While the announced, the soon-to-be announced and the possible candidates for this year's mayoral and City Council races are developing campaign strategies, tenant activists who announced their election agenda six months ago have remained silent.
Last November when the taste of a narrow rent-control referendum victory was still fresh on their lips, tenant activists pledged to target for defeat City Council members Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5) and Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6). Each, according to the activists, had been insufficiently sympathetic to the housing needs of tenants.
But now that the September Democratic primary is less than four months away, the tenant activists have yet to reach the starting line for this year's election race. Why the snail's pace?
The chief group, the Tenant Organization Political Action Committee (TOPAC), has encountered organizational difficulties. Although the group had promised to rally tenant associations citywide, only about eight groups -- five of them in Ward 3, have joined TOPAC.
"Things are moving but we haven't finalized anything yet," said TOPAC President Idus Holmes. "TOPAC is alive and well, and we will be involved on a nonpartisan basis. We know who our friends are and we know who our enemies are."
Another tenant group, the Committee to Save Rental Housing, also is finalizing plans, according to Jim Henderson, one of the group's leaders. Henderson said the committee is "exploring" the idea of having candidates challenge the incumbents and has encouraged "some individuals to run." He wouldn't say who those individuals are or if they are heeding the encouragement.
Some tenant activists say it is too early for them to reveal their strategy, especially when some of the incumbents have not formally announced reelection bids. Other activists say privately that their colleagues are reluctant to acknowledge the real problem -- the difficulty of finding challengers to the incumbents.
"I'm very depressed about it," said one tenant activist who asked not to be identified. " . . . People coming up through the ranks are not as inspiring. Some who really have the background and dedication and interest in the issues for some reason are reluctant."
Back in November, when the tenants were targeting council members, Theodis R. (Ted) Gay, the former chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, was saying that he was "very seriously considering" challenging Winter. Gay said earlier this week he would not run. Despite four declared mayoral candidates, Mayor Marion Barry, who began his campaign fund-raising in March, was not sufficiently moved to announce his candidacy until last week.
Democratic State Committee Chairman James M. Christian Sr. says the lack of would-be candidates is tied to several factors, the most important being a perception that "things are not that bad."
"I don't see great crusade issues to rally folks around to challenge the incumbents," said Christian. "Generally I think people are lulled into a sense that things are just not that bad. I think the incumbents are benefiting from the fact that there is not high dissatisfaction."
At the same time, Christian asserts that financial considerations play a role in who decides to run for City Council and mayor. He maintains that private sector salaries here remain much more attractive than the mayor's $81,380 annual salary or the $57,475 salary for the City Council chairman and the $47,475 salary for other council members.
But there have always been private sector employes who earn more than elected officials. The Ward 3 City Council race has attracted four candidates who are seeking to replace retiring City Council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3). They are evidence that the incumbents are not the only ones attracted to the council.