The Rev. Andrew Fowler said he had seen nothing like during the 40 years he's been in Washington. It was Wednesday night, the middle of the week, and 400 persons had come to Metropolitan Baptist Church in northwest Washington to kick off a concerted drive by the city's black clergymen to stop legalized gambling in the District before it gets started.
The antigambling sentiments were virtually unanimous. A resolution proclaiming that oppositions was quickly passed without dissent and punctuated with a robust "Amen" from those scattered throughout the pews. When the ushers passed around the collection trays in search of more money to support the campaign, $156 was collected.
Although gambling, "the ancient sin" according to the resolution, was the major focus of the rally, statements by Fowler and other churchmen present made it clear that some broader issues are involved: black clergmen, who once were and probably still are a powerful political force in this city, have some fundamental gripes with Washington's elected local government.
"Probably the most crucial problem in our city today is the political problem," said the Rev. Carey E. Pointer, pastor of Providence Baptist Church is southeast Washington. "The political problem causes some governmental officials to be more interested in the welfare of their political party and their personal ambitions within it, than they are in the best interests of the people they represent. When an official takes this view, he says 'down with the people.' Under such circumstances the pleas of the people fall on deaf ears.
Fowler, a tall, slightly silver-haired black man with a thin, pointed goatee, is executive secretary of the Committee of 100 Ministers, one of five groups that sponsored last week's rally.
He believes there are two fallacies about legalized gambling, which some city leaders and community representatives are now touting as one way to help the cash-short D.C. government overcome its worsening financial ills.
First, says Fowler, the money the city could raise from legalized gambling each year would be less than 1 per cent of its annual $1 billion-plus operating budget, and also less than the added police, administrative and social services costs that legalized gambling would bring.
Second, he adds, legalized gambling, whose proponents believe lessens illegal gambling, will be bad for the city's black community and good for illegal gamblers and organized crime.
"Not with city government in control," a young reporters suggests.
"Don't you believe that, boy," Fowler snaps back.
"If you get legalized gambling in the city, you know who is going to move out of the city?" he asks. "Negroes. Every time the Negro community gambles, it becomes poorer. We have to, because the tables always going to win.
"And you know who's running the table? The gangsters."
The black clergymen most recently showed their political clout in the July 19 special City Council election, where their support of former D.C. School Supt. Barbara A. Sizemore helped in Sizemore's suprisingly close and almost successful challenge to Hilda Mason and most of the city's Demoncratic leadership.
To make sure that the thrust of their opposition to legalized gambling, which is still under study by a citizens commission, was not misunderstood, the churchmen added words to the resolution informing the Council that if gambling is made legal "the Council should know they will not get our votes."
In addition to gambling, the ministers are disenchanted with the Council's support of gay rights and possible relaxation of criminal penalties for marijuana use. But then some people in city hall have their problems with the ministers, too.
A citizens tax study commission has recommended having the currently tax exempt churches make some form of payment lieu of taxes to the city government. One man at last week's meeting suggested that the churches voluntarily give a portion of their Sunday collections to the city. Fowler says no to both of those ideas.
And, Fowler is asked, what about the rumors that some churches regularly run bingo games and buses to the horse races in Charles Town. W. Va?
"I wouldn't say that there aren't any (churches) doing that," Fowler said. "But, you know, Christ didn't have but 12 disciples, and you have to have a Judas in there somewhere."
The energetic lobbying on Capitol Hill over the fate of the City's proposed $110 million convention center has been the most active on a local issue since 1971 with one exception - this time the White House is not involved.
Six years ago, when funding for the Metro subway was in jeopardy, the Nixon White House pulled out all the stops to get the Metro funding through. The Carter administration, by contrast, has been mum and inactive on the Hill on the convention center, which early this week was still imperiled in the Senate.
"Since we have not been asked by the city, we haven't gotten into it," said Martha M. Mitchell, the President's liaison with the city.
Bob Thompson, an assistant to chief White House congressional liaison Frank Moore, said that as of Tuesday, the White House had not decided on any role on the Hill because, true to Carter's pronouncement of greater D.C. self-determination, the convention center was a local issue.
"The administration position is that the convention center is a matter for the D.C. local government to resolve, and the White House has no position," Thompson said. Thus, any administration efforts on the city's behalf would be "not proper," he said, unlessWhite House policy advisors change their minds.