As several candidates for D.C. mayor congregated at the Sacred Heart Shrine for a Labor Day Mass earlier this week, it was a wonder they weren't hit by lightning.

Here they were, within holy walls, looking sincere and righteous and, with just a week till the Democratic primary, desperately seeking the votes of the District's estimated 75,000 union members.

But if organized labor means, as Catholic University President William Byron sermonized, "protection of human dignity and promotion of social justice," voters must wonder whether any of the candidates can really foster such values.

The District's labor leadership could not decide. And for good reason. Tough economic times lie ahead, and the next mayor will invariably have to cut fat, meaning jobs, from the government pork barrel.

In this age of shrinking resources, even Mayor Marion Barry, a lame duck seeking an at-large seat on the D.C. Council, was forced to scale back his pride and joy: the summer jobs program for youths.

If Barry did this to children, you can imagine what the next mayor is going to do with jobs for adults.

For their part, some of the candidates do not appear to be coming clean with the voters about the painful economic realities. Maybe it's good politics to keep the bad news out of the campaign, but a lot of feelings are going to be hurt when District voters discover that President Bush is not the only one whose lips can mislead.

"The principal fiscal problem facing the city government is its large size," says candidate David A. Clarke. Nevertheless, he adds that he does not support layoffs. With the city facing a crippling $95 million deficit, Clarke may favor keeping people on the payroll, but the question is: How is he going to pay them?

Candidate John Ray appears to be hoping for magic too. "We must learn to live within our means," he says. "We must establish priorities, creating only those programs that best meet our citizens' needs and developing sufficient resources to ensure that they are managed well."

If he's serious, that means at least 5,000 people kicked off the payroll immediately. But Ray would never say that.

When asked what she would do to balance the District budget, Charlene Drew Jarvis's answer is, in a nutshell, nothing. As Jarvis gains on Ray in the polls, she does not want to say anything that might give a hint of the tough times ahead -- to say nothing of hurting her popularity.

Her cure-all is to give drug addicts amino acid and vitamin therapy and use the money saved to avoid raising taxes, laying anybody off or taxing small businesses.

These three candidates stand out because they are all D.C. council members, and their bid for mayor should make voters wonder what has happened to all their good intentions during the past 12 years of service.

Particularly fitting as they converged near the front of the Sacred Heart Shrine was a Bible story, read by a deacon, from the Book of Matthew.

It was about a man who went on a journey and entrusted his estate to three servants. Two invested the money wisely. The third did not, was scolded as "wicked and slothful," and was never again trusted with another cent.

Barry was in the audience, but he wasn't the only one who should have been squirming in his seat.