The "Rolark-mobile," a tan $30,000 mobile home lent to Wilhelmina J. Rolark's reelection campaign, drove up to a Southeast Washington polling place yesterday. There were cheers and jeers.
It was, at first, a typical election-day scene -- candidates for City Council doing some last-minute campaigning while checking their standing in a primary vote that turned out to be light.
But suddenly, the words turned sharp, underscoring a campaign that many charge has been waged on personality conflicts rather than on the issues.
"Vote for a person who cares, a person who shares, a person who dares to make Ward 8 great," the Rolark-mobile's public address system crackled.
Calvin Rolark, husband of Democratic incumbent Wilhelmina Rolark and president of the United Black Fund, was at the microphone. His words seemed to incense Jerome Brocks, campaign manager for Richard (Dick) Smith, one of Rolark's Democratic challengers.
Using his public address system, Brocks attempted to electronically outshout Rolark: " . . . ask Wilhelmina Roadblock why we have no Metro; ask Wilhelmina Roadblock why there is trash in the streets. It's time for a change in Ward 8," he said as the rhetoric on both sides grew steamier.
And then, R. Calvin Lockridge, the controversial Ward 8 school board member and Rolark's chief opponent, arrived in a marble-white replica of a roaring twenties convertible to chants from some Rolark supporters of "Here comes the pimp, here comes the pimp" referring to his borrowed mode of transportation.
"Your momma," Lockridge said as he passed the worker who chanted the loudest.
"This has really been a gutter campaign," Wilhelmina Rolark said.
The primary in Ward 8, although it featured five candidates, was actually a hard-fought contest between incumbent council member Rolark and Lockridge, the ward's school board member. Dueling on the twin issues of the quality and quantity of city services to the ward, Lockridge had argued that Rolark was vulnerable because "she hasn't done anything that people can put their hands on."
However, Rolark handily won the contest. Final returns showed her winning with 3,066 votes. Lockridge had 1,461 votes with three other challengers trailing far behind.
Calvin Lockridge had begun his day with a chauffeured ride in the sporty 1975 Excaliber to the voting booth at the Washington Highlands library. There, he was greeted by campaign workers and rivals from the Rolark camp.
The banter was lively and sometimes downright antagonistic. "Go across the bridge with Lockridge," one of his supporters yelled, referring to the District building on the other side of the Anacostia River.
"Go to the bridge and fall in the river," a Rolark supporter countered.
Lockridge knew from the outset that he faced a tough race, but yesterday as he moved from precinct to precinct, encouraging his workers, he remained calm and bouyant and appeared to be having fun.
His polls showed that about 20 to 30 percent of the voters in his ward were uncommitted and so he had adopted a two-pronged strategy for victory. First, he posted the two most talkative of his volunteers at the polling places to try to convince voters to go with him. He also identified about 2,500 households where persons said they would vote for him so he arranged to get as many of them as possible to the polls.
To relax the day before the election, Lockridge had been a guest speaker at the Lyles-Crouch Elementary School in Alexandria, where his wife Mildred is principal.
"One student asked him whether after the election he would be spending more time with his wife," recalled Mildred Lockridge. "That was my favorite question."
Over in Precinct 121, at the Henry Draper Elementary School, Lockridge encountered Daryl Ray who was working for candidate Smith. Ray began explaining what was wrong with Ward 8 -- a housing shortage, job shortage, drug problem, education problem.
Lockridge explained that he was a member of the school board and was working hard to improve education in the area.
"Somebody ought to," said Ray. "I graduated from this school right here and I can't read one word on this campaign pamphlet .
A shocked Lockridge called over one of his campaign aides and told her to enroll Ray in an adult education program. "I can't stand having a black man on the street who can't read," Lockridge said.
"Right on," said the man.
Throughout the day of visiting polls, being part cheerleader and part political strategist, Rolark said she had tried to run on her "record of accomplishment." But as she and her husband and several campaign volunteers rode more than 30 miles of narrow Anacostia and Congress Heights-area streets in the mobile home, she was preoccupied by campaign posters that were torn down, stolen signs and alleged violations at the polls.
Calvin Rolark, publisher of the Washington Informer newspaper, said he doesn't remember a "rougher" campaign in the seven years his wife has been in office.
"I've never seen this type of hostility and allegations and threats," he said.
Later at his newspaper office on Martin Luther King Avenue that served as his wife's campaign headquarters, Rolark repeated that charge but with an addition. "This is probably the hardest campaign we have ever fought. Signs being taken down, rumors being spread, but we have overcome," he told the crowd of about 100 who clapped, cried and chanted "Four more years."
Earlier, as the Rolark-mobile rumbled from polling place to polling place, its candidate momentarily quieted her rapid-fire campaign chatter and eased her nervous energy. She stared out onto passing patches of well-kept homes, liquor stores, crumbling low-income apartments and public housing projects that characterize Ward 8.
"A lot of work . . . ," she said as her words trailed off.