If candidates' tempers are heating up on the mayoral campaign trail, it certainly is not because of the summer weather.
Democratic candidates John Ray and Walter E. Fauntroy got into it last week at a lunchtime forum before a few local labor leaders, with Fauntroy angrily flinging some paper back to Ray and Ray warning Fauntroy, "I'm not finished with you yet."
Even D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke, another candidate in the Democratic Party's Sept. 11 mayoral primary, joined in, needling Fauntroy for never having a floor vote in his 19 years as the District's delegate to Congress.
"I had to do what others didn't have to, Walter. I had to vote," Clarke said at one point.
This bitter tone is something new for the mayoral contest, which so far has been a fairly polite affair. But it may be a harbinger of things to come; many observers believe the primary election campaign will get personal after the trial of Mayor Marion Barry concludes and voters begin to focus on those who hope to succeed the city's three-term incumbent.
Large numbers of District voters may not have noticed, transfixed as they are by the Barry trial, but the race for mayor is quite intense, and will get more so in the 54 days until the primary. So no one should be surprised to see short fuses smoldering.
Ray, an at-large member of the D.C. Council, was particularly annoyed by Fauntroy, who criticized him for voting for legislation in 1985 that would have weakened the city's rent control law. The legislation would not have wholly overturned the law, but the measure that Ray proposed was enough to earn him the enmity of major tenant groups.
Mayoral candidate Charlene Drew Jarvis, who represents Ward 4 on the council, had supported Ray's measure, and also came under fire by Fauntroy at the forum. Strangely enough, she also chastised Ray for trying to weaken rent control.
Clarke, who had voted against the Ray measure, also criticized his council colleagues for supporting it, and then trained his sights on Fauntroy, who he said had come late to several liberal causes in the city, including the fight to preserve the rent control law in favor of tenants.
"That wasn't exactly leadership," Clarke said of Fauntroy.
It was probably a good thing that Republican candidate Maurice T. Turner was making one of his rare forum appearances that day, because he lightened the mood of the meeting by standing up and announcing after the bickering: "I don't come with all this baggage."
The labor leaders -- and even some of the Democrats -- burst out laughing.
Part of what's going on here is a feverish attempt by the Democrats to distinguish themselves from each other, which in their view means pointing out the shortcomings of the other folks running for the party's nomination.
What sometimes gets lost in the acrimony is a fully articulated program that could give D.C. residents a reason to vote for one of the candidates, rather than against the other four.
Still, it seems a sure bet that to break out of the pack -- and the Democratic race is not over by any means -- the candidates are going to have to heat up the rhetoric, rather than cool it down.
To that extent, the next two months of city politics could be the steamiest on record.
Topping the Ballot
The first official results of the election year are in, and mayoral candidate Jarvis and D.C. Delegate candidate Eleanor Holmes Norton finished on top. No, not in vote totals -- in ballot position.
The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics held a lottery last week to determine the order in which candidates will be listed on the September primary ballot, and here's what transpired:
In the Democratic mayoral race, Jarvis has the top position on the ballot, followed by Clarke, Ray, Fauntroy and lawyer Sharon Pratt Dixon. Turner, the former D.C. police chief, is unopposed on the GOP side.
In the delegate's race, on the Democratic side, Norton will head the ballot, followed by former D.C. Council chairman Sterling Tucker, former Barry administration aide Joseph P. Yeldell, former school board member Barbara Lett Simmons, Nation of Islam legal adviser George X Cure, former congressional aide Donald Temple and D.C. Council member Betty Ann Kane (At Large).
On the Republican side, consultant Jim Champagne will head the delegate ballot, followed by contractor Roffle Mayes Miller and lawyer Harry M. Singleton.
There was some irony in the ballot selection Friday, which saw the candidates or their surrogates draw the positions out of a box. In the mayoral race, Mildred Goodman, a former Jarvis supporter who has switched to Dixon, selected Jarvis's name as the first on the ballot. In the delegate's race, longtime Kane aide Sharon Ambrose picked Norton.