It's the campaign season in Takoma Park, but the talk among candidates isn't about the city's taxes or budget.
Instead, largely because of a City Council agenda that in the past two years has included such issues as the nation's immigration policy and the apartheid system of racial discrimination in South Africa, it's about political sanctuary and nuclear arms production.
And it's about Mayor Sammie Abbott.
On Nov. 5, voters in the 2.2-square-mile suburban city that straddles the Montgomery-Prince George's border will select a mayor and seven City Council members from a field of 13 candidates, including five incumbents.
Also, voters will be asked in a nonbinding, two-part referendum whether the city of 16,000 residents -- the majority of whom live in the Montgomery side -- should be unified as a city that is incorporated in only one county.
Prince George's voters will be asked if that county should be Montgomery and Montgomery voters will be asked if it should be Prince George's.
Abbott, a frequent crusader for controversial causes, is seeking a fourth consecutive term. As in previous elections, his governing style has come under attack by his opponent. This time his rival is Steve Del Giudice, 34, who has promised cooperation rather than "confrontation."
"The mayor's public, antagonistic approach has cost us in a number of ways," said Del Giudice, a George Washington University law professor. "It has hurt in the unification effort, for example, and it has too often divided the community and turned people away from the public process."
Abbott, 77, a retired graphics artist, denies that his actions have polarized the community. He and his supporters, who include more than half of those running for the seven City Council seats, maintain that while his approach at times may be abrasive, he gets results.
Council member Lynne E. Bradley said at a recent city nominating convention, "We know he's no angel. He can be obnoxious. He can be curt, have a temper . . . but Sam is effective."
Del Giudice has centered his campaign on local issues, including charges that the traffic problem along Maple Avenue has not been addressed adequately. He said the City Council's forays into national and international affairs have "taken too much of our time and energy and diverted it away from some real concerns."
The mayor adamantly denies that local issues have been ignored.
"Of the 240 hours spent in council business last year -- which is six full weeks -- less than three or four days were spent on these issues of international concern," Abbott maintained.
Abbott said that during his tenure he has helped initiate the nearly completed revitalization of the city's downtown, brought "new professionalism" to the city police department and encouraged citizen involvement on city boards and commissions.
He is leading the effort to adopt proposed legislation that would make Takoma Park a sanctuary city for political refugees from Central America. Under the proposal, city police would be prohibited from cooperating with federal actions against undocumented persons.
The ordinance, which will be considered after the new City Council is installed, was one of the most talked-about topics among nearly 70 residents and candidates last week at a "Peace Issues Forum."
While both mayoral candidates support the sanctuary proposal, they differ on a controversial amendment that was adopted this year to the city's nuclear-free-zone law.
Del Giudice favors the amendment, which he helped to introduce while on a citizens committee. It lets the city do business with companies associated with nuclear weapons production if none other can be found to provide a particular product or service. Supporters of the amendment say the city might not be able to buy needed supplies without it, because many companies the city previously did business with are in some way involved in the nuclear weapons industry.
Abbott opposes the amendment, saying it is unneeded and weakened the ordinance. He said the crisis that prompted the amendment -- the police department's inability to buy a new radio system -- was resolved within the ordinance's original guidelines. Abbott pledges to work to remove the waiver amendment if reelected. Del Giudice said he would work to nominate a citizens panel to ensure enforcement of the nuclear-free-zone law.