From street corner to church hall to the steps of the District Building, candidates took the plunge in an improvised Super Saturday of local politics yesterday that saw five men and a woman formally announce their candidacies for D.C. City Council seats in separate events.
City Council Chairman David A. Clarke kicked off his campaign for a second term in a speech emphasizing the independence of the council under his leadership.
With the District Building as his backdrop and five council members at his side declaring their support, Clarke cited drug abuse, municipal corruption and housing as key issues in his campaign.
"We have a challenge to win big to show just how far the council has come," Clarke said, shouting to be heard over the traffic noises and a skip-rope contest held in Western Plaza across the street.
Council members William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5) and Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6) also announced their reelection bids. But Winter, who emphasized economic development in deteriorated commercial areas of her ward, and Spaulding, who touted his experience in the job, had to share the spotlight with challengers who picked the same day to enter the fray.
Bernard Gray Sr., an Anacostia lawyer who said he will take on Winter, launched his campaign without the trappings of incumbency around him.
Standing on a sidewalk at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road SE, Gray told a couple of dozen supporters that commercially depressed Anacostia has been ignored by Winter.
"We need representation for the entire ward -- something the present council member has not done," he said in an interview outside the boarded-up Good Hope Deli.
Harry Thomas, a longtime Ward 5 political activist, selected the air-cooled comfort of the Rhema Christian Center, 4915 Sargent Rd. NE, to announce his plan to grapple with Spaulding.
Thomas, who is expected to be joined in the race by Robert Artisst, another longtime ward activist who has previously challenged Spaulding, proposed the creation of a consumer body to monitor the health and insurance industry in an effort to reduce health care costs.
Finally, John L. Gibson, until recently a D.C. parole commissioner, announced his bid for the seat held by council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), who is running for reelection.
In a kickoff ceremony at St. Gabriel's Catholic Church, 510 Webster St. NW, Gibson criticized the city government's efforts to counter the "drug epidemic in this town."
"It is not enough to say that we don't grow poppy seeds at Sherman Circle or Rock Creek Park," he said, in an apparent reference to Mayor Marion Barry's frequent statements that drugs in the city originate outside the nation's borders.
"Regardless of where the drugs come from, they affect our city, and we must take a strong stand in this city to address that matter. To push the addict from one neighborhood to another does not address the problem," Gibson said.
Clarke's announcement speech also placed a heavy emphasis on the need to combat drugs. Asserting that the council has reformed the city's drug laws and added $5.8 million to the current budget for drug prevention and treatment, the chairman said, "I can think of no greater concern to our citizens today, particularly parents, than the drug epidemic which is ravaging the city."
On the government ethics issue, Clarke noted that "municipal corruption . . . has reared its ugly head in this city," but he stopped short of laying blame.
Clarke drew attention to his proposed Municipal Integrity Act, a bill that would establish a government agency to investigate corruption, and he declared that "the District is far cleaner than many of our nation's cities."
Clarke, who noted that the council has overridden mayoral vetoes on three occasions in the past four years, was considering a challenge of Barry this year but on April 20 announced he would not run for mayor.
In his speech yesterday, Clarke did not criticize Barry directly, even as he highlighted the council's purported independence from mayoral control.
Endorsing Clarke at the kickoff event were council members Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large), H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward 8) and Kane. The Rev. Douglas E. Moore, a former council member, has said he will challenge Clarke for the seat.
Winter, who announced her candidacy at an open-air marketplace at Benning Road and Oklahoma Avenue NE, later appeared at a ribbon-cutting ceremony opening her campaign office at 802 G St. SE.
In an interview, Winter said she hopes to persuade Barry to move the D.C. police communications unit from the Municipal Building at 300 Indiana Ave. NW to Anacostia to spur commercial development there.
Spaulding, announcing at the Union Wesley A.M.E. Church, 1860 Michigan Ave. NE, stressed his record in office, citing his role in establishing the University of the District of Columbia, undertaking several major economic development projects in the ward and adopting a law reforming city procurement practices.
On Thursday, Sharon Turner-Jackson, a project director for AT&T, declared her candidacy for Spaulding's Ward 5 seat.