Former D.C. Council chairman Sterling Tucker, in an attempt to stage a political comeback 16 years after winning his last election, yesterday jumped into an increasingly crowded and contentious race for the District's non-voting seat in the House.
Tucker, 66, who resigned last weekend as the mayor's top anti-drug adviser, sought to defuse what some feel may be a major liability of his campaign: the notion that his time on the political stage has passed and that "new blood" is needed in local politics.
"Do they say I'm incompetent?" Tucker shouted to a crowd of appreciative supporters at Bible Way Temple in Northwest. "No!" they shouted back.
"Do they say I'm unskilled?" he shouted, emotion building. "No," the crowd shouted back.
"Let's get rid of all this 'new faces' talk," Tucker said. "We don't need people who need to be shown around the streets of Washington . . . . I understand the problems, and I can be of service to you."
Tucker's comments appeared to be aimed at one of his principal Democratic rivals, former Carter administration official Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has been criticized by other politicians as lacking local experience.
D.C. Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), former Barry administration official Joseph P. Yeldell, former school board member member Barbara Lett Simmons and lawyer Donald Temple also are vying for the Democratic nomination.
On the Republican side, Harry Singleton, a former civil rights chief at the Department of Education, and Jim Champagne, a political consultant, are running for the post, which is being vacated by Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D), a candidate for mayor. In addition, Nation of Islam legal adviser George X Cure is planning a candidacy.
Tucker has been involved in public affairs in the District for 30 years, first as executive director of the Washington Urban League and then as the first elected chairman of the D.C. Council under home rule.
He was narrowly defeated by Marion Barry in the 1978 Democratic mayoral primary, and then took a job as an assistant secretary in the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
He resurfaced briefly in local politics in an unsuccessful bid to regain the council chairman's post in 1982.
For the past year, Tucker has coordinated the efforts of the District's law enforcement and other agencies to combat illegal drugs.
He resigned on Sunday, but he said in an interview yesterday that the experience should prove useful as he attempts to rebuild his political base.
"I've been out on patrols three or four a night. I've been at community meetings," Tucker said. "I have no problem with people knowing me."
Tucker declined to disclose members of his campaign finance committee or others who are supporting his candidacy, saying he would release the names next week. The crowd of about 100 people attending his kick-off yesterday included few well-known public figures.
Tucker is expected to try to line up dozens of ministers in an effort to win votes in black middle-class neighborhoods around the city.
In his speech, Tucker outlined an agenda for action in Congress that included gaining an increased federal payment for the District, obtaining increased funding for the Metro system and reversing steps Congress has taken in recent years to reduce District autonomy.
"We've had an erosion of home rule," he said. "It has eroded badly."