A year after President Ford fired him amid allegations of wrongdoing and only a few days after the Justice Department closed the books on his case, H. R. Crawford began Monday what will probably be a long, slow climb back into public life.
He promised about 100 friends, supporters and members of his family who gathered on the 10th floor of the 1,000-unit Edgewood Terrace housing complex near Catholic University, that he will overcome the effects of his firing and public humiliation.
"Watch me now," he said to the crowd - and to others outside the room who have watch Crawford's rise and fall.
He began as a gun-toting manager of low and moderate income subsidized housing projects in Washington. He rose to become one of the highest-ranking blacks in the Nixon administration when the former President appointed him assistant secretary for housing management at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
He fell swiftly last January when the Ford White House learned that Crawford, who had already announced that he would resign from HUD as of last April, was seeking consulting contracts with housing authorities that received money from HUD, money that Crawford had partial control over.
The issue was possible conflict of interest. The incident received widespread publicity. At 37, Crawford's life was a shambles and, as long as the Justice Department investigation was still under way, he could not discuss the situation or attempt to clear his name.
Monday, the outspoken, articulate Crawford had his chance. "I did nothing wrong," he said. "I certainly did nothing unusual" in trying to line up some work in anticipation of leaving government service, he maintained.
His firing was particularly unfortunate, he said, because black leaders should have a "positive image." His own predicament came about because some "overzealous, ambitious" White House staff members decided that President Ford could not risk keeping Crawford at HUD while the allegations were thoroughly investigated.
It was decided that Crawford should be fired on the spot and he was. If there was any bitterness on Crawford's part, that caused it.
Instead of spending a week or two looking into the charges that he violated federal conflict law by seeking the consulting jobs, Crawford said, the White House humiliated him and caused him a year of pain while the Justice Department investigated the alleged wrongdoing at a snail's pace.
Crawford called the investigation "unwarranted." He has acknowledged sending out proposals, including detailed contracts, to at least three housing authorities (New York City, Dallas and Winston Salem, N.C.).
But his case does raise questions about the post-Watergate way of doing business, and some of his supporters believe it is an example of overreaction to any hint of impropriety.
"I have no doubt that the people who made the decisions (at the White House regarding Crawford) thought they were protecting the public interest," said David O. Meeker, a former HUD assistant secretary for community development, who stuck by Crawford during his ordeal and who attended Monday's gathering.
"They thought they were protecting the public interest . . . but H.R. was decked out before a careful, prudent analysis (of the charges) was done," Meeker said.
Meeker said Crawford's experience was similar in some respects to the more recent allegations against Greg Schneiders, who was slated to be President-elect Jimmy Carter's appointments secretary until it was revealed that Schneiders had drawn unemployment compensation at a time when he was involved with two consulting firms.
Meeker said it took less than two weeks for Schneiders to be cleared of any wrongdoing but the damage had been done. Schneiders was out as Carter's appointments secretary, although he is expected to get another White House position.
"He was resurrected within two weeks," Meeker said. "With H.R., it's taken a year."
The time has been lost but Crawford said he fully expects "to pick up the pieces" and eventually become highly visible again as a public figure. He will begin now by "speaking out on housing issues" and hinted that he may run for office in the District next year or in 1980.
As part of this process, Crawford offered 13 suggestions to the Carter administration on how to deal with the nation's housing needs. These suggestions ranged from a massive increase in the number of houses available for urban homesteading to changes in the organizational structure of HUD.
Asked if he experts to be asked to serve at HUD by Carter, Crawford replied: Anything may happen in this great country of ours."