Hilda Mason, a member of the District's school board, was named yesterday as the D.C. Statehood Party's choice to take Julius Hobson's City Council seat. Her selection sparked an immediate controversy.
The Council seat was left vacant when Hobson died March 23. Hobson's party, the Statehood Party, will fill the seat until a special election is held July 19 and selected Mason to serve until that time.
The controversy flared when Mrs. Tina Hobson, the councilman's widow, charged that the party failed to comply with her husband's wish that she take his place until the special election is held.
Mrs. Hobson said she walked out of the Friday meeting where Mrs. Mason was chosen.
"I was appalled at that meeting," said Mrs. Hobson. "It was shabby and demeaning. Julius' (Council) bills and his letter asking that I be appointed to his seat were thrown on the floor next to a coffee table."
"The only purpose his bills and that letter served at that meeting was for people to walk over them," said Mrs. Hobson, who explained that she put Hobson's papers on the floor while waiting to present them to the meeting.
Mrs. Hobson said she left the meeting when one person said the party's selection had to be a black person because a white person would lose the July election in the predominantly black city.
"Julius would never have tolerated that," said Mrs. Hobson, who is white. "Imagine if this was New York and someone said the nominee had to be white because most people in that town are white."
Josephine Butler, chairperson of the Statehood Party, said the party decided against Mrs. Hobson because she could not commit herself to be a candidate for the Council seat in the July election.
Mrs. Mason has agreed to be the party's nominee in the election.
Mason said she does not feel that she denied Tina Hobson the council seat. "The question is who would have taken the post if I had refused it," she said. "But I am an issue oriented person and I hope that any bad feeling can be left behind."
It is unclear whether Hobson will support Mason in the July election. Hobson said yesterday that she plans to change her voter registration from the Statehood Party to an independent Monday.
Hobson said her support of Mason may hinge on Mason's support of Julius Hobson's pending legislation in the City Council.
According to a source in the Statehood Party, the group wanted to fill the interim post with a candidate who will run in the election, thus allowing that person to gain the public exposure that accompanies 3 1/2 months in public office.
District laws prohibit any one party from holding more than two of the four at-large City Council seats. Since Democrats already have two of the seats, the special election of Hobson's seat will be limited to candidates from the Statehood Party, independents and Republicans.
Standing in the marble entrance to the District Building, which was flanked on either side by rain-soaked American flags hung at half-staff in memory of Hobson, Butler said Mason's school board experienced candidate to appear before the party Friday night.
The Friday night meeting was attended by 20 members of the Statehood Party. According to a source, two votes were taken to choose the candidate.
The nominees were Mason, Butler and Hobson. On the first vote Mason received 10 votes, Butler five and Hobson five.
When a later vote was taken Mason won unanimously.
"Our concern at the meeting was for the future of the Statehood Party and its stability," said Butler.
"Mrs. Mason was the only person who could say that she will go straight through to the election," Butler said.
Hobson said yesterday she could have taken a leave of absense from her federal government job to fill her husband's seat until July.
She said she would have had to resign her job and take a $10,000 salary cut were she to serve on the Council, but she said she would have considered doing so after serving in the interim before the election.
Mason, 60, a native of Virginia who came to the District in 1945, is currently serving her fifth year on the school board.
She said her resignation from the board will take effect Monday and she will begin her City Council duties Monday or Tuesday.
A teacher, counselor and administrator in the District school system for 19 years before joining the school board, Mason lost the election for presidency of the school board last year.
Besides Julius Hobson Jr., who has said he will not run for re-election to the school board, Mason is the Statehood Party's only elected official.