Last of a series on D.C. mayoral candidates.
As a toddler, Maurice Thomas Turner Jr. was so strong that his father took to calling him "Joe" after heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis.
The name stuck. And since then no one in his family has ever called Turner anything but Joe. Over the years, "Joe" Turner seemed to exemplify the fighting spirit of the Brown Bomber. Like Louis, Turner beat the odds in a predominantly white profession.
A third-generation Washingtonian with a modest education, Turner climbed to the top of a then-mostly white police force. When Turner was a rookie, black officers were not allowed to ride in squad cars. In his final year as chief, Turner rode in the lead car of the presidential inaugural parade.
Now, Turner has thrown his hat into a much different ring -- with the odds against him even greater -- as he mounts a Republican campaign for D.C. mayor in a city that is overwhelmingly Democratic.
The challenge seems even more improbable in light of Turner's long-held antipathy toward politics. Before he retired in July 1989, he told friends of his interest in opening a McDonald's franchise.
A chain of events led to his decision to seek the Republican mayoral nomination in the Sept. 11 primary, beginning with a falling out with Mayor Marion Barry over the mayor's conduct and over police staffing issues.
As the city became swept up in controversy over a skyrocketing homicide rate and Barry's suspected involvement with illegal drugs, members of Congress, the White House and the public grew more effusive in their praise of Turner as an "honest cop" and trustworthy public official.
Wooed and flattered by Republican officials who were looking for a prominent figure to challenge Barry as his legal problems mounted, Turner finally decided to take the plunge. The day he turned in his gun and badge he switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in a ceremony at the White House with President Bush.
"He's not a seasoned politician," said Ann Heuer, chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee. "That's what I like about him. He's just so honest, open and aboveboard. He's a very warm and strong person who cares deeply about this city."
One of his closest friends, Carl V. Profater, a former assistant police chief and now a campaign volunteer, said that Turner became "disgusted and frustrated" with conditions in the District and "truly believed that he could make a difference by running for mayor."
Polls have indicated that Turner's best hope for a victory would be a head-to-head battle with Barry in the November general election. But with Barry out of the race and awaiting sentencing on a misdemeanor cocaine possession conviction, Turner's prospects of defeating the Democratic nominee have greatly diminished, according to many political experts.
What's more, Democratic strategists say that Turner will be held accountable for many of the city's drug and crime problems when the general election campaign heats up this fall. Turner caused a stir shortly before his retirement when he told reporters that nothing could be done to eradicate drug-related violence until drug dealers had finished carving up the turf.
But Turner, who has added some polish to his performance with help from Republican consultants and strategists, dismisses the gloomy forecasts as he works the streets of Washington seeking support.
Last week, as he handed out campaign literature at Waterside Mall in Southwest, Turner was instantly recognized by many and was enthusiastically greeted with shouts of "Hey, chief!"
Grinning, the tall, broad-shouldered candidate was quick with a hug, a handshake or a "You live in D.C., darling?"
"I've admired and always wanted to meet you, chief," said Yvette E. Smith, a federal employee. Betty Barrett, a longtime employee at Peoples Drug Store, hugged Turner and said she knew him years ago, "when he walked the beat."
Turner is counting on voters to remember him as the police chief when they go to the polls. To bolster that image, he campaigns by "walking the beat" in neighborhoods across the city. His radio spots feature a snappy jingle to remind voters of his roots.
"He's the chief/ Maurice Turner is his name," a woman sings. "On the street/ He's concerned/ He still cares/ He's walked the beat through the years/ He served us well, I'm so happy to say/ Because of him, things are better today."
Turner, 55, the oldest of six children born to federal government workers Elizabeth and Maurice T. Turner Sr., grew up on Girard Street NW and attended the then-segregated Dunbar High School.
"I wanted to be a dentist," Turner recalled recently. "I thought that would give me the ability to take care of myself and have a comfortable income."
After high school, Turner joined the Marine Corps. "The Marines had a lot of history and tradition," he said. "And I liked the dress blue uniforms."
Turner spent three years in the service, one of them stationed in Korea. When he returned home, he got married. In need of work, Turner took the D.C. police exam.
In a photograph of his police recruit class, the thin, lanky Turner stands out. He was one of a small number of black officers admitted that year.
Because he wasn't allowed to ride with white officers, Turner began his police career by walking a beat. He steadily rose in the department, serving as a sergeant in the old 5th Precinct on Capitol Hill, as a recruiting lieutenant and as a deputy chief in the youth division.
Turner also handled presidential security and riot and crowd control. He was widely praised for maintaining peace when civil rights demonstrators camped out on the Mall and created a "Resurrection City" in 1968. As assistant chief, he commanded the department's field units.
In 1981, Barry appointed Turner the department's 24th police chief, a post he held until his retirement last year.
Turner says that his ascension and his management of the complex and highly visible police department qualify him to be the next mayor.
"To me it would be like running a larger police department," Turner said. "No other candidate has ever managed anything."
His major accomplishments, Turner said, include increasing the recruitment of minorities and women and creating the Repeat Offenders Project, which targets career criminals and has won national acclaim. He also set up the Neighborhood Watch and Crime Solvers programs and takes credit for lowering crime rates for offenses such as rape, robbery and burglary.
"He was a good chief, and there's not a mean bone in his body," said Deputy Chief Edward Spurlock, commander of the 3rd Police District. "He cared a lot for the individual; he called you by your first name, and when you made a good case, he always found a way to get word to you that you done good. That's difficult in a large organization."
Others take a more critical view of Turner's eight years as police chief, noting that it was on his watch that the District was dubbed "the nation's murder capital."
"It's true -- I don't deny that," Turner said. "We arrested a record 43,000 people in 1988. There is no candidate that knows the drug war better."
