D.C. mayoral candidates Sharon Pratt Dixon and Maurice T. Turner Jr. traded barbs yesterday over an issue they agree upon: their shared opposition to President Bush's veto of the Civil Rights Act of 1990.
While both Dixon and Turner strongly opposed the president's action, Democrat Dixon contended that Turner must assume some responsibility because he joined the Republican Party last year and has become "beholden to the people who are moving the country backward."
During a news conference outside the Frederick Douglass Home in Southeast, Dixon criticized Turner for his friendship with Bush, whose support has helped raise at least $250,000 in pledges for Turner's campaign.
"That friendship has served the city poorly," Dixon said.
Turner's aides responded angrily to Dixon's statement, noting that the former police chief visited the White House on Monday, before Bush's veto, to urge the president to sign the legislation.
"We find it extremely offensive that she would try to attach that to Turner, who himself was a victim of discrimination and who benefited from the civil rights legislation," Turner spokesman Lon Walls said.
Turner, a former D.C. police chief, issued a statement outlining discrimination he had experienced and the reason he was disappointed by the president's veto.
"I had the opportunity to rise from the ranks of a foot patrolman who was not allowed to ride in squad cars with white officers to become the city's chief of police," he said. "Had it not been for the civil rights movement and the resulting law, this would have never been possible."
Bush on Monday vetoed the legislation that proponents said would have restored the law of employment discrimination that has been enforced for two decades, but which has been eroded by six recent Supreme Court decisions that made it harder to sue for job discrimination.
Dixon, dismissing Turner's efforts on behalf of the civil rights bill, said he is a member of the party that is the source of many of the District's problems.
"Most problems are attributable to lack of economic opportunities" for minorities in the city, she said. That lack of parity, she said, stemmed from the policies of the Reagan and Bush administrations.
Walls said the Democrats, and Dixon in particular, were questioning Turner's allegiance to the black community. That shouldn't be questioned," he said. "We're just as committed to the community as anyone."
At a debate last night sponsored by the D.C. Consumer Utility Board, Dixon and Turner voiced similar views on utility regulation. Both candidates, along with D.C. Statehood Party nominee Alvin C. Frost, said they opposed the popular election of either the city's Public Service Commission or the People's Counsel, which are now appointed by the mayor.
The three-member commission regulates providers of electricity, natural gas and telephone service in Washington. The Office of the People's Counsel was established to be an advocate for consumers in regulatory matters.
Turner said that, if elected, he would appoint Brian Lederer, who once headed the People's Counsel Office, to a vacant seat on the regulatory commission.
About half of the hour-long forum was devoted to three independent candidates -- Osie L. Thorpe, Brian Moore and an artist who goes only by the name Faith -- who complained that they had been largely ignored during the campaign by the news media and forum sponsors such as the board.