Celebrating the first 10 years of home rule over the last three weeks has given Del. Walter Fauntroy time to savor the city's progress but also time to remember the hard battle.
"The low point," said Fauntroy, reminiscing at last night's Home Rule Ball, "came in 1966 when, with the strong support of the president, Lyndon Johnson, we failed to wrench a home rule bill from the District Committee. Then I thought, if the president at the height of his popularity couldn't help us, then how were we going to do it?"
Eventually the attitudes toward home rule for the Capital City changed. Since 1971, the city's residents have been able to elect a nonvoting representative to Congress -- and his name has always been Fauntroy. The big step, in 1974, provided for the election of a mayor and city council.
In the expansive ballroom of the Washington Hilton last night, Fauntroy and other political, labor and corporate titans of home rule gathered for a dance that was as egalitarian as the dreams for self-determination and as lighthearted as any Friday night jam session.
About 2,000 attended, dancing under arches of balloons in red and white, the city's official colors, as Bobby Felder, Washington's own Peter Duchin of dance music, set an upbeat tone. Everyone came in smiling. Effi Barry, the wife of the mayor, arrived with her mother, was immediately stopped by a photographer and immediately motioned City Council Chairman David Clarke and his wife into the picture.
Former city councilman Douglas Moore, on his arrival, noted with a sharp glance around the room that one of the benchmarks of home rule had been "the expanded employment base of the black bourgeoisie." Yet last night's dance attracted a cross-section of blacks and whites ranging from the District's advisory neighborhood commissioners to such new appointees as Commissioner of Public Health Andrew McBride. With Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll" playing in the background, City Councilman Frank Smith measured the last decade's progress by a spirit of self-assuredness. "The concept of believing a child can go anywhere, that is progress. The world of possibilities -- that feeling is about as old as home rule," said Smith. "Being free to elect your own people, make your own mistakes, that is home rule. But it is also living by your dreams."
For the next 10 years, David Clarke is dreaming of "jobs, jobs, and jobs." As the dance floor filled up, Clarke discussed a comprehensive plan for light industrial development and use of the city's nonresidential spaces. "We've transmitted the plan to Congress," he said with a wry smile. "Yes, that's still a frustration," he said, referring to the powers Congress still holds over the District in legislative and judicial matters.
Fauntroy is again digging in for another fight for the District's complete independence. On Thursday, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) reintroduced legislation to make the District a state after Fauntroy introduced an identical bill in the House the day before.
Echoing the thoughts of what he called "the unfinished agenda," Mayor Marion Barry told the crowd: "We need two voting members in the Senate, we need two voting members in the House, we need statehood. We need complete prosecutorial powers, so we can prosecute who we want."
And Clarke aimed one of the evening's best barbs at the Hill. Introducing the City Council, he said wistfully, "This is the only legislature in town that is passing balanced budgets."