Critics also say that Turner knew or should have known about the conduct of the mayor's security detail, which, according to testimony during the mayor's trial, may have turned a blind eye to Barry's drug activities.
"He's a nice guy, easy to get along with, friendly, affable," said Gary Hankins, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police labor committee. "But he was not a good police chief as far as standing up for the department, making sure it got its share of resources and manpower, and standing up to the mayor when the mayor tried to interfere with the department."
Turner defends his record as chief and said that, in 1982, he asked the mayor to open a police district on Capitol Hill with 280 additional officers, but was turned down.
The General Accounting Office recently released a report critical of some of the practices of the D.C. Police Academy when Turner was chief, including his decision to allow five recruits to graduate after the academy's director recommended that they be fired because they had failed too many exams.
Profater points to that incident as revealing Turner's character.
"This guy's a compassionate person," Profater said. "Someone else would have let those kids go. But he really looked into it and found out things the GAO never reported and decided to let them graduate.
"He stuck his neck out for those five police recruits," he added. "They are all doing fine on the streets now."
Since Turner's conversion to the GOP last year, the president and Republican National Committee officials have continued to lend their support to his campaign. Turner was invited to the White House six months ago for dinner.
The political scene is all new to the career police officer, and for months various advisers have been grooming him for the race with speech lessons, strategy sessions and issue briefings. Turner also was put on a strict diet and cut back on alcohol to shed 35 pounds.
As he has gained confidence, Turner has begun to attend more candidates' forums. He appears more poised and knowledgeable than in his first rocky days as a candidate, when he used cue cards.
It was the week of Turner's 55th birthday recently, and he was taking a break from the campaign to relax at home on 16th Street NW in the Crestwood neighborhood.
Dressed casually in a T-shirt, jeans and bedroom slippers, he leaned back on a couch stroking his tiny Yorkshire terrier, Sebastian. He kept an eye on a boxing match on television while explaining to a visitor why he is running for mayor.
Nearby was a cabinet filled with police memorabilia and scores of birthday cards from friends and relatives. Magazines were arrayed on a table, including a copy of Playboy.
Turner was divorced 14 years ago from Andree Taylor, after 19 years of marriage, and never remarried. He has dated Veronica "Ronnie" Randall, a nursing assistant, for 11 years. Recently, he turned up in the "Washington D.C.'s Top 100 Bachelors 1990" directory.
Turner has two daughters: Jeannine, a member of his campaign staff who recently graduated with a communications degree from Howard University, and Andree, a registered nurse.
Turner also has a 19-year-old son who was born out of wedlock. The son, who was brought up by Turner's sister-in-law, is a D.C. police cadet.
Turner said he is running for mayor because the District "needs a change in leadership to address crime, drug abuse, poor education, rising taxes and a tarnished image."
He said that, as mayor, he would improve the education system, provide additional resources for police and drug treatment, and improve prenatal care and education.
Turner and his backers hope that the popularity and goodwill he enjoyed as police chief will enable him to breach party barriers to attract large numbers of D.C. Democrats. He has differed with the national Republican Party by supporting the drive for D.C. statehood and by backing the use of District tax money to pay for abortions for the poor.
He takes a more conservative stand on gun control, saying that the District's stringent gun law should be relaxed to allow residents to protect themselves.
Although many anticipated that Turner's campaign would receive substantial financial backing from Republicans, it has raised a total of $267,912 and is $52,172 in debt. James Ray, a consultant to the Republican National Committee and an adviser to Turner, said that fund-raising will pick up substantially after the Sept. 11 primary.
As he campaigns throughout the city, Turner is urging District residents to vote the man, not the party. He hands out cards to voters explaining they don't have to be registered Republicans to cross over to vote for him in November.
In at least a few cases, the effort seems to work.
"See, that's a crossover vote," Turner said recently after approaching Charles Merriwether outside a Safeway where he works.
"Considering the other candidates, I have to vote Republican," Merriwether, a lifelong Democrat, told a reporter.
"I don't think he has an allegiance to the old power structure. He has a good track record as police chief. He has a better chance than most people think."
Birthplace: Washington, D.C.
Education: D.C. Public Schools (Dunbar High School), FBI National Academy, and criminal justice courses at American University and the University of Maryland.
Work Experience: Marine Corps, 1954 to 1957; served in D.C. police department for 32 years, the last eight as chief, supervising 3,800 officers, 915 civilians and a $217 million annual budget. Retired from the force in 1989.
Civic and Professional Associations: Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Police Boys' and Girls' Clubs, member of the Pigskins Club of Washington, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Metropolitan Police Black Officials Organization, Master Mason of Fellowship Lodge No. 26, member of the Mecca Temple No. 10, Shrine.
Religious Affiliation: Baptist, member of the Greater First Baptist Church.
Marital Status: Divorced, three children
Favorite Book: "Parting the Waters" by Taylor Branch
STAND ON KEY ISSUES
Rent Control: Favors continuation of existing law to protect renters.
Taxes: Opposes a tax increase. Says the federal government should increase its payment to the city.
ork Force: Favors cutting the city work force through attrition. Would not fire city employees.
Drug Crisis: Supports city and congressional action to bring the police force up to 5,100 officers. Favors more treatment facilities and more drug education for District youth. Says a new prison should be built at the Lorton Reformatory complex in Fairfax County.
Workers' Compensation: Calls bill pending before D.C. Council "election year politics." Opposes action that would raise premiums to the point where he says employers are driven out of the city.
Public Schools: Calls education his top priority. Would spend more money for education and would try to "coerce" the school board to support his views "without micromanaging the board." Advocates updated curriculum, longer school days and a longer school year and the development of a "decentralized, less bureaucratic school system."