We will rue the day" that Congress turns control of the District over to a locally elected government, Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) told his Senate colleagues on June 20, 1973. And much of the Washington business community thought he couldn't have said it better.
As home rule headed for enactment during the following months, "several of my clients were literally packing their bags" to head for the suburbs, said one local attorney recently. "They thought they wouldn't have access to policy makers anymore."
But it hasn't worked out that way. Interviews with a wide range of business leaders here indicate that many, particularly those who can promise jobs and tax revenue, say they have little difficulty getting a hearing from city council members or Mayor Marion Barry and his staff.
"Local government made Washington a city interested in business because it means more jobs. It says Washington intends to keep up with other jurisdictions," said Robert Washington, an attorney who was chief counsel to the House District Committee when home rule was enacted.
It is also clear that the shift in power has been real -- no one, even those who are very unhappy with the city's policies and laws, wanted to attack its officials on the record.
After 10 years, it may be difficult to recall the magnitude of the change. Before home rule, the Congress of the United States was so deeply involved in District life that it legislated on issues as mundane as kite-flying and dog license fees.
On a broader scale, the local lobbyists were able to get Congress to ensure that the city had no municipal parking garages. "The parking lobby was very strong" before home rule, said one observer who followed the battles.
Today, these issues -- and virtually all others -- are in the hands of the city government. While there are still no municipal garages -- the arrival of Metro and requirements that developers include parking in new buildings have defused the fight -- the game today is more open. There are more players, and when the city likes their ideas they can get their projects approved.
Under Congress, "things were more static," said attorney Whayne S. Quin. "They were not as -- 'ebullient' may be one way to put it. Now, in our council, things can just bubble up and explode in no time at all, because we now have the authority to do what we want to do. And I think by and large that's been very good."
During its first decade of relative independence, the city has had to deal with a number of problems that were not of its own making. It has had to set a tone and a course for its own economic development, and it has had to deal with the reality that Congress can still stick its oar in when it chooses.
As a result, legislative issues of interest to the business community here can be lumped into three broad categories:
* The holdover problems. Before home rule, the city's governance reflected Congress' priorities and, perhaps more importantly, Congress' ability to pay. It is in dealing with these issues, and particularly with the question of workers' compensation benefits, that the business community has had its most visible success.
Between 1928 and passage of a new local law in 1980, workers' compensation for the city had been handled under the federal Longshoremen's and Harborworkers' Act, a circumstance that grew out of a Supreme Court decision that workers in offshore maritime industries could not be covered by state plans. District workers, also lacking state coverage, got thrown in.
Administered by the Labor Department even after home rule, the law provided benefits far more generous than those of neighboring states -- a maximum of $496 a week by 1983 -- and resulted in very high insurance premiums for employers.
The local business community, led by the Greater Washington Board of Trade and opposed by organized labor, mounted a campaign to reduce the benefits.
Business prevailed, despite the revelation that parts of the original bill were lifted verbatim from a Board of Trade document.
The council in 1980 passed a measure lowering the maximum weekly benefit to $396.
Labor groups challenged the measure in court, and were supported by the Carter administration, which contended that the city had overstepped its authority under the home rule act. The Reagan administration, however, reversed the federal government's position, and the Supreme Court in 1983 allowed the law to stand.
* Charting the city's economic course. Deciding what kind of economy is appropriate for the city has proved to be perhaps the local government's most difficult problem.
"This is still a company town, and the company is the federal government," said Gilbert Hahn, chairman of the city council before home rule.
But the bulk of the "company's" employes do not live in the company town, while many of the people who do live here are poorly paid or unemployed and in desperate need of government assistance.
The city has thus had to try to provide that assistance without destructively overburdening its tax base. The results have been somewhat schizophrenic.
Real estate, perhaps the largest business after government here, reflects this. Commercial developers, though grumbling privately about what they regard as an overly elaborate permit process, say publicly and privately that they have found the city much easier to deal with in recent years.
Attorneys like Quin, who represents a number of developers, say they detect a genuine desire to be helpful on the part of the mayor and council. Much of the complexity, Quin notes, is the result of a pre-home rule court decision applying the D.C. Administrative Procedures Act to zoning and land-use questions.
This gives citizens' groups automatic standing to appear before city agencies and to sue if they don't like the decision. "The ability to litigate easily has fostered an atmosphere of confrontation," Quin noted.
At the other extreme has been the fate of residential landlords. Rent control, restrictions on condominium conversion and extensive tenants' rights have grown up under the home rule government.
In the early years, both landlord and tenant representatives were anything but shy about questioning one another's integrity, motivation and ancestry. But as rental housing stock has deteriorated and the condo market has softened, both sides seem to be showing an increasing readiness to talk about the problem.
"Maybe there's hope," said one landlord representative. "Rent control isn't the problem it once was, not directly at least, because in a lot of areas you couldn't get higher rents even if you were allowed to try. . . . But it's become a symbol of helping low-income people, and I don't see how the city can get rid of it, however damaging it may be."
* Coping with Congress. Whatever Congress can do, it can undo, so there remains the temptation for any company or executive that is unhappy with a city decision to try to get federal legislation to overturn it.
While Congress has been generally unreceptive to these attempts from within the city, Hill delegations from the suburbs continue to protect their constituents from such impositions as a commuter tax.
Even individual interests have been able to find congressional defenders from time to time. Abe Pollin very nearly succeeded in getting the Senate to modify the D.C. appropriation legislation to prevent the city's Convention Center from scheduling any kind of event that might be a candidate for Pollin's Capital Centre in Prince George's County.
National organizations with headquarters here but few constituents also continue to seek assistance on the Hill.
This fall, the Jewish War Veterans, an organization that had bought a new building and was seeking a tax exemption for it, hired former D.C. corporation counsel John R. Risher Jr. to help it get one from Congress.
Risher argued that his client was a national organization and thus the issue was "of national concern."
He added that the group had encountered "hostility, shortsightedness . . . and plain capriciousness" from the city.
However, congressional staff members say that such efforts seem to be trailing off.
"We get far fewer calls trying to get us to change something the city did than we did five years ago," said one. "People really seem to be learning."