D.C. delegate candidate Sterling Tucker, whose political career in Washington spans three decades, bristles at the suggestion that it is time for him to step aside for "new blood" in District politics.
"Did they say that I'm incompetent?" asked Tucker, his voice rising as he addressed supporters at Bible Way Church. "Did they say that I'm uskilled? Did they say that I'm unknowledgeable? Did they say that I'm unproductive?
"The past is prologue," said Tucker, the first elected chairman of the D.C. Council. "The public has to see that my past service can be advantageous to the future."
Tucker's message is shared by former Barry administration aide Joseph P. Yeldell and former school board member Barbara Lett Simmons, as they press their campaigns to succeed Walter E. Fauntroy as the city's nonvoting delegate to Congress.
In a year when many have emphasized the need for a changing of the guard in local politics, each of these Democrats offers voters a different type of credential. They boast of lengthy records of local public service and offer distinctly local platforms: D.C. statehood, increased federal funding and efforts to thwart congressional attacks on the District.
"When people get in a booth, they look at a name they're familiar with," said Simmons, a three-term member of the D.C. school board. "They want to know about the integrity and character of people. They don't want any surprises."
"We need people who worked in the city and know the issues," said Yeldell, a 23-year veteran of D.C. government service. "I don't think that national reputations are going to solve the problems of the city."
Despite their records, each of these contenders has found it difficult to raise money and gain endorsements. Their campaigns have been overshadowed at times by Democratic rivals Betty Ann Kane and Eleanor Holmes Norton, and they have had to compete with new faces such as Donald Temple and George X Cure.
Yeldell and Tucker, in particular, resent efforts by Norton supporters to paint them as "spoilers" who are siphoning votes from Norton, a Georgetown University law professor making her first bid for public office.
Even some of their supporters, fearing that a split in the black vote could help elect Kane, the only white candidate in the Democratic primary, say they hope Tucker and Yeldell will rethink their candidacies if they don't soon begin to gain momentum.
"We like Joe," said Bob King, a Ward 5 political organizer who supports Yeldell. "But come August the 20th, we've got to sit down. Whoever is not in the No. 1 or No. 2 slot ought to get out. People are really concerned about keeping that seat black."
Yeldell and Tucker say they are in the race to stay.
"I'm going down to the wire," Tucker said. "The thing that I want to try to block is an artificial bandwagon. A real bandwagon you can't block. But an artificial bandwagon -- that's an effort to steal the election, and that I deeply resent."
For Tucker, staying in the race is a matter of mathematics. Several privately commissioned polls suggest that Tucker, who served most recently as the city's anti-drug czar, maintains extremely high name recognition and trails Kane and Norton by only a few points.
Why should he get out, Tucker asks, when the numbers indicate that the race remains up for grabs?
Tucker, 66, argues that he offers the best combination of experience of any candidate. A former assistant secretary of housing and head of the Washington Urban League, Tucker says he can match Norton in national government experience and boasts of the same deep local roots of Kane and Yeldell.
"I represent the best of each candidate," he said.
By his own admission, Tucker has had difficulty generating excitement. His first campaign finance report showed contributions of $22,285, compared with $117,246 raised by Norton and $77,750 raised by Kane.
Tucker has received the endorsements of nearly 100 local ministers, including the Rev. Carlton Veazey of Zion Baptist Church, the Rev. Terry Wingate of Purity Baptist Church and Bishop Clarence Long of Scripture Cathedral. He regularly makes appearances at churches throughout the city.
"If I work the churches, and work them as hard as I can, that could be the difference in this race," he said.
But Warren Edmondson, a former Tucker strategist, said some ministers backed Tucker because they mistakenly believed he was endorsed by Bishop Smallwood Williams, a prominent member of the clergy who is backing Norton. He predicted that some ministers backing Tucker will shift their support to other candidates before the election.
"The only enthusiasm for his campaign I see is among older voters who are resistant to change," Edmondson said.
Tucker said this was the first he had heard of Edmondson's assertions. "Every single minister is still supporting me," he said.
Yeldell's campaign also has been slow to get off the ground. Yeldell entered the race late, loaned his campaign $9,000 and has received $15,642 in contributions.
Yeldell, 57, calculates that his ties to several important D.C. political constituencies -- workers, senior citizens and hundreds of Yeldell relatives -- will push him over the top in a race where, he believes, organization and logistics will count for as much or more than money and name recognition.
Yeldell, who has been around D.C. politics for decades, ran for office once before, losing to Fauntroy in the 1971 delegate's race after the nonvoting seat was created by Congress.
Later, Yeldell headed the city's largest agency, the old Department of Human Resources, during the administration of Mayor Walter Washington. After Washington was ousted by Marion Barry in 1978, Yeldell became a troubleshooter in the new administration, where he helped arrange the annual D.C. employee picnic, the mayor's annual prayer breakfast and other events with political overtones.
"He clearly has a very, very large following in the D.C. government," said Judy Banks, an employee of the D.C. Personnel Office, who attended a recent Yeldell fund-raiser at the Ritz nightclub. "People know that if you call Joe for assistance, he's going to respond."
Yeldell's network of campaign backers includes former Barry political strategist and deputy mayor Ivanhoe Donaldson, former city administrator Elijah B. Rogers and Concha Johnson, one of the mayor's organizers of senior citizens. Yeldell said he intends to continue cultivating support among D.C. workers.
"They are a politically potent force, and I'm going to do everything I can to mobilize them," Yeldell said. "I've got a lot of years in this city, working on a lot of different things. People remember. It pays off."
Simmons, 60, served on the D.C. school board for three terms from 1974 to 1986 and unsuccessfully challenged Kane for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council in 1982.
In attempting a political comeback, Simmons has stressed her career as an educator and her intention to go to Congress to educate other legislators about the lack of political autonomy in the District. She pledges to bring members of Congress to high school graduations and other community events to correct misinformation she says they receive from the media and other sources.
"The most powerful of all knowledge is experiential knowledge," Simmons said at a campaign gathering last week at Sumner School. "I will never be alone. I will always have several of my colleagues with me."
Simmons remains undaunted about her problems raising money and obtaining endorsements. She raised $2,385 in her first reporting period, and had to lend her campaign about $9,000 to stay afloat.
"I am not at all unhappy with my campaign," said Simmons, who has been canvassing public housing units and senior citizens homes in search of support. "I'm working at the grass roots. And it is the grass roots that goes to vote."