Flamboyant City Councilman Douglas Moore, who began his campaign for the council chairmanship last September, is trailing behind Councilman Arrington Dixon by a 2 1/2-to-1 margin among the city's Democratic voters, according to a citywide Washington Post survey.
The lesser-known Dixon, who announced his candidacy a little more than a month ago, is apparently riding a wave of anti-Moore a sentiment among all segments of Washington's electorate to take a 53 percent to 21 percent lead over Moore, with 23 percent undecided and 3 percent saying they would not vote in the chairmanship race, the Post's poll indicates.
With three months to go to the Sept. 12 primary,31 percent of the 1,020 Democrats polled said they would not vote for Moore.
Many of the persons surveyed - all of whom have voted at least once in the city's last 10 elections - seemed to be dramatically polarized in their perceptions of Moore. The council chairman's race appears to be a referendum on Moore's style and record as a councilman.And Moore, who is one of the most controversial public figures in Washington, is losing badly at this point.
Voter comment in this public poll of the chairmen's race, which was conducted by telephone and in person from June 1 to 5, revealed a widespread dislike among Washington's voters for Moore. The mercurial Moore, who has had several well-publicized scrapes with the law, is considered a maverick on the council.
The poll also shows that Dixon is ahead of Moore in each of the city's eight wards among upper-, middle and low-income citizens, whites and blacks, homeowners and renters, person with less than high school education and college graduates and regular church goers.
Moore, who was the highest vote getter among a field of 17 at-large city council candidates four years ago at this point, seems to have a small core of supporters who credit him with being independent and accessible to the little man in the street, the poll and interviews indicate.
One factor that could help Moore is the possible entry into the chairman's race of retired former assistant police chief Tilmon B. O'Bryant. O'Bryant, who retired on a $33,000 annual tax-free disability pension in February, has taken out registration forms but has not said whether he will run. He has until July 5 to file his nomination petitions.
As one of the first blacks to reach higher ranks of the police department, O'Bryant enjoys high name recognition among city voters.
The Post's poll shows clearly that with O'Bryant in the race there would be a slight downward shift in sentiment for Moore, but that Dixon would lose a larger proportion of supporters. Dixon's share of the vote fell 11 points, from 53 percent to 42 percent, while Moore's dropped only three points, from 21 percent to 18 percent. The number of undecided voters rose from 23 percent to 31 percent.
If a number of such candidates as O'Bryant entered the chairman's race and, thereby, drew more support from Dixon, Moore would be the big gainer as he was in his 1974 campaign.
Moore trails Dixon 6 to 1 among white voters, and 2 to 1 among black voters. Moore received 38 percent of the support, compared to 48 percent for Dixon, among black voters 30 years old or younger.
A majority of persons polled expressed warm feelings for Dixon when compared to all the known candidates in the mayoral and chairman's race, although he had a lower incidence of name recognition when compared to Moore. And Moore, who had a very high name recognition response, was given the coldest rating of all the known candidates. O'Bryant, although not an official candidate, did slightly better than Moore.
During a D.C. Democratic State Committee fund-raiser at the Harambee House hotel Thursday night, Moore told a reporter not to call him for a reaction to The Post's poll. The reporter tried to arrange a telephone interview yesterday, after the results had been analyzed.
"Polls only measure what the pollster wants to measure," said Moore during a 15-minute conversation on the request for an interview. "I don't comment on polls. I, myself, have never taken a poll and never will."
Moore, a Methodist minister who often preaches in Baptist churches on Sundays, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
One of Moore's best remembered encounters with the law - repeatedly mentioned by voters interviewed in the poll - was his conviction of assault for biting a tow truck driver outside the District building in 1975. A month ago, the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld Moore's conviction on assault charges and agreed that he should undergo a psychiatric examination as a condition of probation.
Reached at home yesterday, Dixon aaknowledged that he has been able to capitalize on an anti-Moore vote. Dixon, a former business technology teacher at the Washington Technical Institute, is projecting himself as a "stable, consistent, responsible" politician. He has twice been elected to the Ward 4 council seat, but has never run for citywide office.
"We certainly have been sensitive to that," Dixon said, "but we think through a proper public relations effort we can change that to let people know who I am. We are not looking for an anti-vote, but we're looking for a positive vote."
Dixon added that a $13,000 poll completed for him recently "confirmed" the results of The Post poll.
Numerous voters interviewed in the poll by Post reporters said they were voting for Dixon to keep Moore from being elected council chairman. A number of white voters candidly expressed their votes for Dixon on racial and class lines.
"I don't know beans about Dixon," said a 38-year-old white university professor who lives in the Adams-Morgan area of Northwest Washington, "but I would prefer anyone over Moore. I don't like Moore's mouth."
Leatha T. Hardy, a 38-year-old black housewife who lives in the Langdon section of Northeast Washington, said her vote will be cast against Moore, and not out of preference for Dixon.
"Douglas Moore is not a very good public image" for the city, Hardy said. "He has done some good things, but then I feel we need somebody we can look up to."
Hardy is a Sunday school teacher at the Second New St. Paul Baptist Church at 2400 Franklin St. NE, a church where Moore has preached. "I really enjoyed the sermon he delivered," she said, "but it still doesn't change my feelings about the kind of negative public image he projects."
James L. Nelson, 46, is black, a deacon and chairman of the Sunday School at The Word of God Baptist Church at 1512 K St. SE, a self-described nonunion "scab" who works in building construction and a Moore supporter.
"If anybody has a chance of doing anything, Moore seems to be a man who will speak out," Nelson said. "He's the kind of man that if you need him, you can go see him. Some of (the councilmen), you can't get to see them."
About Moore's well-publicized troubles Nelson said that does not bother him in his support of Moore. "We all are human and in a passionate moment, we never know what we would do."
Moore, who strongly supports Mayor Walter E. washington's candidacy, has apparently not gained from tying his campaign to the mayor's. But the mayor seems to have picked up strength among Moore's supporters.
Among people who said they will vote for Moore, 28 percent support Mayor Washington, 19 percent support Sterling Tucker and 18 percent support Marion Barry. That is considerably stronger support than Mayor Washington gets citywide.
But the reverse does not hold true of the people who said they will vote for Mayor Washington: 55 percent said they support Dixon an only 22 percent intend to vote for Moore - almost the same citywide percentages for Dixon and Moore.
In the two-way race between Dixon and Moore, Dixon leads Moore by more than 4 to 1 in the mainly white Ward 3 west of Rock Creek Park.
In Dixon's own mainly black upper income Ward 4, he outdistances Moore by a moore than 2-to-1 margin and has just under a 2-to-1 edge in Moore's own middle income Northeast Ward 5. Moore does best at narrowing the gap in Ward 8, the mainly neglected part of the city called Anacostia, but not enough to overcome Dixon, who leads 48 percent to 27 percent, a drop of 5 percent for Dixon when compared to his citywide lead.
William L. Torrence III, 49, an environmental health officer at the city's Forest Haven mental retardation institution in Laurel, wrapped up the dual perceptions of Moore expressed by a number of persons in the poll.
Torrence gave Moore high marks for his activist role during the civil rights era of the 1960s, but said Moore had damaged his reputation since taking office on the city council in 1975. So, Torrence said, he is voting for Dixon.
"I would have voted for Moore," said Torrence, "but I've been turned sour because of his escapades, his bouts with the law."
The other anounced candidate for chairman is the Rev. John G. Martin, pastor of Holy Comforter Baptist Church who ran unsuccessfully for city council at-large in the 1976 Democratic primary.