Democratic Mayor Anthony Williams and Republican Carol Schwartz face off on Tuesday in a rematch of Washington's 1998 race for mayor.
Williams won that contest by a 2-to-1 margin, and Schwartz returned to the D.C. Council. But in the four years since, she says, her case against Williams has grown stronger.
Few disagree that the city is better off than when Williams became mayor. Schwartz has struggled to gain attention for her fourth bid for the job at a time when city voters are returning incumbents to office by wide margins.
Schwartz has contended that Williams is ethically tainted, disengaged and out of touch with a city in which he remains a newcomer and still owns no property. She says a government under her leadership would be leaner and more responsive to residents' needs.
Also running for mayor is Steve Donkin, representing the D.C. Statehood Green Party. Donkin, a teacher, says the mayor and the council are beholden to the business community.
"The bottom line of our campaign is redirecting resources toward the needs of the residents," Donkin said. His party has about 1 percent of the city's registered voters.
Other candidates whose names will appear on the general election ballot are Sam Manuel, a garment worker representing the Socialist Workers Party, and Tricia Kinch, running as an independent.
On the day she announced for office, Schwartz told dozens of supporters, "My opponent offers a record which shows some signs of progress. . . . But this is still a deeply troubled and divided city. Tony Williams's stewardship has been marred by ethical lapses, questionable judgment and a cold lack of compassion for our poorest and most helpless citizens."
She has also criticized Williams for allowing the ranks of middle managers to grow in city government. The number of employees earning more than $100,000, for example, has grown from 330 when he took office in 1999 to 553 this year, she said.
Schwartz moved to Washington in 1966 and raised her family in the city. She spent two terms on the school board and is serving her third as an at-large member on the D.C. Council. At times, she has been the council's only Republican.
She is liberal on social issues such as abortion and gay rights, and this year, she pushed the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to ask the Washington Redskins to drop the team nickname in favor of one not offensive to Native Americans.
During the general election campaign, Williams has rarely responded to Schwartz and her charges, though he noted pointedly in a recent debate that she had voted for some initiatives that led to an increase in the number of government managers.
He won the Democratic primary in a landslide and won more write-in votes than Schwartz in the Republican primary, too, though neither campaigned actively for the GOP nomination.
Williams has sought to tie himself to Washington's generally rising fortunes, hoping that voters will reward him for cleaner streets and increasing property values.
"I believe the city is going in the right direction," he said at a debate at George Washington University. "I believe I'm the right man for the job."
Williams was a finance official for the Agriculture Department and for the state of Connecticut. He came to the District government in 1995 as its chief financial officer, a semi-independent post to which Williams was appointed by then-mayor Marion Barry.
He and Barry often clashed as Williams sought to cut the city's budget and lay off workers. He also moved to consolidate power in his own hands, working closely with a federally appointed control board that had little faith in Barry.
Williams had little experience in elective office, despite a stint as a New Haven alderman while a student at Yale University. But after Barry announced that he wouldn't run again in 1998, a draft movement recruited Williams. He defeated not only Schwartz but also three council Democrats. His relations with the council have been strained throughout his administration.
The mayor takes credit for improvements since he took office in 1999. Crime, overall, is lower. Streets are cleaner. The image of the city has improved, particularly in the eyes of federal officials and Congress. The federal financial control board disbanded last year in what Williams considers a top accomplishment of his administration.
Economic development, particularly downtown, has improved markedly. New stores such as the Home Depot in Brentwood have offered residents more shopping options.
Other government initiatives under Williams have shown, at best, mixed progress. Lines remain long at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and social services and public schools are troubled.
His decision to close D.C. General Hospital to inpatient care, which Schwartz opposed, angered many residents of Washington's eastern neighborhoods. He argues that the privatized network of health care that replaced D.C. General's services has brought improved coverage to needy residents, though many advocates disagree.
The mayor has also faced several ethical issues, including his reelection campaign's submission of thousands of forged and fraudulent nominating petitions. For that, the city's election board fined Williams a record $277,700 and denied him a spot on the Democratic primary ballot. He ran instead as a write-in candidate.
Williams vows that in a second term, he would continue to improve city government and work harder at reaching out to communities. He concedes that he has failed to connect personally with many residents.