Earlier this month, just before the start of a news conference in a Northwest senior citizens home, Mayor Marion Barry and D.C. Council member Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3) exchanged warm handshakes and friendly greetings.
Before moving to the podium, where he announced his support for a new senior citizens center for Northwest residents, the mayor handed Nathanson a green political button promoting Barry's candidacy for an at-large council seat.
A smiling Nathanson accepted the button and tucked it into his pocket. In an interview later, Nathanson said he will never wear the Barry button.
"In fact, I'm working hard to keep him off the council," Nathanson said, "because his personal lifestyle has caused tremendous negative ramifications for the city, and city government needs to be free of the personal negative legacy of Marion Barry."
Such anti-Barry talk is typical of the four candidates -- incumbent Nathanson and three challengers -- campaigning for the Ward 3 position in the Nov. 6 general election.
Contenders hoping to oust Nathanson, a Democrat, from the job of representing the predominantly white, well-to-do ward west of Rock Creek Park are Julie Finley, a Republican, and Suzanne Finney and Jim Kalish, both independents.
In their literature and at voter forums, the candidates are hitting the themes they say most concern residents of Ward 3: taxes, education and government without Marion Barry.
"There is very little if any support for Barry in Ward 3," said Kalish, publisher of an opinion newsletter, D.C. Issue Watch. "It isn't just the cocaine, it's also the inefficiencies and the mess down there . . . . He was a mediocre mayor in managing the work force."
Kalish views the D.C. elections as an opportunity to "throw most of our current elected officials out of office." He said he would like to get rid of Nathanson because he has been in power and therefore accountable for many of the city's present problems.
Nathanson, said Kalish, was wrong to vote "present" rather than "no" on the council's resolution last year praising the anti-drug work of Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Nathanson said at the time that he disapproved of Farrakhan but abstained from voting out of deference to black council members.
"Nathanson doesn't explode," Kalish said. "He doesn't get emotional about things; he is so imbued with the number of phone calls he answers."
Nathanson hopes to win a second term based on his legislative work and his constituent services. "Some of my critics say I pay too much attention to constituents," he said.
If he is reelected, Nathanson said, he would work to control taxes for residents of Ward 3. The ward has "experienced vast increases in the real estate base, combined with inconsistent delivery of services," he said.
Finley, who was unopposed in the Republican primary, also views taxes as a major headache because "we pay higher taxes in Ward 3 than anywhere in the city."
Voters in the ward feel isolated from the rest of the city, Finley said. "We have been referred to as elitist and separated from the other wards and there is strong concern about that, as well there should be, because the interests and concerns of this ward are the same as the rest of the city -- education, taxes, services."
Finley said her ward needs a strong voice on the council to express those concerns. She also believes the city should go on without Barry.
The other candidate in this race is Finney, 32, a self-employed community activist, who decided to run for the council when the jury verdict in the Barry drug trial was announced Aug. 10. The jury found Barry guilty of one drug charge and not guilty of one charge, but was unable to reach a verdict on the other 12 charges.
"That verdict suggested that crime was okay," Finney said.
The Corcoran School of Art graduate said the D.C. Council needs "someone young and active and someone who isn't afraid to get in there and say something."
Finney said she has been involved in various community activities, including homeless shelters and soup kitchens. She said she has worked as a public relations/art consultant for the Smithsonian Institution and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Most recently, Finney was employed at the Wetherholt Galleries in the unit block of O Street NW. She was arrested there last week and charged with assaulting gallery owner Roger Wetherholt. He said there was an argument and Finney punched and kicked him.
Finney denied using any violence and said she was attacked from behind and knocked down when she tried to remove some of her belongings from the gallery.
The U.S. Attorney's Office has dropped the charges against Finney.