WASHINGTON may be center stage for national politics, but 1990 was the year when local politicians provided a rival theater. Some credit goes to Marion Barry's solo performance, but the rapid growth of the area was itself responsible for bringing new energy and attention to local politics.
"There are so many people moving in and staying that we now have a solid core and they are inevitably investing themselves in local Washington politics," said George Grier, the demographer of the Greater Washington Research Center. In fact, during the last five years the metropolitan area has grown by 80,000 annually.
No matter how slick the razzle-dazzle, many politicians continue to run campaigns that are memorable -- though not always in the way they hope. If there were an attempt to establish an honor roll for local standouts, it could begin with these nominees: For Entertaining Dialogue: In Northern Virginia's 8th Congressional District, where incumbent Republican Stan Parris is being challenged by Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran Jr. When Democrat Moran urged President Bush to be cautious in deploying U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf and recalled the Vietnam War, Parris called a press conference the next day to announce that he knew of only three people who opposed Bush's decision: "Yasser Arafat, Muammar Gadhafi and Jim Moran." Moran shot back by calling Parris "a deceitful, fatuous jerk," and said, "I want to break his nose." Moran later went on to call Parris a racist for allegedly suggesting that abortion would be appropriate in cases where white women were raped by black men. But after making the charge, Moran didn't want talk about it. For Entertaining Vegetable: In Virginia's 10th Congressional District, where GOP incumbent Frank R. Wolf is fighting off challenges from Democrat MacKenzie Canter and Lyndon LaRouche, who is in jail. LaRouche's lack of mobility hasn't hurt his fundraising. He's put $400,000 into the race and is using it in innovative ways, such as putting billboards in Maryland -- somewhat outside the Old Dominion's 10th C.D. What's on the billboards is a picture of broccoli and the words, "Eat it, George." The George in question is Bush. LaRouche has told reporters he considers Wolf a "nice guy" and doesn't really care about him. For Best Supporting Mom: In Maryland's 1st Congressional District where Democratic incumbent Roy Dyson has his mother pleading for her son in TV ads. Dyson, who serves on the House Armed Services Xommittee and has taken pride in his opposition to any attempt to cut defense spending, has been having trouble explaining why he sat out Vietnam as a conscientious objector. Dyson first said he objected to all war; later he has said he objected to that war. And he has said it was a deep and emotional moment for him when he decided to apply for CO status. Later, it was revealed that he had applied for -- and received -- several student exemptions before getting his CO deferment. Best Supporting Role in Behalf of Nothing: In the Virginia Senate race. Democrats needed enough people to attend their convention to ensure that LaRouche follower Nancy B. Spannaus couldn't claim the party's nomination, The Democrats succeeded: Now they have no challenger to incumbent Republican, John Warner. Shortest-Lived Tax Issue: In the 7th Congressional District race in Virginia, which has offered support for that old axiom about people who live in glass houses. D. French Slaughter, the GOP incumbent, thought he had a coup when his aides revealed that Democratic challenger David M. Smith had outstanding tax bills. A week later reporters discovered that Slaughter had not paid some of his personal property taxes. For some reason, there have been no more revelations from the Slaughter campaign. Longest-Lived Tax Issue: In the saddest race of the year, the one for D.C. congressional delegate. Eleanor Holmes Norton claims she didn't know that her local taxes went unpaid for most of the 1980s. Information continues to dribble out about other unpaid tax bills; the candidate's statements on the matter have been confusing and contradictory; and a victory would likely increase scrutiny over the tax issue. At several campaign forums, Norton has seemed to be on the verge of tears, her hands shaking and her voice unsteady. Most Interesting Career Alternative: To D.C. School Board member R. Calvin Lockridge, who is running for re-election in Ward 8 and telling voters that if he loses, he will put his energies into becoming principal of the Ballou Senior High School. Ballou has had its accreditation threatened because scholastic review panels have concluded that Lockridge has interfered with academic activities at the school and undercut a series of principals who have left in anger. Sorest Losing Family: To Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer, who lost the Democratic primary in an upset by County Councilman Neal Potter, and his wife. Kramer has launched an independent write-in campaign for the general election, a campaign that has been endorsed by businessmen who feel threatened by Potter's anti-development campaign themes. But the campaign's highlight came at the post-primary, Democratic unity party when Kramer's wife, Betty Mae, fingers wagging in Potter's face, told him he was a scoundrel and that she didn't like him. Take that. The Shamelessness Trophy: To hands-down winner Marion Barry, who continues to press himself and his problems on the District with his campaign for an at-large seat on the City Council. The mayor is looking past his traumatic trial (and conviction for cocaine possession), the six-month jail sentence he faces and opposition to his candidacy from an array of local politicians who know better: 10 of the 13 City Council members, both mayoral candidates, old friend Jesse Jackson and some close friends who are worried about his health. They've all said Barry should not be on the Council, but Barry is pressing city workers to vote for him, appearing on interviews with Barbara Walters and Phil Donahue to portray himself as a victim of a white conspiracy and insisting that he has the right to run -- as if that was the issue.
Still if Barry's performance goes beyond politics and into pathos, it is undeniable that he has given local politics quite a year.
Juan Williams writes frequently about politics for The Washington Post.