For a hint of what breed of politicians the District has begun to hatch, look no further than a Donald Temple campaign pamphlet. There, the candidate for D.C. delegate notes that he had no role in the civil rights movement.
Any time in the last two decades here, that declaration would have amounted to probable political suicide -- but Temple, a 37-year-old lawyer, is using it to make a point: The city needs young leaders with fresh resumes.
"We are from a different era," Temple said. "It's time to pass the torch, and there are a lot of qualified young people ready to serve."
That's apparent across the city as campaigns sprint toward Tuesday's Democratic primary with an unusually large crop of young professionals making an aggressive first bid for elective office. Most are underdogs, but are vowing that, win or lose this time, their voices will be heard for years to come.
Many of these candidates have no District government record to defend and no ties to a particular political tradition. Even if defeated in their first round, at least some in this younger group will use their growing political experience to seek other offices. The result, these candidates suggest, will be a greater mix of ideas, as well as personalities, in future elections.
"It's refreshing that things look as if they're finally opening up," said Dee Hunter, 25, a candidate for shadow representative. "I think there's a new breed on the way."
In the delegate's race, Temple, a former counsel to the House District of Columbia Committee, is trailing in polls and fund-raising, but at times has caught rivals off guard with his spirited campaign.
In the race for an at-large D.C. Council seat, Terry Lynch, a 31-year-old housing activist, has recruited many volunteers, raised $30,000, and obtained several major endorsements in his battle against former congressional aide Johnny Barnes and school board member Linda Cropp, both of whom have more money and campaign experience.
Meanwhile, in the D.C. Council chairman race, Vincent Orange, 33, a finance official, is making his campaign debut against the heavily favored council member, John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2). And in Ward 5, Tony Norman, a 31-year-old lawyer, is fighting to unseat council member Harry Thomas Sr. (D).
In the race for shadow representative, many political observers consider Hunter a front-runner. In the race for shadow senator, 29-year-old Harry Thomas Jr., son of the council member, is competing.
Rarely since the District won home rule have so many young faces emerged as serious candidates seeking to capitalize on the electoral gridlock snapped by Mayor Marion Barry's decision not to run for reelection and Del. Walter E. Fauntroy's choosing to leave his congressional seat to run for mayor.
"There have been so many incumbents in office for so long I think it's stymied the growth of new leaders," said Hunter, who manages the National Rainbow Coalition's D.C. office. "It's time for young people to come to the forefront, but there's an old guard that doesn't want to let go."
Though polls and Democratic Party leaders say most of the political freshmen have an uphill climb to win Tuesday, the candidates insist that many voters are supporting their cry for new leaders who are not connected to the D.C. political establishment.
"My sense is that voters are disappointed and angry with the old guard," Lynch said. "People have reacted that way before at the polls. Both Dave Clarke and John Wilson were first elected to the council when they were 30."
Lynch, Temple, Hunter and Norman have received endorsements from Washington's City Paper, which has high readership among younger voters, and each has sought the help of proven campaigners. Lynch is working with Lawrence Guyot, a longtime grass-roots organizer for Barry; Temple has the support of council member William P. Lightfoot (I-At Large).
Yet all of the younger candidates complain that the city's veteran politicians have shown little interest in grooming new leaders, and at times have been reluctant to take their campaigns seriously. Their older, and often more experienced, opponents say they themselves would not need on-the-job training to handle the city's problems.
The younger candidates face other obstacles as well, such as the struggle to raise money as a newcomer and a skeptical voter asking: So just how young are you, anyway?
"I see the raised eyebrows sometimes," Temple said, laughing. "I've had people think I'm only 25." Lynch, whom the City Paper has dubbed "Bart Simpson," said his opponents are "always trying to portray me as a kid."