Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) plans to begin a block-by-block appeal for votes this week to jump-start a mayoral campaign that has been virtually paralyzed by internal problems and Mayor Marion Barry's continued grip on District politics.
After dropping a campaign manager, press secretary, senior political adviser and office manager from his campaign payroll last week to save money, Fauntroy said he will start touring the District on Thursday in hopes of rekindling the excitement that accompanied his entrance in the race for the Democratic mayoral nomination.
"We're now preparing to do the job of campaigning," Fauntroy said late last week. "We've got the lean machinery we need to conduct the kind of campaign that we're going to have to mount, given the realities of where you get your votes and what money's available."
In the three months since he jumped into the Democratic primary with a dramatic appearance at Howard University, Fauntroy has been unable to capitalize on his nearly 20 years in Congress as the District's nonvoting delegate, or divert the attention of an electorate and news media preoccupied with Barry's legal troubles.
There also have been some missteps along the way, according to some Fauntroy supporters and other Democratic activists. First, Barry upstaged Fauntroy at a meeting in late March of party activists in Ward 3, a predominantly white section of Northwest Washington where the mayor and the delegate are both considered to be weakest politically.
Then, in April, Fauntroy had to respond to news accounts of a loan that he and a business partner signed for the renovation of a historic house in Florida, but which subsequently went into default. Fauntroy, who signed the loan as a board member of a nonprofit organization, later said he was confident the debt for the charitable project would be retired.
In addition, Fauntroy on the stump has often displayed an unfamiliarity with local issues, which his supporters attribute to his focus in Congress on national and international concerns and which might be expected from a politician who, for nearly two decades, had no serious electoral opposition.
Fauntroy's mayoral campaign also has been troubled by some internal turmoil, which few campaigns manage to avoid in their early stages. He recently appointed his third campaign manager in three months: Robert L. Johnson, a cable television executive and a longtime friend of both Fauntroy's and Barry's.
Several of the half dozen campaign staffers who left the payroll last Monday in the cost-cutting move, including former campaign manager Doug Patton, press secretary Ivan Brandon and strategist Clifton Smith, have agreed to volunteer some of their time to the campaign, Fauntroy aides said.
Meanwhile, sources close to Fauntroy said that while his fund-raising has proceeded well -- about $200,000 so far -- it has not gone as smoothly as once expected. Fauntroy said his campaign finance report next month will show that he raised more money than his rivals in a comparable period of time, noting that most of the others got a head start on raising contributions.
Fauntroy also said his campaign has been frustrated most by the attention given to Barry, who has dominated the scene like no other District politician since his Jan. 18 arrest in an FBI sting operation at the Vista Hotel. One of the few days that Barry did not hold center stage was March 3, when the mayor was in South Carolina undergoing addiction treatment and Fauntroy captured headlines with an electrifying announcement speech at Howard University's Blackburn Center.
Nearly all of the Democratic mayoral candidates have chafed against the publicity surrounding Barry, whose perjury and drug trial started last week, but few more so than Fauntroy.
"It's delaying focus on serious problems that we have," Fauntroy said. "It is a diversion from people deciding what kind of leadership and what kind of programs they want to embrace to deal with record-setting social and economic problems."
Late last month, Fauntroy called on Barry to negotiate a plea agreement with U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens to avoid what Fauntroy called an "unnecessarily destructive" trial and a "circus" of international media attention.
Barry has been able to exert influence over the local political process -- and Fauntroy's fortunes in particular -- in several ways, chiefly by holding onto a ward organization that some analysts believe would gravitate to Fauntroy if the mayor does not seek reelection. Fearful of Barry's retribution and eager to have the mayor's considerable political army on their side if he does not run, many activists and financial contributors have sat on the sidelines to await the outcome of his trial.
That, say many Fauntroy supporters, has hurt their candidate the most. John W. Hechinger Sr., the hardware store magnate, said last week that while the Fauntroy campaign had begun to find its rhythm in recent days, "it doesn't show because there's so much hanging back because of Marion -- a reluctance to move."
A recent Washington Post poll indicated Fauntroy may have lost some support in the weeks he spent assembling a campaign team. A Post survey found in February that if Barry were not in the race, Fauntroy would get the vote of 27 percent of all registered Democrats interviewed -- about 10 points higher than his level of support in a Post poll taken in late May.
The May poll showed Barry and mayoral candidate John Ray, an at-large member of the D.C. Council, tied at 23 percent support. One Fauntroy adviser said last week that a recent survey taken for the campaign by Democratic pollster Bill Hamilton showed Barry with about 22 percent support, trailed by Ray and then Fauntroy.
Fauntroy recently hired Fenn & King Communications to handle his media campaign and advise on strategy; the consulting firm's other clients have included members of Congress from Virginia, as well as Mary Sue Terry, the state's two-term attorney general.
Fauntroy and his closest advisers said taking the campaign directly to voters -- a big recreational vehicle is supposed to carry Fauntroy to every precinct in Washington -- is a better use of the candidate's time than news conferences would be in a period when many voters may be transfixed by Barry's trial.
For his part, Fauntroy said he was committed to waging an aggressive street-by-street effort. "I did not leave the Congress and run for this office just because I thought it would be nice to do," he said.