First Lady Barbara Bush campaigned yesterday with Republican mayoral nominee Maurice T. Turner Jr. and said the former D.C. police chief enjoys access to the White House even though he may sharply disagree with the president's veto of the 1990 Civil Rights Act and other issues.
Bush said during a morning tour of Dunbar Senior High School in Northwest, Turner's alma mater, that although the president had vetoed the civil rights measure over Turner's objections, that did not diminish the importance of Turner's "input" into the administration's decision to oppose the bill.
"The president listened to him and they came down on different sides," Bush told reporters at an impromptu news conference in Dunbar's library. "He had access and he told the president how he felt."
"The president didn't go with him, but that doesn't mean he didn't have input," Bush said.
The veto of the civil rights act during the final stage of Turner's campaign against Democratic nominee Sharon Pratt Dixon and nine other candidates was a blow to the Republican nominee, say Turner advisers and other GOP strategists. Turner has described the measure as perfect; President Bush said he vetoed the bill last week in the belief it would mandate hiring quotas.
Dixon, attempting to keep the issue alive until Tuesday's election, called the veto incomprehensible and disimssed as politically insignificant the appearance by the First Lady on Turner's behalf.
"While there might be some personal affection for Mrs. Bush, I think it didn't help him to be associated with a president who walked away from civil rights," Dixon said. "I don't see how in the world that could help him."
"It's hard to explain why anybody would see it in the interests of this town to be with the Republican Party," Dixon added, asserting that the GOP has been "particularly antagonistic to the interests of minorities and women and the District of Columbia."
President Bush opposes statehood for the District and the city government's right to finance abortions, both positions sharply at odds with those espoused by Turner.
Dixon, campaigning in Southwest, also accused Turner of running a negative campaign, alluding to his efforts to portray her as a member of a privileged family.
"I think they have played dirty pool," Dixon said of the Turner camp.
"It is a challenge to deal with the Republican Party," she added. "They take off the gloves . . . . They will say anything, they will do anything -- they just don't seem to have any limits."
"I'm trying my best to keep on the issues, to keep people interested in the political process . . . and try not to get caught up in that negative dynamic," she added.
Dixon spoke to reporters while paying a brief visit yesterday afternoon to the vehicle inspection station in Southwest, where dozens of motorists were waiting in line, some for more than an hour, to have their cars inspected.
After shaking hands with some of the drivers, Dixon said the long lines at the city's two inspection stations were not uncommon.
"That's part of why we've lost a lot people in the last 10 years out of the city -- this kind of problem in terms of city services," she said. "Part of the reason I'm running -- and talking about cleaning house -- is making a dramatic improvement in these kinds of services, so it isn't an all-day experience."
Dixon said if elected, she would explore the possibility of contracting out annual inspection services to gasoline stations licensed by the city.
At Dunbar, Bush toured a computer learning center and later conducted a question-and-answer session with about 40 students in the school library.
She spoke warmly of Turner, who at the president's urging converted to the GOP when he retired from the police department last year.
"Maurice Turner is a leader," she said, "a decent, honest, good man."
When a reporter asked if the Republican Party could accommodate views as diverse as Turner's and the president's, Bush said, "Well, look here," and hugged Turner to her side.
"We're a big, all-inclusive party, and we just think we've got the greatest man running for mayor that's ever run in this city," Bush said.
Turner and Dixon resumed their attacks on each other during a half-hour televised debate last night on WJLA-TV (Channel 7).
Asked about Turner's claims that she was born with a "silver spoon" in her month, Dixon said her parents came from modest origins and replied, "I'm at a loss to know what it means, because my experience wasn't too unlike his."
"Sadly, I think that Mr. Turner has gotten the hang of being a Republican -- which is to sort of smack at whatever you think works," she said. "It's a disservice to the voters."
But Turner did not back off, saying, "Maurice Turner is not rich and Ms. Dixon's not poor," while portraying himself as someone who "scrapped and scraped" his way up from the streets of Washington.
Turner also was asked about his fathering of a child out of wedlock while married and how that squared with the family values he has espoused in stump speeches.
"I don't think that it has any impact at all," Turner said. "I think there are a lot of people whose marriages go sour, they meet other people and they have affairs. I'm no different from anyone else. It shows that I'm human . . . . I'm not ashamed of any of my life."
In another development yesterday in the mayoral campaign, Dixon announced yesterday that she has adopted a policy of limiting the amount of financial contributions she will accept from any one industry and said she would not accept any money from the tobacco industry.
Meanwhile, Turner was endorsed this week by several prominent minister groups, including the Committee of One Hundred Ministers, the Missionary Baptist Ministers Conference and the Baptist Convention of Washington, D.C.
In a statement, leaders of the groups hailed Turner as "best qualified by our standards," including the criteria that the mayor "be a good person with high moral standards" and a "person of good report."
Some were upset that Dixon supports legislation extending D.C. government health benefits to partners of homosexual city workers and her suggestion that high school students should be provided with condoms.
"We stand firmly today upon the Bible as the word of God in reference to the family that we are against homosexuality . . . and the encouragement of premarital sex," the ministers said in their statement. "God instituted the family as the basic unit of society, and it is because of its degeneration that we are faced with a multiplicity of social ills today."