If Joseph Danzansky's dreams all had come true, the Washington metropolitan area's too many business organizations and economic development offices would be marching together to promote one region instead of a dozen jurisdictions.
The San Diego Padres (certainly with a better name) would recently have completed another season at RFK Stadium -- with a record presumably better than fifth place in the National League West, 22 games behind Cincinnati.
Citizens of the District of Columbia would be able to elect voting representatives to the Congress and residents of Washington's predominantly white suburbs by now would have extended "a hand across the border" into the largely black city to help eradicate "a cancer at its heart" that is reflected in monthly crime and unemployment statistics.
Business executives here and across the country would have started to do something about their problems instead denying that they exist or trying to "defang" legislation and government regulations that seek to correct shortcomings.
And former City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker now would be mayor of the District, as the current mayor (who defeated Tucker on primary day) noted last Sunday at Adas Israel Synagogue.
At funeral services for Danzansky, who died last Thursday, Mayor Marion Barry Jr. recalled: "I asked for his political support when I ran for mayor and he was very straightforward and honest when he told me he had made a commitment to another candidate.
"Joseph Danzansky was a man who kept his commitments, and he has let his light shine before all of us," the mayor added.
The tireless work of Danzansky for his beloved city, for a metropolitan area and its rich and poor citizens, was probably unmatched by any other Washingtonian of his generation. He received many honors for philanthropic and community work but none was more apt than a Catholic University tribute in 1974, honoring Danzansky as one who "significantly raised the morale of Washington citizens."
It's unusual enough to have one person in your midst who is willing and able to engineer a multimillion dollar United Way Fund drive, to raise money for the Salvation Army and to promote the arts. All this while, he was fighting moguls of the baseball establishment, seeking to return that sport to its rightful local owners, the fans and young people of this community.
What made Danzansky stand out, however, was his occupation. He was a business executive. Unlike most occupants of executive suites Danzansky was outspoken on issues affecting his community as well as his industry. Moreover, Danzansky was not afraid to act, to take risks, to put his money and that of his company where he thought it should be.
His legacy to all Washingtonians is a better, more healthy metropolitan community, even though many of his dreams are unrealized -- such as his plea to business groups a decade ago to join together as one.
But a larger legacy may be his pioneering spirit as a business person. In many ways, by his acts as president, chairman and chief executive of Giant Food Inc., he provided the example for progressive business leadership.
The clearest example of Danzansky's approach to modern business was probably his hiring of Esther Peterson, former and current White House consumer affairs chief, as consumer adviser to the Washington-based supermarket chain in 1970.
Giant, one of the country's 50 largest retail companies in Fortune magazine's annual survey, was the first major corporation of any type in America to bring a recognized consumer advocate into its management with broad and independent powers. Few companies have followed Danzansky's lead so far.
"When consumerism first emerged, the business community was thunderstruck. They reacted to it as something un-American -- as a force that was bent on destroying our free enterprise system," Danzansky recalled in later years. And Peterson was one of the persons labeled a great threat to business for proposing the Fair Labeling and Packaging Act. One business spokesman called her "that woman who sends shivers up and down the backs of people."
"That woman" at first turned down Danzansky's suggestion that she become the consumer's ambassador to corporate management. She didn't want to become a publicity gimmick, Danzansky would recall.
Today, when Peterson thinks back to the early years of this decade, when business was in daily confrontation with consumers and basically on the defensive all the time, she recalls one man's "incredible courage when consumerism was dirty . . . he moved with it rather than fighting it . . . I think he changed a lot of industry by his courage."
According to Peterson, she finally agreed to join Giant only after Danzansky told her simply, "put up or shut up . . . if you think all these things are wrong, come show us." Together, the team of Danzansky and Peterson brought to food retailing in a prominent way such innovations as unit pricing, open dating, a safety program, ingredient labeling, and a "consumer bill of rights" that remains unique.
"He was absolutely genuine" about consumer programs, Peterson said.
Not surprisingly, Danzansky was not the most popular person in the business community, even though he twice headed the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, an unprecedented local leadership role.
He had strong opinions on such issues as city vs. suburbs, once calling the affluent communities in Maryland and Virginia a "white noose around the black city," and he supported price control in 1971. Danzansky said permanent government controls might be inevitable.
Danzansky also had a flamboyant style that made him stand out in the business community, and not just because he was 6-feet tall. His warmth and good humor were exposed in public and private forums. He used well the skills he learned in drama classes and plays as a youth, before he switched to a legal career and then business.
In a Smithsonian speech in 1975, where he concluded that business had made much progress in facing up to consumers, Danzansky detailed how corporations generally react in five distinct steps to demands from the public. When charges are made, companies deny all, at first. Next they try to discredit those making the charges and when consumers seek legislative redress, business opposes everything.
In the fourth stage, with legislation passed or regulations on the books, business works against implementation and appropriations. Only at the last stage, to which Danzansky concluded he had brought Giant Food, "awakening comes and business reappraises its entrenched viewpoint . . . it realizes that service to the consumer is its first obligation if it is to grow and prosper . . . the best way to cope with the problems is to look at the allegations seriously, give responsible consumer spokesmen a fair hearing and make a serious effort to do something constructive to correct any shortcomings."