Despite Bush support, last lap of D.C. race is uphill for Turner

October 31, 1990|By Arch Parsons | Arch Parsons,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- "It's tough," an aide to Maurice T. Turner Jr., the Republican candidate for mayor of Washington, said yesterday. "I knew it was going to be tough when it began, and it's been tough, and it is tough."

The aide was talking after a gesture of support for Mr. Turner by Barbara Bush, the president's wife, appeared to have backfired.

But the aide was also talking generally about the prospects for success of Mr. Turner's campaign against Democratic candidate TC Sharon Pratt Dixon on Election Day next Tuesday.

All indications are that Mr. Turner's prospects aren't much different from what they were when he and Mrs. Dixon began to campaign against each other after the primary vote in September: poor.

The huge majority of registered Democratic voters in the District of Columbia -- they outnumber registered Republicans about 9-to-1 -- appears to assure that Mrs. Dixon will succeed convicted cocaine-user Marion S. Barry Jr. as mayor of the nation's capital.

"Turner has had to come up with a persuasive rationale for Democratic voters to cross over to his side, and he hasn't been able to find it," said Ronald Walters, a political scientist at Howard University who is a professional analyst of district politics. "He hasn't found an issue."

Mr. Turner, a police officer for 32 years and the chief of police during the last eight years of Mr. Barry's administration, has accused Mrs. Dixon of being "soft on crime" because she has recommended that priority be given to the treatment and rehabilitation of drug users. He has pledged to lock up drug sellers and buyers first and treat them afterward.

Mrs. Dixon has promised to fire 2,000 middle- and upper-level city employees to get rid of "municipal bloat," which she blames on Mayor Barry. Mr. Turner criticizes the Barry administration but says her idea is too draconian and would force able civil servants out of their jobs.

There is no indication, however, that either of these issues has created much of a fuss among voters.

At a debate last week organized by three black female lawyers' groups, an audience of about 100 straggled in. The moderator, a former television news anchorwoman, said at one point that she would ask some questions just to "liven things up." They didn't.

While searching for issues, Mr. Turner has emphasized in his campaign the value of what he has called his "access" to the White House. A lifelong Democrat, he announced his plan to switch parties and run for mayor in the Rose Garden, with President Bush at his side.

Yesterday, Mrs. Bush was driven across town from the White House to Dunbar High School, one of Washington's best-known, traditionally black public institutions, to participate with Mr. Turner in a "photo opportunity." But the affair turned into an impromptu news conference at which most of the questions had to do with the president's recent veto of the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1990.

The veto has been condemned most strongly by blacks and Democrats -- most of Washington's population. Mr. Turner had lost no time in announcing immediately after the veto that he personally opposed it and that he had made a personal effort to change Mr. Bush's mind.

At the high school news conference, Mrs. Bush tried to defend both her husband and Mr. Turner -- and became visibly sore in the process.

When a reporter asked Mr. Turner why, for all his claims of White House access, he had been unable to do anything about Mr. Bush's veto decision, Mrs. Bush stepped in. "That's not true!" she said. "The president listened to him."

Her husband's veto and Mr. Turner's opposition to it showed that the Republican Party is "a big, all-inclusive party," she said, adding: "We just think we've got the greatest man running for mayor who ever ran in this city."

Said the anonymous Turner aide later, "If it had been up to me, I would never have allowed that news conference to happen."

Mrs. Dixon, meanwhile, was sailing through a photo opportunity of her own yesterday. She visited a motor vehicle inspection station in Southwest Washington and pledged to fuming drivers waiting in line that when she became mayor, she would do something about it.

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