Mayor Walter E. Washington reiterated yesterday that he played no role in D.C. Corporation Counsel John R. Risher Jr.'s effort to remove Sterling Tucker as City Council chairman, and the mayor said he intends to continue to pursue a hands-off policy in the matter.
Risher filed a petition with D.C. Superior Court Monday asking the Court to remove Tucker from office on grounds that Tucker had violated city restrictions on outside employment by receiving a salary for teaching at Howard University.
The mayor's statement came after editorials yesterday in the Washington Post and the Washington Star criticized Risher's handling of the affair, and in the case of The Post, raised questions about the mayor's professed lack of prior knowledge of Risher's action.
After repeated inquiries from reporters asking the mayor to clarify his role and and intentions, Washington's press office issued a written statement saying that the mayor would have no further statements.
However, reporters insisted that the mayor at least appear to read the prepared statement. So Washington held an impromptu, five-minutes press conference in the hallway outside his fifth-floor office at the District Building.
"I feel that we ought to have an early resolution of the question and I hope to see it clarified," Washington said.
The mayor said that the law affecting Tucker's outside employment applied to the mayor's office as well. In addition, Washington said, the case was pending in court and involved legal interpretations of the home-rule legislation.
"Therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to take part in the handling of this case," he said. "I have not done so, and I do not intend to."
Risher, a close political confidant of the mayor and the city's chief lawyer, asked D.C. Superior Court Monday to remove Tucker from office, contending that the City Council chairman had violated restrictions at Howard University.
For the past two years, Tucker has lectured at the school, receiving $7,500 a year. The homerule charter requires the Counil chairman to work fulltime for the city and prohibits any outside employment for which a salary is paid.
Tucker had contended that congressional leaders who framed the charter assured him prior to its passage that him employment as a lecturer at Howard would not be barred by the legislation. In addition, Tucker has routinely reported the outside income to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.
Tucker this week termed Risher's action "an arrogant and blatantly political attempt to remove me from office." Tucker is one of several persons frequently mentioned as likely candidates for Mayor in 1978. He also is the opponent who would posed the biggest threat to Washington if the major decides to seek re-election, according to some observers.
Risher has denied any political motivations, and Washington had said previously through a spokesman that he had no prior knowledge that Tucker's ouster would be requested. However, some Washington critics have been skeptical of the likehood that the mayor could not have known in advance about such a politically explosive action being contemplated by Risher.
Three days before Risher filed the removal petition, The Post has learned, the major and Tucker briefly discussed Risher's three-week-old investigation, and Tucker indicated that Risher was studying other matters in addition to Tucker's employment at Howard.
During that conversation, Tucker told the mayor that Risher had requested and received from the U.S. attorney's office here documents pertaining to Tucker's role in the administration of a $25,000 trust fund established for his childred several years ago.
Federal investigators found no wrongdoing on Tucker's part in the administration of the fund during a probe tht ended last year.
Also last Friday, Edward B. Webb Jr., a ranking aide to Tucker and the chief lawyer for the City Council, called Risher to ask why the material on the trust fund had been requested from the U.S. attorney. At that time, Risher denied that he had made any request for the materials, Webb said yesterday.
However, according to sources, Risher called the federal investigators Thursday to request the materials, indicated that he needed them urgently and dispatched a city messenger the 10 blocks between the District Building and the federal courthouse to pick up the materials.
On Friday morning, The Post ha learned, U.S. Attorney Earl A. Silbert had placed a courtesy call to Tucker, informing the Council chairman that the materials were being turned over to Risher.
Risher refused repeatedly to comment yesterday.
Earlier in the day, a community-oriented group of activist black churchmen representing churches in the upper Northwest and Adams-Morgan sections of the city also criticized Risher's approach. The Project Area Committee Concerned Ministers Association said the removal petition, "even though legal, is disgraceful in the way in which it was done."
The Rev. David H. Eaton of All Souls Unitarian Church, chairman of the group, called on Risher to drop the legal action and work instead to clarify the apparent ambiguity in the home rule charter relating to outside employment.