D.C. Council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), a 16-year council veteran, faces one of her toughest election challenges this year, with some saying she has been weakened politically by her vote to roll back assistance for the homeless.
Winter, a four-term council member and an early member of the National Welfare Rights Organization, faces a stiff challenge from Harold Brazil, a former Potomac Electric Power Co. lobbyist who has broad-based support from Ward 6 business and neighborhood interests.
The other candidates include Charles R. Ballard, a contractor and political newcomer; John "Peter Bug" Matthews, a community activist; Bernard A. Gray, a lawyer who challenged Winter in the 1986 Democratic primary; and three other little-known candidates, Dwight Prophet, Harold Yates and Dwight Terrell.
Winter has been criticized by housing advocates because she and council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) took the lead in scaling back the city's obligation under Initiative 17 to provide emergency shelter to the homeless.
Approved by voters in 1984, the law required the District to provide shelter to anyone requesting it, regardless of the cost.
Winter, who said the open-ended policy was too much of a burden for taxpayers, helped win council approval last month of a measure that effectively limits the amount the city will spend on shelters.
"People who are concerned about what the council has done will be particularly concerned about Nadine Winter since she helped put people back on the street," said homeless activist Mitch Snyder.
Winter, chairman of the Committee on Public Works, also has been criticized by her opponents for failing to speak out or attempt to block a major increase in parking fines that took effect in April. Some community activists have launched a petition drive to persuade the council to rescind the increase.
"The resentment and the strong feelings about parking in this city are incredible," said Mauro Montoya, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, an influential gay-rights organization with members in Ward 6.
In May, the Stein Club, which has endorsed Winter in previous campaigns, shifted its support to Brazil. Montoya said the shift reflected a "general dissatisfaction and feeling that there was time for a change."
Winter contends that criticism of her stand on homeless assistance is being voiced by "people who don't live in the ward."
She said that many of her constituents supported her actions because Ward 6 has a disproportionate share of the District's shelters for the homeless, halfway houses and adult rehabilitation centers.
Winter said she does not intend to retreat on the issue of parking fines. More than 70 percent of the people fined are not District residents, she said, adding that "most of the constituents that I have heard from applaud" the increases.
Winter's supporters are attempting to depict Brazil as an ally of business interests. Winter said Brazil is making unrealistic campaign promises that are indicative of his inexperience.
Brazil, a political newcomer, said his experience, including six years as government affairs manager for Pepco, qualifies him for the council.
A former prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office, Brazil said his main priority on the council would be to curtail drug trafficking and crime in Ward 6, which spans parts of Northeast and Southeast Washington, including Capitol Hill and neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.
Brazil said he would press for stiffer penalties against repeat offenders and violent criminals and seek more funding for police -- initiatives that he said Winter has ignored. "There has been no record of accomplishment that she can set forth, and I think people are aware of that," he said.
Some of Winter's council colleagues, unhappy with her confrontational style, say privately that they might quietly support Brazil. Winter has frequently feuded with Council Chairman David A. Clarke (D) and disagreed sharply with Crawford over when to bring the Initiative 17 issue before the full council for a vote. Last month, Winter clashed with council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1) when she sought to give the D.C. auditor subpoena powers to investigate a controversial city fund after Smith, chairman of the Committee on Public Service, had launched a probe of the fund.
Winter said in a recent interview that, despite the negatives attributed to her, she is confident she will retain the council seat she has held since the advent of home rule.
Winter has received endorsements from several influential ministers, including the Rev. Willie Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia, Bishop Smallwood E. Williams, pastor of Bible Way Temple, and District African Methodist Episcopal Bishop H. Hartford Brookins.
Winter has raised $20,650 in campaign funds, according to the latest report, compared with $13,072 for Brazil. The other candidates either have raised neglible amounts or have yet to file reports with the Office of Campaign Finance.