Arthur A. Fletcher is philosophical about the absence of strong business community support in his race for District mayor.
As Republican Party candidate for the top elective post in virtually any other city. Fletcher could expect to attract outspoken support from business leaders and concrete evidence of their backing in the form of donations.
But not in Washington, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by an overwhelming number. And most business establishment support - verbal and monetary - has gone to the Democratic candidate. City Council member Marion S. Barry Jr., in next Tuesday's general election.
In an interview yesterday.Fletcher said he thinks the business leaders have made a mistake by missing an opportunity to help establish a more balanced two-party system in D.C.
"But the absence of local political campaigns for 110 years . . . with neither party having the experience needed to be effective in a hardfought local election," helps explain the business leaders' reaction, he continued.
Fletcher, a former assistant to President Ford for urban affairs and assistant secretary of Labor, said business executives look at the party registration figures and conclude that a GOP candidate is doomed to failure.
They are wrong in doing so, he contended, because that "is not the decisive standard at all . . . the level of intelligence from an educational and experience point of view indicates a community with a well-informed work force . . . given the chance to expand their view and consider other party labels . . . they well."
Back in April, when Fletcher said he would seek the Republican nomination, he said business reaction added up to a "curious yawn . . . the Board of Trade people see registered Democrats blindly voting (their party), there was little or no enthusiasm, they considered me a sacrificial lamb."
Later, after Barry's slim primary victory over two Democrats who had the bulk of business community support (Mayor Walter Washington and Council Chairman Sterling Tucker). Fletcher said he saw a "real opportunity." In the period of uncertainty after the voting, and before the city was able to say who had won. "If the business community had moved . . . if I'd had $100.000 . . . we could have had a good general election. While I got some calls, seeing if I was still alive," there was little real enthusiasm for Fletcher from the business executives.
According to Fletcher, he met with Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade President R. Robert Linowes and asked for an opportunity to seek business aid.Fletcher said Linowes vowed to help organize such a gathering but that the only subsequent meeting held by Linowes was a luncheon for Barry and business leaders during which at least $50,000 was raised for the Democrat.
Linowes took exception to Fletcher's statement yesterday. The Board of Trade president said he had told the GOP candidate that a meeting would be sought with the business group's political action committee, which has taken place. And Linowes also emphasized that he was acting on his own and not as Board of Trade president at the Barry lunch.
As for the Board of Trade political action committee, it still has made no decision on whether to support a candidate in next Tuesday's election. But most business donations to date have gone to Barry.
Despite these rebufis from business leaders, businessman Fletcher said he expects to win next week and soon to address the Board of Trade leaders as the city's next chief executive.
The GOP candidate noted that he had just received the first significant business donation - a $1,000 check from the Washington Board of Realtors political committee, bringing total campaign funds to more than $40,000. And he said his organization's polls show a large number of persons who are either undecided or who refuse to state their preference - which Fletcher sees as a sign that many people plan to vote Republican but are afraid to say so in a city so long dominated by Democrats.
In terms of economic policy initiatives. Fletcher cutlined a program of city economic development that is unique in emphasining creation of an industrial or manufacturing employment base. Democrats, the current city government and local business leaders generally have stated that they do not believe the District can attract such businesses, and they have emphasized light manufacturing and service industries as the type of firms they want to attract.
Fletcher disagrees. "There will never be enough small business to hire idle, minimam-wage workers. We must go after plants with big payrolls, who will come in with start-up managements and train production workers," the GOP candidate stated.
As mayor, he said he would ask the Conference Board, a New York-based business research organization, to "help search out the corporations planning to expand and ask them to consider D.C. sites."
Fletcher also vowed to assemble a package of tax incentives and capital formation programs that would bring the corporations to vacant land along New York Avenue NE and in Anacostia, in or near neighborhoods with high jobless rates.
Moreover, as city manager. Fletcher said he would hire a municipal executive from another city of similar size who already has experience in attracting business. "D.C. is now at the ground level or below ground level . . . under Congress we couldn't (seek business aggressively) and no one here is experienced in that area," he asserted.
Fletcher, who previously ran for lieutenant governor of Washington State (he got 49 percent of the vote), recently has headed a Washington consalting firm specializing in business compliance with federal and state regulations. His clients have included Marriott Corp., General Electric Co. and Sears. Roebuck.
In the interview, he had these other views on local economic problems:
As mayor, he would establish as a high priority the finarcing of housing in D.C. He said he would call on local financial institutions to help form a task force to move quickly on some solution to what he described as a situation where young families cannot afford homes.
He has suggested a bond issue of $50 million or more, with proceeds going directly to construction and rehabilitation of housing for low- and moderate-income residents.
It is time to review the existing disparity in minimum wages, with the D.C. minimum exceeding national and suburban standards, a situation that business leaders contend drives jobs to the suburbs.
To make certain that minority businesses have the same opportunity as other companies to grow and expand near such developments as subway stations, he would call on minority-owned banks and savings associations here to be involved initially in helping to identify successful black business people.
He would support a voters' referendum on the proposed convention center - but also would "campaign hard" to convince voters that the center is a good idea and should be built. At the same time, Fletcher said he would seek new ideas on financing the center to reduce D.C. taxpayers' contributions.
Fletcher said, for example, that natonal corporations and foundations could be asked to contribute for a "functional monument . . . rehabilitating the nation's capital." Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the D.C. appropriations subcommittee, is expected to announce this week whether he will support D.C. spending for the center, which would assure final congressional approval.