Democrat Sandy Allen's quest to win a third term on the D.C. Council may depend on two voter-rich groups of constituents -- all of whom became Ward 8 residents after her last election and many of whom are not die-hard supporters of her chief challenger, former mayor Marion Barry.
Allen is trying to win the support of such residents as Deidra Harper, a single thirtysomething professional, who says she moved to the Southeast Washington ward because it was the only place in the city she could afford a townhouse in a new development.
And Allen has sought out such residents as Drake Wilson, a D.C. public school employee who ended up in Ward 8 without ever leaving his Ward 6 home. Instead, his Anacostia neighborhood was shifted into Allen's territory after the D.C. Council redrew political lines to balance the population among the city's eight wards.
Meanwhile, Allen's six challengers for the Democratic nomination also are courting the likes of Harper and Wilson, both of whom plan to vote for a Ward 8 council candidate for the first time in Tuesday's primary election.
"What have you done to affect me now?" Harper asked the candidates at a forum near her Oxon Creek home. "We don't want another council member who is not committed."
Wilson wants answers, too. He chatted briefly with Allen when she stopped by his house on a recent campaign swing through one of three precincts that was moved -- with nearly 10,000 Ward 6 voters -- to Ward 8.
"I haven't made my decision," said Wilson, an Anacostia resident for 10 years. "No way I want Marion Barry to be in office."
"I'm here to help you make your decision," Allen said.
Since 2000, 9,382 residents of Historic Anacostia and most of Fairlawn have become residents of Ward 8, and more than 5,000 additional units of housing have been built in the ward.
Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, president of the Ward 8 Democrats, said the new voters could have a major effect on the election. "The ward has changed. The demographics are different," Kinlow said. "There are more people who are working, more people who own houses. This is their first test. But there is no poster child for all new voters."
Allen said she knows many of the people who live in the Anacostia communities from her days working with an Orange Hat Patrol.
"I've had to spend a lot of time in those communities . . . to get them to know that they live in my ward," Allen said.
Most Ward 8 voters know Barry, a former at-large and Ward 8 council member, as well as a popular four-time mayor. Barry emerged as Allen's strongest opponent as soon as he picked up his nominating petitions.
At times, Allen has to convince voters that Barry is not running for mayor but for her council seat. At a church festival, Allen stood next to a young woman wearing a "Sandy Allen" button, who proclaimed, "I'd vote for Marion Barry any day. Mayor [Anthony A.] Williams has got to go."
Allen quickly remarked: "He ain't running for mayor, baby."
With Barry in the race, the other challengers complain that they are being overshadowed by the former mayor. They have a unified campaign cry: It's time for change.
The other Democratic candidates include William O. Lockridge, a member of the D.C. Board of Education; Jacque D. Patterson, an advisory neighborhood commissioner; R. Joyce Scott, an apartment building resident manager; and Sandra Seegars (who appears on the ballot as "S.S."), an advisory neighborhood commissioner who also serves on the D.C. Taxicab Commission.
Another challenger in the Democratic primary, Frank Sewell, has hung campaign posters, but he has not been highly visible or responsive to requests for information about his candidacy.
Cardell Shelton is running unopposed in the ward's Republican primary.
New Ward 8 voters say they are weighing their choices based on Allen's performance in office and her challengers' promises.
Allen tells constituents that she is a high school dropout and a former welfare mother who won a council seat and rose to prominence as chairman of the D.C. Council's influential Committee on Human Services. She notes that her fellow council members have endorsed her.
Her record speaks for itself, Allen says. When campaigning, she tells voters that she has increased the number of beds in programs for juveniles with substance abuse problems and that she initiated legislation to assist ex-offenders with employment and counseling after they return to the community.
Still, among the city's eight wards, Ward 8's problems stand out. It has the highest unemployment rate. While many areas of the city are experiencing an economic boom, Ward 8 residents are frustrated that they do not have a single supermarket or large sit-down restaurant. Some residents criticize Allen for not working harder to keep D.C. General Hospital open.
Allen responds to critics by saying that she is aware that there is more work to be done.
"You have to dig a hole to build a house," she said at one forum. "We have now built the foundation. I want to stay as your council member because I want to complete the structure that I've put in place."
Allen was once Barry's campaign manager and worked diligently to get him elected. But now he is working hard to unseat her. Barry argues that the ward needs a fighter, someone who will speak up loudly and bring attention to the ward's needs.
"Our alleys are the dirtiest in the city," Barry told Ward 8 residents at a forum. "Our schools are failing people. For 16 years, I provided a summer job to everyone who needed one. My first month on the council, I will introduce a bill to give all youth summer jobs."
Barry's campaign has encountered obstacles.
Barry failed to obtain the endorsement of his own minister, the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, influential pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church and a staunch supporter during Barry's campaigns for mayor. Wilson endorsed Allen instead.
Barry's reentry into District politics has sparked financial support for Allen's campaign. She has raised $131,580, including $92,000 since Barry announced in June. Barry has raised $32,775, short of his goal of $50,000.
Fundraising for the other candidates as of last month totaled less than $20,000, but they are attending forums, knocking on doors, passing out buttons and putting up posters, hoping to garner enough support to distinguish themselves from the pack and win.
Undecided voters such as Mary Rooths, 80, are listening for specifics before making a commitment. Rooths, a Ward 6 transplant, is frustrated that teenagers sell drugs on her street. Recently, she had a question for Seegars, who came to her front porch: "Now, what are you going to do for Ward 8?"
After speaking with Seegars, Rooths said: "I haven't made up my mind. I like what I hear you saying."
Those are sweet words to a candidate's ear. On front porches, at Metro stops and in candidates forums, Allen's challengers insist that they have much to offer.
Lockridge touts his experience on the city's school board and as a longtime advisory neighborhood commissioner and his knowledge of District government. He has promised that as a council member he would continue to help improve education and work to make neighborhoods safe.
Patterson tells voters that for every tax dollar they should get a dollar's worth of services. He said he has worked to get jobs for students at Ballou Senior High School. When he served as a board member of the East of the River Community Development Corp., he said, he found affordable housing for some Ward 8 residents.
Scott promises to look out for the "have-nots." At the top of her priority list are health care, increased funding for public safety and employment and training programs.
Seegars says she is already talking to a grocery chain about moving to Ward 8 and has plans to increase job training and improve health care for needy residents.
And on the campaign trail, Seegars poses a question to potential supporters: "If you don't like the way things are now, why would you even consider putting [Allen] back in?"