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Clarke Elected Council Chairman

By Rene Sanchez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 15, 1993; Page A01

David A. Clarke, who campaigned as a trustworthy wizard of the District's finances, won a decisive victory yesterday in the race to succeed the late John A. Wilson as D.C. Council chairman.

Clarke (D) captured seven of the city's eight political wards and easily defeated his closest rival, Ward 4 council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D), in the five-candidate special election for chairman, which is the second-highest elected office in the District.

At-large council member Linda W. Cropp (D), community activist Marie Drissel (D) and Socialist Workers Party candidate Emily Fitzsimmons finished far behind, according to complete but unofficial election returns.

About 25 percent of the District's voters turned out for the election. Clarke received 47 percent of the vote, compared with 29 percent for Jarvis and 16 percent for Cropp.

Clarke campaigned largely on the promise that he had the experience to lead the District out of its severe financial crisis -- with or without the help of D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. His victory ushered him back to the top ranks of city government only two years after he left. Instead of seeking a third term as council chairman, Clarke chose to run for mayor in 1990, but was trounced.

Last night, Clarke thanked cheering supporters and quickly warned that the city will confront painful times. "We face difficult choices," he said, "and we're going to have to {make them} without tearing each other apart."

Clarke, who is scheduled to meet separately with Acting Council Chairman John Ray and Kelly today, also said that he expects good relations with Kelly once he takes office later this month. "I will be independent," he said. "Independence, however, is not the antithesis of cooperation."

Kelly visited Clarke's victory celebration late last night. "I think we'll have a good working relationship," she said.

In the only other issue on the ballot, 56 percent of District voters approved an initiative calling for a constitutional amendment banning nuclear weapons, according to complete but unofficial returns.

Clarke, 49, received 38,391 votes, more than the totals for Jarvis and Cropp combined. He finished equally strong in black and white neighborhoods -- an unusual feat in a city where elections often have split the electorate along racial lines. Clarke won every ward but Southeast's Ward 8, where council member Marion Barry had campaigned for Jarvis. Still, Clarke finished only 12 votes behind Jarvis there.

Clarke did not raise as much money as Jarvis, 52, and he campaigned without the support of most of the District's business leaders, who rallied behind Jarvis because they felt Clarke might be hostile to some of their interests. Clarke had the strong support, however, of many of the city's largest labor unions and legal groups and several prominent ministers.

Joslyn N. Williams, president of the Metropolitan Labor Council, AFL-CIO, said Clarke's victory showed that "the news of labor's death was greatly exaggerated."

Clarke also relied on the ties he had maintained with many civic leaders in the last two years by taking a leading role in successful citywide campaigns against imposing a death penalty in the city and in support of a law that holds merchants of assault weapons liable for injuries or deaths that such guns cause.

One Ward 3 neighborhood leader said he sided with Clarke because of his integrity. "I don't know if Dave can solve the problem of crime, but I know he won't commit any," said Paul Strauss, 29.

Unlike Jarvis or Cropp, 45, who each ran their campaigns from downtown offices, Clarke waged his from the living room of his Mount Pleasant home, aided by a loyal band of volunteers who worked day and night telephoning voters, especially senior citizens, to tout his long career in the civil rights movement and his previous record as council chairman.

As has long been his habit, Clarke also traveled to many campaign events on his old 10-speed bicycle.

Jarvis blamed her defeat last night on her inability to motivate more of her supporters to go to the polls. Jarvis entered the race hoping to revive her political career in the city. Last fall, she barely won another term as Ward 4 council member and until Wilson's death had been angling for a position in President Clinton's administration. Jarvis lost her home ward to Clarke last night.

"We were never able to get 50,000 voters motivated," said Ted Gay, who managed the Jarvis campaign. "That's how many we would have liked to have. We didn't give them enough calls to come out and vote."

Jarvis said that Clarke "would make a fine chair," but she told 400 crestfallen supporters gathered at the Mayflower Hotel, "We're not going to go away. We're still committed to this city."

Jarvis also did not rule out another run for chairman or mayor. "We're keeping all of our options open," she said. Both Cropp and Jarvis will remain on the council; Cropp is up for reelection next fall.

Yesterday's vote capped a summer of political uncertainty in the District. Many civic and business leaders, still missing Wilson's leadership, were apprehensive about who would replace him.

At the time of his suicide in May, Wilson was one of the city's most senior politicians and widely regarded as an expert on its finances. Many civic leaders said that in his two years as chairman, Wilson won much more political clout for a council that had long worked in the shadow of District mayors.

For some voters, choosing Wilson's successor also has seemed important for another reason: their dwindling faith that Kelly's administration can solve some of the city's chronic problems.

The election could greatly affect the political fortunes of Kelly, who has often had turbulent relations with the 13-member council since she took office and who will be seeking renomination this time next year.

Kelly, calculating that she could not significantly influence the outcome, did not publicly support anyone in the race.

The campaign, which began in earnest six weeks ago, was dominated by debate on the city's financial crisis.

In the past year, the council has voted to fire hundreds of city workers, has furloughed thousands more and has made extensive cuts in government programs.

Candidates also answered angry questions about violent crime. Homicides still are occurring in record numbers, and there has been a surge in reported rapes. Anxiety about violence is spurring an exodus of families and merchants to the suburbs. The District's population -- estimated now at 589,000 -- is at its lowest level since the Great Depression.

Those issues, many leaders say, put urgent demands on Clarke, who will have only 15 months to complete Wilson's term and will be judged again by District voters next fall. The chairman has broad powers to set the council's legislative agenda and to oversee how District agencies work. Clarke will assume the chairmanship on Sept. 28. He will be paid $81,885.

The successfull ballot Initiative 37 was created by a small band of peace activists in the city. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) has said she will not comply with the initiative because she believes it is inappropriate to use a constitutional amendment to reduce nuclear arms.

Staff writers Hamil R. Harris, Nell Henderson, James Ragland and Yolanda Woodlee contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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