Mayoral candidates Maurice T. Turner Jr. and Sharon Pratt Dixon clashed last night for the first time since winning their respective party primaries, as Turner criticized Dixon's tenure as an executive for a utility company that, he said, reaped unusually large profits at the expense of District consumers.
"She got paid for raising your utility bill," Turner, a Republican, said of Democrat Dixon, a former vice president of the Potomac Electric Power Co.
"The fact of the matter is that Pepco took advantage of the citizens here in this District of Columbia and raised our utility bills and made an 18 percent profit. Where was she when Pepco was doing all of that?" Turner asked.
Dixon, who returned to private law practice after more than a decade of working for Pepco, defended her role with the utility.
She said she was instrumental in its efforts to reach out to Washington's black community and senior citizens.
She also sought to contrast her job in the private sector with Turner's eight years as chief of the District's police force, saying the city has lost tens of thousands of residents "because of rising taxes, poor city services and the lack of control by the police department over crime on the street, rather than those Pepco bills."
The exchange between Dixon and Turner took place before 60 people at a forum sponsored by the Far Northeast-Southeast Council, a coalition of 14 civic associations. The themes they touched on included many that are likely to be aired in the five weeks before District voters elect a new mayor.
Turner said he is the only mayoral candidate with the management experience needed to cope with the city's mounting problems of debt and drugs.
"I'm the only one who has had any experience in leading anything," Turner told those gathered in the auditorium of the Fletcher-Johnson Educational Center in Southeast.
"The number one problem in this town is crime and drugs," he said, "and if we don't do something about crime and drugs, nothing else can exist, or nothing else can happen in this town."
Dixon described Turner as a captive of the conservative wing of the national Republican Party and an ineffectual leader in the city government's effort against drug trafficking and related violence.
She said that if elected next month, "I'm going to see to it that we have a police chief who's on the job so we don't continue to be overwhelmed by this escalating drugs and crime."
In a dig at Turner, Dixon warned that if police officers lack the "strength and determination" to fight criminals aggressively, "then we ought to encourage them to retire or go on and run for public office or what have you."
Turner also derided Dixon as "the Washington Post candidate," a reference to the series of endorsements she won from the newspaper's editorial page in the days leading up to the Sept. 11 primaries.
The former police chief said he had tried, starting as early as late 1982, to win the addition of hundreds of officers to the city police force. But he said his hands were tied.
"As chief of police, you can recommend and request," he said. "As mayor, you can add. As mayor, I will add" police.
Dixon reiterated her vow to "clean house" in District government, saying she sensed a mood to trim the size of the public payroll.
"The people of this town are eager and enthusiastic about returning government to the people and making certain government works again," Dixon said.