Democratic mayoral candidate John Ray said last night that he and his D.C. Council colleagues deserve some of the blame for the city's current financial crisis, an acknowledgement that was heartily endorsed by Sharon Pratt Dixon, one of Ray's four rivals in the party primary on Tuesday.
Ray, responding to the first question in an hour-long debate that was broadcast by WJLA-TV (Channel 7), said, "Sure, as elected officials, we all have to share the blame for the problems that we face, as well as the financial situation that we face."
Ray's response provided an easy opening for Dixon, who has cast herself throughout the primary race as an outsider running against an entrenched political establishment. Answering the same question a few moments later, Dixon said, "I do want to applaud John for being honest about it, because the council was very complicit" in the deterioration of the District government's finances.
"They have a lot of power and a lot of opportunity to make a difference," Dixon said of the council members. "They had the power to set the budget and they had the power to exercise oversight over every office and agency of this city. And yet they allowed this government to expand in numbers . . . and that's part of the problem today."
Dixon also promised in her closing statement that, if elected, she would return "every dime" of her $90,705 mayoral salary if voters were not satisfied with her performance at the end of her four-year term.
There were few fireworks in the WJLA debate, one of only a handful that local network affiliates have broadcast during the primary season. The final televised debate before the Sept. 11 primaries is scheduled to be aired Friday at 10 p.m. on WETA-TV (Channel 26).
Ray, an at-large council member who has led his opponents in published polls and fund-raising, was again the main target last night.
Charlene Drew Jarvis, the Ward 4 council member, criticized Ray for accepting many large contributions from real estate developers and compared him to Humpty Dumpty, saying that by election day "all of his money and all of his developer friends won't be able to put Mr. Ray together again."
D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, echoing Dixon's criticism of the council members, accused elected officials in the District of mismanaging millions of dollars in federal funds that he credited himself for getting for the city.
"After doing my job," Fauntroy said, "I was embarrassed, particularly in the last few years, as much of that money has been mismanaged, has been wasted, and in some instances has not even been applied for."
David A. Clarke, who is relinquishing his post as D.C. Council chairman to run for mayor, obliquely criticized Fauntroy and Dixon, whom he contended had waited until the mayoral campaign to raise concerns about taxes, city finances and the size of the bureaucracy.
Clarke noted that neither Fauntroy nor Dixon testified when the council considered alternatives to the mayor's recent budgets and tax plans. "On none of those occasions did any of the people who are here now, who are not a member of the council, come forward and testify," he said. "They're ready to make complaints now, but they weren't ready to do anything in the past."
Clarke noted that the council, under his leadership, has repeatedly rejected Mayor Marion Barry's efforts to raise income taxes. The other Democratic candidates -- Jarvis, Fauntroy and Dixon -- said they oppose any tax increase.
Former D.C. police chief Maurice T. Turner Jr., who is unopposed for the Republican mayoral nomination, repeatedly criticized the city's ruling Democratic establishment. Responding to a question about the city's anti-drug efforts, Turner said he had been disappointed by the inability of conventional law enforcement to halt the flow of illegal narcotics into Washington.
"Nobody cried louder and harder when I was a member of the Cabinet that we could not arrest this problem away," said Turner, who was Barry's police chief for eight years.
Alvin C. Frost, a financial manager who is unopposed for the mayoral nomination of the D.C. Statehood Party, provided some comic relief at the very end of the debate, when he read a rap-song verse dedicated to the mayoral contenders.
Titled "Alvin's Analytical Allegations and Eccentric Evaluations," Frost's poem urged voters to "start kicking with Dixon" in the primary.
But "when the cold wind blows on November the 6th, remember what the past 12 years have cost-ed and . . . promptly get Frosted."
Meanwhile yesterday, Ray and Eleanor Holmes Norton, a candidate for D.C. delegate, won the endorsement of H. Hartford Brookins, presiding bishop of the local African Methodist Episcopal Church, which has about 40,000 adherents.
Brookins hailed Ray as "the person who can represent the healing process" needed in the city. "It is time for the people of this city to come out of this wilderness of Barry mania and get on with the development of the future of this city," he said.
In accepting the endorsement, Ray said he would fight a spirited war against drugs, pledging to make all open-air drug markets "a thing of the past."
"We're putting on notice every drug dealer, everyone who's running drugs: We're going to be on your trail until you're not seen in Washington, D.C.," Ray said.
Ray also was endorsed yesterday by the Washington Times.