In sharp contrast to their Democratic competitors, the three Republican candidates for D.C. delegate said yesterday they do not consider statehood a top priority and indicated that they would concentrate on more limited steps to increase autonomy for the District.
Harry M. Singleton, a former Education Department civil rights chief, and political consultant Jim Champagne said that as delegate, they would focus their efforts on obtaining a vote for the delegate on the floor of the House.
Roffle Mayes Miller Jr., a general contractor who moved to Washington in 1986, cited budget autonomy for the city, a formula-based federal payment and the right to appoint judges as his top priorities.
"I am not for statehood," Miller said. "This is America's city."
Singleton and Champagne did not indicate opposition to statehood for the District outright, but said it was not an achievable goal in the near future. "I don't think we'll see statehood coming to the District any time soon," said Singleton, who has been endorsed for the delegate's post by the D.C. Republican Committee.
The comments came during a lively round-table discussion with Washington Post reporters and editors yesterday, 11 days before the Sept. 11 primary. The winner will face the Democratic nominee and several independents in the Nov. 6 general election.
The three Republicans were critical of Walter E. Fauntroy, the outgoing delegate, and other entrenched Democratic officials, who they said failed to solve the city's financial crisis and other major problems.
"I'm tired of the Democratic formula -- which is no matter what our problems are, we need more money," said Champagne, who has mounted unsuccessful bids for mayor and D.C. Council in recent years.
"The city has sufficient revenue to operate efficiently, but unfortunately, it has not come up with a plan."
Singleton said the delegate's job needs to be "redefined," with the delegate taking a much more active role in reviewing the city's budget and other local problems. He said Fauntroy, who is running for mayor, spent too much time on national and international affairs.
"We've had one person who has held that post and defined that role . . . for 19 years," said Singleton. "I see the delegate as being a much more active and viable person in the affairs of the community."
"The job doesn't need to be redefined -- it needs to be done," said Miller, who described Fauntroy as a "wimp and a whipping boy" for D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. "Walter Fauntroy has done nothing but sing 'The Impossible Dream,' " he said.
Miller also described himself as the only candidate willing to challenge the Democratic Party, which has dominated local politics since home rule began in 1974. "I called Marion Barry a womanizer and a drug addict," said Miller. "That's what he is, and that's what he represents."
Singleton and Champagne jousted for several minutes over their credentials for the job, with Champagne questioning his opponent's early endorsement by the D.C. Republican Committee.
Champagne, who is white, said the committee was composed of nearly 100 "country club members, not interested in D.C. politics." He said he was told by one top Republican official that Singleton won the committee's support because "Harry's black, and you have to be black to win in this city."
Champagne also said Singleton orginally wanted to run for mayor, but agreed to seek the delegate's seat after the committee indicated that it wanted former police chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. as its nominee.
Singleton, a lobbyist and consultant, said Champagne's criticism stemmed from "sour grapes," and said his background in the Education Department and as minority counsel for the House District Committee makes him "uniquely qualified" for the delegate's post.
He also scorned Champagne as a political hack who couldn't be elected "dogcatcher" if he tried. "Your record has been consistently rejected by the people," Singleton said.
Singleton was the only one of the three candidates to criticize President Bush's veto last year of the D.C. appropriations bill, which included a provision permitting the city to spend local tax dollars on abortions.
"If the local government wants to spend its money on abortions for poor women, it ought to be able to do so," he said.
But Champagne, who described himself as a supporter of abortion rights, and Miller, who described himself as an opponent of abortion, said they would support the city's right to spend tax dollars on abortion only if voters approve it in a citywide referendum.
All three said they opposed, on home rule grounds, the amendment offered last year by Sen. William L. Armstrong (R-Colo.), to overturn the city's law forbidding discrimination against gay people by religious institutions such as Georgetown University.
Miller, however, said he opposes in principle special laws protecting gay men and lesbians, saying there already are sufficient safeguards in the U.S. Constitution.
Each of the three candidates was upbeat about the Republican chances in the November election, despite the overwhelming Democratic advantage in voter registration. There are roughly 26,000 Republicans registered to vote in the District, about one-ninth the number of Democrats.