at forums to debate the issues, supporters arrive early for the best seats, bring hand-held campaign signs and chant the candidates' names. Both candidates receive loud applause when they argue that the other is out of step with the ward's voters.
Some residents say Jarvis responds too slowly to constituent complaints, caters to the interests of big businesses and allows her political ambitions to hamper her effectiveness in the ward. She ran for mayor two years after being elected to her first four-year term and supported Walter F. Mondale when the ward and the city went for Jesse L. Jackson in the May 1 primary.
"She is too eager to represent the gold coast, the uppercrust of Ward 4," said Richard Clark, a Ward 4 member of the Democratic State Committee and a supporter of Simmons. "A lot of people say that Simmons turns them off because she can be loud and boisterous, but she is a hard worker. The last time, we gave Charlene a chance to see what she could do. This time will be her test and I don't think she can survive it."
Jarvis, who heads the council's housing and economic development committee, maintains that she has always responded to the community. She says she has taken the lead in revitalizing Georgia Avenue, is working on establishing a comprehensive senior citizens program in the ward, helped to resolve a major dispute over unemployment compensation funds and has answered more than 1,500 constituent calls this year.
She said those who seek to get Simmons elected are a small group of "discontents," some of whom have their own "hidden political agendas."
Betsy Tibbs, a Ward 4 resident who runs a community center at Fifth and Kennedy streets NW -- viewed as the center of a drug-plagued section in the ward -- said Jarvis has responded quickly and often to the ward's needs.
"I've worked with her for the past five years and she has given me all the help I could hope to have," said Tibbs. "We have a large number of senior citizens in this ward and believe me, Jarvis has been working hand and foot for them."
William H. Rumsey, the former head of the city's department of recreation and a Ward 4 resident, said residents often expect the council member to provide services that the city cannot afford.
"She has been responsive to the ward," Rumsey said. "Regardless of what you've done, you're going to have part of the consituents who will say that it could and should have been done better."
But Jarvis acknowledges that the major complaints she hears from voters center on basic city services -- bulk trash removal, abandoned cars and tree trimming. She said the problem sometimes stems from a failure of city agencies to communicate their efforts, and that she plans to see that some type of follow-up system is put in place.
Simmons said she bristles each time a resident tells her that Jarvis failed to respond to a complaint about trash or an abandoned car. "Why doesn't she educate the community to know how to get services instead of putting out a newsletter giving every compliment anyone has ever given her?" Simmons said.
Such pronouncements have contributed to Simmons' image as a politician who is often vociferous and too seldom cooperative with her school board colleagues. Simmons maintains that she is consistent in her stands on the issues and not afraid of controversy.
Although she has been elected to the school board three times, Simmons says that she has never carried Ward 4 in any of her races for political office, including the 1982 race when she lost the at-large council race to City Council member Betty Ann Kane. She says, however, that she will win this time because she was drafted to run.
She has also campaigned as a "rainbow coalition" candidate and was praised at a concert in her honor last week by Jesse L. Jackson, who appeared at her request. On the one hand, Simmons says that she does not need to link herself with Jackson to win and on the other she consistently mentions the coalition and Jarvis' position when she talks to voters.
"The ward voted for the rainbow coalition because they knew this community needed that hope and that symbol and they had no problem embracing the will of the majority of the people." Simmons said. "She Jarvis wouldn't even vote for Jackson on the first ballot at the convention . I can't help but wonder how much that shows her identification with the ward."
Jarvis has said that Simmons is "trying to ride on Jackson's coattail and it won't work."
Stanley A. Boucree, an at-large member of the Democratic State Committee and a strong Simmons supporter, described Simmons as a "non-humble" leader and the type needed by Ward 4. He said under Jarvis' leadership there is no major plan to combat drugs in the ward and that Jarvis and other council members have not taken strong stands to eliminate problems created by the rent control law and high taxes.
"I do not believe our council people should be in a popularity contest," said Boucree. "I am interested in my council person to be fair and objective."
Businessman Samuel Jagers, president of the Upper Georgia Avenue Business and Professional Association and a Simmons supporter, said voters must have a choice in this election because Jarvis has become comfortable to the point that she fails to have a sufficient number of public hearings or to attend meetings with ward residents.