As we enter the final days of the 1984 campaign in the District, it becomes increasingly apparent that voters need a guide to figure out what is probably one of the more confusing political seasons in memory.
The confusion largely arises from the quirks in a political system that has developed an identity of its own. It is an identity that belies more traditional divisions of party and race, but still -- 10 years into home rule -- reflects the overshadowing presence of Congress and the White House.
Only in the District do you find Democrats openly organizing to help reelect a Republican council member, and a liberal Democratic mayor declaring that his city has fared much better under a conservative Republican administration than its Democratic predecessor.
Perhaps the most important lesson of all is this: Political affiliation counts for little this year.
Take, for example, the race for the at-large City Council seat reserved for non-Democrats, that currently is held by Republican Jerry A. Moore Jr. Moore lost to Carol Schwartz, a former school board member, in the Republican primary race.
Around that time, Norman Neverson, the Ward 4 Democratic party chairman, resigned his post and registered as an independent so that he could mount a challenge to the Republican nominee in the general election.
When Neverson was forced out of the race one day after he formally entered it -- following publication of some embarrassing revelations about his efforts to win a worker's compensation claim -- Republican Moore launched his own independent write-in campaign to try to retain his seat. Those who rallied to Moore's side were not other Republicans but Democrats on the City Council and supporters of Democratic Mayor Marion Barry.
Now Schwartz, in trying to fend off Moore's Democratic-inspired challenge, is playing down the fact that she's a Republican, in hopes of persuading Democrats to cross over and support her in the general election. Schwartz's biggest booster is council member Betty Ann Kane, a Democrat. But if elected, Schwartz promises to bring a strong Republican voice to the Democratic-controlled City Council.
Another lesson: When it comes to the presidential campaign, D.C. politicians like to cover all the bases.
City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), fearful of riling her middle-class black constituents by not backing Jesse L. Jackson's presidential campaign but anxious to curry favor with Walter F. Mondale's camp, did the sensible thing. She supported both Jackson and Mondale in the Democratic primary.
Jarvis raised funds for Jackson's campaign, explaining that it was important for all blacks to unite behind Jackson's historic "rainbow" bid for the presidency. Then, Jarvis announced she was heading Mondale's campaign in the District.
Mayor Barry, on the other hand, played it straight. He backed Jackson throughout the primary season, waiting until after the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco to fall in line behind Mondale, the party's nominee.
Since then, however, the mayor has spent considerable time singing the praises not of Mondale but of the Reagan administration.
Barry recently made the startling pronouncement that the District has fared much better under Reagan, in terms of increased federal payments and other benefits, than it did under the Carter-Mondale administration. The mayor's guest of honor last week at a reception marking D.C. victories on Capitol Hill was White House counselor Edwin Meese III, a top adviser to Reagan. Then this week, Barry told a reporter that while he thought Mondale did very well in Sunday night's presidential debate, the public probably perceived Reagan as the victor.
"When these debates happen, in the minds of the public it's like a heavyweight championship fight," Barry said. "The benefit of the doubt goes with the champion. And people view Mondale as the challenger and Reagan as a champion."
Finally, it can be said: Big time campaign financing is now a fact of life in local District races.
The tip-off came in 1982, when Barry raised more than $1 million in his reelection campaign. But this year, City Council members for the first time started raking in funds in a big way, including John Ray (D-At Large), who had no opposition to speak of, and John Wilson (D-Ward 2), who had no opposition at all.
Republican council member Moore, a 15-year council veteran, topped the field, however, raising a record $175,000 for his unsuccessful primary campaign. That amounted to about $75 for each of his 2,446 primary votes. Challenger Schwartz raised and spent only $55,000 in bumping off the incumbent.