"CAN YOU IMAGINE?" said a friend of ours who's been following the District of Columbia political campaigns, "Only three months to go." It was the word "only" that gave us pause, for given the way it's been going, this could be a long summer. It isn't for any lack of energy on the part of the candidates for mayor and council, though; their schedules are jammed with appearances around town. But so far the candidates haven't been able to make their campaigns distinctive - or to indicate what kind of constituency they seek to attract.
As a result, many community groups are still hedging when it comes to choosing sides. For example, business - as represented by the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade - is making no secret about getting actively and openly involved in the campaigns; yet individual Board of Trade members have been contributing to all of the main candidates' campaigns. To some degree, labor - or at least those union officials who claim to speak for their rank-and-file members (many of whom live outside the city) through the Greater Washington Central Labor Council - has begun to stand up for candidates; but individual locals are supporting different contenders.And the ministers are signing up here and there, too.
So the feeling-out process has only begun. While many people may claim to be disenchanted with Mayor Walter Washington's administration, they haven't figured out whom to turn to. Marion Barry and Sterling Tucker have yet to spell out any big differences they perceive in their approaches. And in the campaign for council chairman, where there do happen to be discernible differences in the styles of Douglas Moore and Arrington Dixon, the substantive discussion, so far, has not gone much beyond what one voter called "the five G's: gays, gambling, gun control, grass and go-go girls."
Those are fine subjects, but we have a hunch that the voters want to hear more, and that the candidates would do well not to underestimate the concerns of the electorate. People will be looking for specific proposals to make the government more efficient, to ease the housing squeeze, to help improve the public schools and to make life in the city comfortable and affordable. If that's a tall order, so is the responsibility that each candidate for top local office seeks to assume.