D.C. mayoral candidate Walter E. Fauntroy said yesterday he opposes any increase in taxes on District residents, and proposed a commuter income tax on nonresidents and a new evaluation system for D.C. government employees so that "people who don't work can in fact be fired."
Fauntroy, a Democrat, also acknowledged that he does not have a sharply defined image among District voters, despite his nearly 20 years in office as the city's nonvoting delegate to Congress.
"People don't know me," said Fauntroy, who attributed some of his recognition problems to his campaign's slow start after he announced for mayor in March. "I myself have been slow to be decisive and definitive," he added.
Fauntroy, in a luncheon interview with reporters and editors of The Washington Post, reiterated his recent call for an increase in the federal payment to the city, which he said could be used along with a commuter tax and government personnel reductions to help shore up the District's finances.
On other issues, the 57-year-old Baptist pastor said he harbored few hopes of the District winning statehood anytime soon and said that on those occasions when he confronted Mayor Marion Barry about allegations of drug use, he believed Barry's assertions that those rumors were untrue.
"I believed him because I wanted to believe him," said Fauntroy, adding that he did not speak out publicly about the allegations because the issue "was being raised by enough people."
Fauntroy said he disagreed with NAACP Executive Director Benjamin L. Hooks and others who contend that Barry is being prosecuted because he is black. Rather than reflecting "simply racism," the Barry case is part of a partisan effort by Republicans to embarrass leading Democratic politicians, said Fauntroy, adding that the mayor is to blame for being "in a position where 10 people come forward and say you were snorting" cocaine.
Fauntroy said that if he is elected, he would consider retaining some members of Barry's cabinet, almost certainly keeping Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr. "He's tops," Fauntroy said of Fulwood.
A onetime civil rights activist with deep roots in Washington's political community, Fauntroy is one of five major candidates in the Democratic Party's Sept. 11 mayoral primary. The others are lawyer Sharon Pratt Dixon, D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke and Council members Charlene Drew Jarvis (Ward 4) and John Ray (At-Large).
Former police chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. is unopposed for the Republican mayoral nomination. The general election is Nov. 6.
Fauntroy, who over the years faced little serious competition for the delegate's seat, said he was prompted to run for mayor in part by Barry's Jan. 18 arrest in an FBI sting operation at the Vista Hotel.
"The events of the 18th sort of shocked me into the reality that we were going to need leadership in the mayor's office that was knowledgeable and experienced, and leadership that, I concluded after careful thought about it, I was uniquely positioned to give."
He said he also wanted to restore the image of the city, which he said was tarnished during the latter part of the Barry administration.
"I had been aware of the erosion of support for our local government on Capitol Hill over the previous four or five years," said Fauntroy, adding the city's damaged image included "national reports on the private, personal problems of the mayor, the drug-driven violence image that had 4 million tourists saying, 'I think I'll visit somewhere else this year,' and the image of mismanagement, corruption."
Although several Barry administration officials have called for tax increases to offset a debt that by some estimates will grow to $100 million in the coming year, Fauntroy said, "We are simply taxed to the limit here in the District of Columbia, both in terms of real estate taxes, income taxes, sales taxes.
"Higher taxes in these areas will simply accelerate the flight of middle-income people and businesses to suburbs, where their costs drop," Fauntroy said.
Rather than imposing new taxes, Fauntroy said, the District should be compensated by the federal government and the neighboring suburbs in Maryland and Virginia for paying for a disproportionate share of the region's services in areas such as public housing and job training.
"The federal government and the region simply are not paying their share of the cost of governance in the District of Columbia," he said. "The people who have half the jobs in the District of Columbia, who make 60 percent of the money made in the District of Columbia, live outside this city."
Fauntroy offered no specifics on the rate of his proposed commuter tax, nor any estimate of how much revenue such a tax would generate.
However, he expressed confidence about securing congressional approval of the tax over the likely objections of the region's 22 U.S. senators and representatives.
Although he said he recognized a need to "pare down" the size of city government, Fauntroy said it was "not really realistic" to predict how many jobs could be trimmed from the payroll until a thorough study of employment patterns is conducted. Dixon, for example, has said she would eliminate the jobs of 2,000 non-tenured workers in the middle-level and senior management ranks.
"Anybody who's honest and knowledgable cannot tell you how many they're going to cut," said Fauntroy, noting that many jobs could be cut through employee attrition.
Fauntroy said it was unlikely that cuts could be made in human services, police, corrections and other essential service areas where costs have skyrocketed in recent years.
"It is not likely that in the near future you're going to see an opportunity to cut those areas," he said.