At one in a series of forums yesterday for Democratic D.C. delegate candidates, Sterling Tucker said that if he were elected, he would ask the White House to convene a meeting of local, regional and federal officials to hammer out a formula for federal payments to the District.
Front-runner Eleanor Holmes Norton pooh-poohed the idea, saying, "First let me just say, Sterling, I'm very leery of drawing the White House, the region and others who don't vote here into our affairs . . . ."
That gave Norton's opponents an opening to criticize her -- which two of them did moments later, citing the fact that she didn't vote in four of the last 13 elections in the District.
"I just want to tell you, Ms. Norton, you should be careful about whether the basis for not having a White House conference is whether those people vote here or not," said Donald M. Temple. "After all, I think the record shows that you yourself failed to vote here on four different occasions."
When Tucker joined the attack, it drew a flash of anger from Norton, who previously has taken such criticism in stride. "Donald Temple himself did not vote in an election in which I voted," she snapped. "In 1987. A school board vote. Only 15 percent of the people voted in that election. You did not vote."
And so it goes on the campaign trail, where the five candidates for the District's nonvoting seat in Congress -- as well as the candidates for other city offices -- attend forum after forum after forum, day after day after day, in preparation for Tuesday's primary.
Yesterday's exchange took place at the Georgetown University Law Center, which seemed like "the thousandth institution to hold a forum," said Norton. Actually, it was the school's Black American Law Students Association that sponsored the forum in the school's auditorium-style moot courtroom. About 25 people showed up.
Four of the Democratic candidates were there: Betty Ann Kane, an at-large D.C. Council member; Norton, a law professor at the school and former federal equal employment official; Tucker, the chairman of the first D.C. Council and former anti-drug czar for the District; and Temple, a former congressional aide and founder of a black professional networking group. Joseph P. Yeldell, a longtime Barry administration aide, did not attend.
As they have many times before, the candidates recited their positions on the issues: They are for statehood. They are for the District getting more money from Congress. They are for the District getting more respect on Capitol Hill. And they are for increasing revenue through a commuter tax or something similar, but disagree on whether such action would be barred by a prohibition in the home rule charter against imposing an income tax on residents of neighboring jurisdictions who work in the District.
After the forum, during a brief period of refreshment and reflection, first-year law student Simone Ross, 23, said she was undecided about the race. Maybe it's time for a new face, she said, adding that Temple fits that bill. But then again, she said, she was impressed with Norton's talk about restoring respect to the city.
Her friend, Lois Fishman, 39, also a first-year student, said she liked Kane's grasp of facts, history and mechanics of government, but also was impressed with Norton's intelligence and approach to problems.
Appearing to contradict themselves, both women said that Tucker's performance during the forum impressed them most. Finally, they called it a toss-up.
"I go back and forth," Ross said.