There were some raised eyebrows over the recent disclosure that D.C. mayoral candidate Charlene Drew Jarvis, a champion of health issues, accepted a $2,000 contribution from the Tobacco Institute, the main lobbying arm for the cigarette industry.
Dawn Alexander, Jarvis's press secretary, said the candidate saw nothing improper with accepting the contribution, the maximum allowed in D.C. politics. She quoted Jarvis as saying, "My record on health issues as it affects the industry is clear and unchanging."
"I have supported legislation to ban smoking in public places, and would support strengthening that legislation," said Jarvis, a Ward 4 D.C. Council member..
But the contribution has stirred debate in a city where cigarette smoking is one of the leading causes of death, and where leading physicians have criticized the aggressive marketing by cigarette manufacturers in the black community.
H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), chairman of the D.C. Council's Human Services Committee, which oversees the Public Health Commission, said he was "appalled" that Jarvis accepted the contribution.
"She says she's extremely concerned about the health and welfare of our community," said Crawford, who is supporting John Ray for mayor. "To accept a contribution from the tobacco industry -- that's double talk."
Health concerns have been a central part of the Jarvis mayoral campaign. A former research psychologist at the National Institutes of Health, Jarvis has spoken frequently about the necessity of viewing drug addiction as primarily a "health" problem.
She also has worked to cultivate the physician community by promising to push for tort reform -- to curb the medical community's liability in lawsuits.
Although the D.C. Medical Society's political action committee has endorsed Ray, many leading doctors have sharply criticized that decision and have moved to organize a "Physicians for Jarvis" campaign.
But even some of these doctors say they are unsettled by Jarvis's acceptance of a contribution from the tobacco industry.
Gary C. Dennis, the chief of neurosurgery at Howard University Hospital, said Jarvis "is committed to health, and it would surprise me to hear that she would knowingly accept money from a group that promotes cigarette smoking."
"The tobacco industry is responsible for a lot of this poor health," Dennis said. "I would discuss it with her."
Bette L. Catoe, a prominent pediatrician who chairs the Physicians for Jarvis committee, said she "had some concerns" about the contribution, but "decided it was part of the game."
Alluding to Ray, Catoe said, "I looked at the contributions of some of the other candidates, and saw that the real estate industry, which is picking this city dry, is giving to another candidate."
"I know Mrs. Jarvis personally, and I know she does not want children to smoke," Catoe said. "It might have been the better way to reject it, but I don't see the other candidates rejecting money from the business and real estate interests."
A Tobacco Institute spokesman said the contribution was made to Jarvis last October, was was not actually deposited by the Jarvis campaign until June. He declined to explain the motivation behind the contribution. "Normally, we don't characterize any particular contribution we make," he said. Black Gays Rate Candidates
The D.C. Coalition of Black Gay Men and Women, seeking to increase its influence in D.C. politics, has released its first-ever rating of local political candidates, and Jarvis and D.C. delegate candidate Eleanor Holmes Norton came in first.
Jarvis was the highest ranking mayoral candidate, with 92 points out of a possible 100, followed by lawyer Sharon Pratt Dixon, Council Chairman David A. Clarke (D), D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D) and council member John Ray (D-At Large). Former police chief Maurice T. Turner Jr., the only Republican in the race, finished with 10 points, the lowest of any candidate.
In the delegate's race, Norton also was given 92 points, and was followed by former council chairman Sterling Tucker, council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), Republican consultant Jim Champagne, Barry aide Joseph P. Yeldell, former school board member Barbara Lett Simmons, lawyer Harry Singleton and former congressional aide Donald Temple.
The group released the ratings after interviewing the candidates and reviewing a questionaire aimed at eliciting the candidates' stances on issues of particular concern to black gay men and women.
Carlene Cheatham, chair of the group's political action committee, said part of the group's concern is that other prominent gay groups -- like the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club -- historically have been oriented around the concerns of white gays.
"Gertrude Stein acts as if they are the representative of the community. Not true," Cheatham said. "They are not addressing our concerns." She noted as an example the need for additional AIDS outreach programs in minority communities.
"We believe we have some specific concerns, and we want to be in the thought process of the political community," she said.