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Hilda Mason's hold on her council seat appears to be waning.
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  •   Barry Drops Old Ally, Backs New One

    Mark Thompson, Umoja Party council candidate, shakes hands with the Rev. George Stallings, center, as Vernon Hawkins looks on. (Patrick D. Witty – Washington Post)
    By David Montgomery
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, October 15, 1998; Page B01

    Mayor Marion Barry joined several prominent political activists yesterday in endorsing Umoja Party candidate Mark Thompson for the D.C. Council, a move some said was aimed at preventing the election of a white majority to the council.

    After receiving the endorsement, Thompson apologized for a 1996 assault on his then wife. He was convicted of a misdemeanor assault charge three months ago after testimony that he pushed Kaha Fatah roughly to the floor. He was sentenced to undergo counseling, 150 hours of community service and two years of probation.

    Barry's support for Thompson, 31, an outspoken activist for home rule, forced the mayor to make the personally painful decision to abandon his longtime friend and ally, Hilda H.M. Mason (Statehood-At Large), the matriarch of the statehood movement, who is seeking a sixth term on the council.

    Mason, 82, was on Barry's slate at the beginning of his career in elected office when they both won seats on the school board in 1972. After Barry was wounded in a 1977 attack by radicals on the District Building, he recuperated in Mason's Shepherd Park home. Their relationship was tested in 1990, when Barry challenged Mason for her at-large council seat. Mason defeated Barry handily, and seemed to forgive his audacity.

    "We need new leadership, young leadership," Barry said. "I had a tough choice."

    Barry's decision crushed Mason's supporters, who privately had hoped the mayor would honor his long friendship. Mason, who has been recuperating from a mild heart attack, had no comment.

    Though Barry has publicly agonized over the possibility of a majority-white council, he did not address the racial makeup of the council at the breakfast fund-raiser for Thompson at the downtown restaurant Georgia Brown's. But some of Thompson's other supporters, and Thompson himself, said it is important.

    "We are a predominantly African American community," said the Rev. Willie Wilson of Union Temple Baptist Church.

    "The government should reflect the community," said Archbishop George Stallings of the Imani Temple, who lost in the Ward 6 Democratic council primary.

    The 13-member council would have seven white members if Republican David A. Catania, who is white, retains his at-large seat; Democratic candidate Phil Mendelson, also white, wins another at-large seat; and white at-large council member Carol Schwartz loses her bid to become mayor.

    If Mendelson and Catania win, Statehood Party incumbent Mason, who is black, would lose, since voters can elect only two at-large candidates in the Nov. 3 election.

    "We've got to make sure the Republican David Catania doesn't come back to the council," Barry said. He reiterated his support for Mendelson and said to Thompson, "Mark, I'm going to do all I can to support you."

    The veteran political luminaries supporting Thompson -- who also include H.R. Crawford, a former council member, and Otis Troupe, a former D.C. auditor -- appeared to infuse the Umoja candidate's bid with a measure of clout. Anita Bonds, a former Barry aide and political operative, is Thompson's campaign committee chairman.

    But his assault conviction may cost him some votes. Bill Lightfoot, a former D.C. Council member, said he had supported Thompson, and contributed $500, until the candidate was convicted. "I think people can forgive a mistake that is made, but someone should not be elected so soon after a criminal conviction," he said.

    Imagene B. Stewart, founder of the House of Imagene battered women's shelter, attended the endorsement breakfast and said she believed Thompson has "atoned" for the crime.

    "I want people to know I am sorry for what happened," Thompson said. "That's an issue that's very, very serious for me."

    To an extent, both Mason and Thompson appeal to voters whose chief concerns are self-determination for the city, support for the University of the District of Columbia, and a commitment not to trim government at the expense of the poor and powerless. They could split those voters, playing into the hands of Catania, who won prominence with an active first year on the council, where he pleased community activists with his sharp questioning of city officials and his vote against the new convention center.

    Thompson said he held out the hope that many Democrats might abandon Mendelson and vote for both himself and Mason.

    "A number of us will have to make that tough decision," said Crawford, who said he has not decided whom to vote for in the at-large race besides Thompson.

    Also running for at-large seats are independents Malik Z. Shabazz, Sandra Seegars and Beverly J. Wilbourn.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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