During his 19 years as the District's delegate to the House of Representatives, Democrat Walter E. Fauntroy gained a reputation as a national spokesman on issues as diverse as civil rights, banking and South Africa sanctions.
But with Fauntroy's decision to give up his nonvoting post to run for mayor, his would-be successors are promoting a different agenda: one that focuses more on bread-and-butter local concerns, from improving federal funding for the District to shielding the city from congressional attacks.
"There is no other congressman in the country who has to represent uniquely local issues the way the delegate does," said D.C. Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), one of seven Democratic contenders for the post.
"I see the post not as a glamorous one, not as a new national figure on the Hill, but as part of a team with the mayor," said former Barry administration official Joseph P. Yeldell, another contender for the post. "Representing the local position with Congress -- that's what is needed today."
Reemphasizing local concerns is a major theme in what is shaping up as a full-scale political brawl to succeed Fauntroy.
The campaign pits several veteran D.C. politicians -- including Kane, Yeldell, former D.C. Council chairman Sterling Tucker and former school board member Barbara Lett Simmons -- against political newcomers, including nationally prominent civil rights activist Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Also seeking the Democratic nomination are former congressional aide and newspaper publisher Donald Temple and Nation of Islam legal adviser George X Cure.
On the Republican side, a lively battle also is emerging between Harry M. Singleton, a former civil rights chief in the U.S. Department of Education, and political consultant Jim Champagne. Political unknown Roffle Mayes Miller Jr. is also seeking the GOP nomination.
With so many candidates, political observers said, the Democratic campaign is virtually impossible to handicap, with any of several candidates given reasonable shots at winning. In District elections, candidates need only a plurality to win.
Kane, 48, jumped in the race soon after Fauntroy announced for mayor in March and quickly picked up endorsements from the local firefighters union and the political action committee for the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the influential business lobbying group.
A three-term member of the council, Kane has also made inroads with other groups, such as the city's gay community, by citing her familiarity with city issues and dependable service to constituents.
"You have to have someone who is absolutely versed in the District," Kane told a gathering of voters in Northwest Washington last week.
By contrast, Yeldell, 57, and Tucker, 66, got off to much later starts and are only starting to raise money and put together their campaign organizations.
But Tucker still retains considerable local name recognition and is hoping to benefit politically from his numerous appearances in the city as the District's anti-drug czar.
Since announcing earlier this month, he said, he has put together a 49-member finance committee and obtained the support of 86 ministers in an effort to woo the religious community.
Tucker argues that his long experience in local and national affairs, including as chief of the Washington Urban League, first elected chairman of the D.C. Council and assistant secretary of housing in the Carter administration, qualifies him for the job.
Yeldell, who ran unsuccessfully against Fauntroy in the first delegate's race, hopes to tap into his considerable contacts among D.C. government employees, a network built up during a 30-year career in D.C. government in which he gained a reputation as "Mr. Fix-It."
Yeldell's most recent post was as Mayor Marion Barry's director of emergency preparedness, a job in which he organized the annual District employee appreciation day, the mayor's prayer breakfasts and other events with political overtones.
A major wildcard in the race is Norton, a law professor at Georgetown University who gained a national reputation when she was head of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Carter administration.
City voters have traditionally been hostile to political outsiders who have not come up through the ranks, but Norton, a native Washingtonian, is seeking to build support among a cross section of liberal activists, union members, gay residents and other constituencies attracted to her civil rights background.
Norton, 53, contends that her personal relationships with congressional leaders and experience on civil rights and family issues set her apart from her competitors. She said her "leverage" in Congress would help her fight for D.C. statehood, increase federal funds to the District and handle other issues of concern to local residents.
"The city cannot afford to have a congressman whose reputation and ability stem primarily from local concerns, who has to spend five or 10 years getting known and respected by her peers," Norton said.
But Norton has come under fire from some of her opponents, especially Kane.
Kane, referring to Norton, said that she "resents anyone who has not been involved, who hasn't been willing to put in the long hours, the hard work for the city, presuming to kind of come in from out of nowhere."
Norton said Kane's criticisms represent "the only negative note" in the campaign. "You cannot define service to the city in electoral terms only," Norton said, citing as an example her tenure on the blue-ribbon panel that recently studied the public school system.
Temple, 37, also a political newcomer, served most recently as a senior staff attorney for the House District Committee. He has been active in civic affairs, founding the group Concerned Black Men and a newspaper called Black Networking News.
Temple said he hopes to reach constituencies that he said have been largely ignored by other politicians, including younger voters, single mothers and senior citizens.
Simmons served on the D.C. school board from 1974 to 1986 and has stayed active in politics as an at-large member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee.
Simmons, 60, said she expects to win the race because of "her demonstrated record of service" to such constituencies as educators, women and the civil rights community. A major part of her platform would be to educate congressmen about the city's problems, she said.
Cure has been a legal adviser for the Dopebusters, a group of Muslims who have been fighting drug trafficking locally. He is running as part of a slate of local candidates put forward by the Nation of Islam, headed by Louis Farrakhan. At a candidates forum in the Chevy Chase neighborhood, Cure said the role of government is to solve deep-seated problems such as hunger and lack of health care. As delegate, he said, he "would advocate forcefully for those issues."
Unlike their Democratic counterparts, the Republican candidates have expressed skepticism about D.C. statehood.
Singleton, 41, is a lawyer who served as minority chief counsel of the House District Committee and also held posts in the Reagan administration. He has been endorsed by the D.C. Republican State Committee. Singleton said the delegate should be more active in reviewing the city's budget and other actions.
Champagne, 47, ran for mayor as a Republican in 1982 and has since worked as a chief speech writer for Sen. William Roth (R-Del.). He said a major priority would be obtaining a vote for the D.C. delegate.
Miller, a general contractor, said he is running to challenge the Democratic "machine" in the city.