Republican mayoral nominee Maurice T. Turner Jr., opening up new lines of attack against Democratic rival Sharon Pratt Dixon, said yesterday that Dixon is out of touch with the District's poor and derided her as a captive of utility interests because of her tenure as a utility company vice president.
In what senior campaign aides described as a consciously sharper attack against Dixon less than four weeks before the Nov. 6 election, Turner described Dixon as an elitist "who doesn't understand what it's like to be poor, what it's like to struggle to make ends meet."
"I didn't come from the other side of the tracks," Turner said at a news conference in a working-class section of Southeast Washington. "Some people are born with silver spoons in their mouths. I happen to not be one of those."
Dixon, who was in New York City yesterday for a fund-raiser and meetings with investment bankers about the District's fiscal crisis, could not be reached for a comment. Sonya D. Sims, her press secretary, dismissed Turner's remarks as "ridiculous."
"The Republican Party is manipulating him to make these ridiculous statements," Sims said.
Turner spoke to reporters yesterday outside a satellite office of the Potomac Electric Power Co. on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, a consumer service center the utility established at the urging of Dixon, who worked for the power company as a lobbyist and vice president. Dixon worked for Pepco for more than 12 years before retiring in April 1989.
Standing at the busy intersection outside the Pepco office, Turner criticized the more than $500,000 Dixon received upon her retirement from the utility, saying she would be forced to do the company's bidding if she is elected mayor.
"How can she make an impartial decision regarding these interests?" said Turner, who added that Dixon currently owns nearly $250,000 worth of stock in the utility.
"It is in her best financial interest that Pepco continue to make an enormous profit," Turner said.
Sims responded by saying Dixon would grant no special treatment to her former employer. "There's not going to be any conflict of interest," Sims said. "She doesn't owe anybody but the voters."
Noting that Dixon won a come-from-behind victory in last month's primary election after trailing her four rivals in fund-raising, Sims added, "Pepco did not influence her and no other special interest did either." At his news conference, Turner also issued the latest in a series of attacks on Pepco itself, the sole supplier of electricity to District residents, businesses and the federal government here.
"Pepco is making a huge profit off of the citizens of the District of Columbia," Turner said. "They have taken a lot of dollars from the citizens."
Pepco spokesman Steve Arabia said Turner was wrong. "The fact is that our rates have either stayed flat or gone down in recent years," he said.
Arabia said that since 1983, the year Dixon became a vice president of the utility, Pepco's rates declined 10 percent, to less than 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. With inflation factored in, the price of power declined 30 percent, Arabia added.
In March, a nationwide study by state utility regulators found that residential electric rates in the District are among the lowest in the United States. Of 180 rate schedules in effect in early 1989 and reported to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, only 12 were lower than rates paid by D.C. customers of Pepco.
In June, District regulators approved a 1.6 percent rate increase for Pepco, less than one-third of what the company originally requested. That increase was the first in the District since 1984. Over the years, the D.C. Public Service Commission has rejected requests from Pepco for large rate increases and once ordered a reduction, saying Pepco didn't need the money. After meeting with financiers on Wall Street, Dixon was scheduled to meet with New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins last night and attend a fund-raiser.
Staff writer Mary Ann French contributed to this report.