D.C. Mayoral candidate Walter E. Fauntroy repeated his criticism of rival John Ray as "the great white hope" of developers, while at the same time calling for a special citywide forum to discuss tensions between blacks and whites.
At his third news conference in less than a week on the issue, Fauntroy appeared to back off somewhat from his earlier characterization of Ray as the developers' "hand-picked overseer." He has said the developers hope to turn the District into a "plantation."
Although he avoided using that language yesterday, Fauntroy did not disavow it, either. "I have certainly chosen to restate the fact that his backers consider him their great white hope," Fauntroy said.
Ray spokeswoman Margaret Gentry said Ray, who is black, would not respond to Fauntroy's latest attack.
In response to questions, Fauntroy said he saw nothing inconsistent in calling for an airing of racial issues and using such racially charged language as he did against Ray. On the contrary, Fauntroy said, pointing out that white developers were contributing significant sums of money to Ray's campaign was "precisely a constructive way to begin a dialogue."
"Unfortunately, we've been in a habit of pushing discussion of race under the rug," said Fauntroy, who described black-white relations as the "most urgent" issue facing the District. "I am most concerned about the situation where all of the economic power seems to be in the hands of whites, and therefore it exacerbates the racial tensions."
Meanwhile, in other mayoral campaign developments, Democratic candidate Sharon Pratt Dixon called on top District government officials and members of the D.C. Council to work for one week without pay as part of her 10-point plan to address the city's financical crisis.
About $1.5 million could be saved if those 150 officials worked without pay for a week, said Dixon, who also called for a moratorium on discounted sales of city-owned property and a suspension of "non-essential" government travel, pending consultant contracts and overnight use of government vehicles.
Fauntroy, who is relinquishing his seat as the District's congressional delegate to run for mayor, has trailed Ray in recent polls, as have the other three candidates in the Democratic Party's Sept. 11 primary.
Fauntroy aides said privately that his recent news conferences were part of a calculated effort to heighten his own profile at Ray's expense, a strategy the candidate himself suggested to reporters yesterday.
"Some people say that sometimes you have to hit a mule with a two-by-four to get its attention," Fauntroy said. "I have been trying to get your attention on substantive issues."
Fauntroy said his proposals to create low- and moderate-income housing in the District, which has a majority-black population, contrasted sharply with Ray's alliance with white developers from the suburbs of Washington.
"He is the hope of those developers who are supporting from the outside -- all of whom are white -- and it is in their interest not to implement the kind of economic sharing that my housing program, parcel-to-parcel, would bring about," Fauntroy said.
Fauntroy added that many of the District's poor residents "fear that if outside money continues to come in and control government policy, they will lose their houses, they will lose their jobs and they tend to translate that into race."
"My appeal to people is to rise above racial considerations, to understand economic polarization as the root cause, and to address it by sharing the wealth, sharing development between downtown and the neighborhoods," Fauntroy said.
Fauntroy said he hopes that some community organizations, in cooperation with the news media, will sponsor a special mayoral candidates' forum on race relations. "Frankly, even if this were not an election year, I think we should hold such a forum," he said. Staff writer Mary Ann French contributed to this report.