Perhaps one of the biggest ironies of the furor over Sterling Tucker's allegedly illegal work at Howard University is the fact that, in some respects, Tucker is caught in a political trap which his supporters once assured him was baited for someone else.
When the Home Rule bill was being drafted on Capitol Hill in 1973, Tucker had already decided that he wanted to run for chairman of the elected Council that would be created if the bill passed. At the time John Hechinger, the lumber yard man, was chairman of the appointed Council and Tucker was vice-chairman. Hechinger loomed as one of the biggest threats to Tucker's ambition.
Some of Tucker's confidants reassured him of his political chances, one of them now recalls, by explaining the effect that a planned restriction on outside employment would have on the field of candidates for Council chairman.
That restriction it was thought, would do two things, a Tucker associate recalled. First, it would clearly permit Tucker, who had then resigned as executive director of the Washington Urban League, to be the full-time Council chairman while working as a part-time lecturer at Howard University, something Tucker had by then decided he wanted to do. Second, the language allow Hechinger to serve as chairman of the elected Council unless he relinquished his post as president of Hechinger Co., a chain of lumber yards. Few expected Hechinger to give up that post.
"The interpretation Sterling was given plainly worked out in favor of the kind of actions he had in mind, as opposed to the kind that John Hechinger had in mind," a Tucker associate recalled recently.
Now, of course, because of the actions of Corporation Counsel John R. Risher Jr., Tucker's interpretation of the law and his subsequent employment at Howard for two years have been called into question, and with them not only his tenure as Council chairman, but Tucker's political future as well.
The Shaw community, an area just above downtown whose residents are predominantly black with low to moderate incomes, is one of the largest urban renewal districts in the city. Some members of advisory neighborhood commissions in Shaw say its the largest urban renewal area in the nation.
So why is it, the commissioners ask, that no resident of Shaw has ever been on the board of the Redevelopment Land Agency, the citizens' decisions-making group for urban renewal programs in the District?
The last appointment to the board by Mayor Walter E. Washington was made last July - it's still to be confirmed. For that vacancy the mayor picked Joseph F. Hennessy, a white lawyer who lives in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of upper northwest Washington. There is no urban renewal in Chevy Chase.
"The mayor's trying to play his usual political game," complains Shaw ANC Commissioner Samuel Fields. "He's trying to replace one white with another.
Not so, says the mayor's office. Hennessy is "basically, a community-oriented person." It was not a racial choice, the mayor's spokesman said, the mayor was trying to balance the board geographically. Besides, the Rev. Ernest Gibson, pastor of First Rising Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 1240 6th St. NW, is on the RLA board. Rev. Gibson doesn't live in Shaw, but his church is there.
"The problem," Adams argues, "is that an individual who doesn't live in urban renewal area is not affected by the decisions and doesn't know the hardship and the problems that are created by those decisions."
There is still one vacancy on the board. The ANCs feel the ball is in the mayor's court.
Last Wednesday was "Our Federal City" day at the weekly National Town Meeting at the Kennedy Center, and, somewhat surprisingly, not a single local elected official was on the panel to talk about the city's problems. "So many of them are running for election," panel organizer Rosemary Mullany explained, "it just wasn't possible."
The biggest "news" of the day was the announcement by Rep. M. Caldwell Butler, a Republican from Roanoke, Va., that he has been born again on the idea of voting representation in Congress for the city and has dropped his previous opposition. That was good news for the city's full voting rights advocates, even though Butler said he thinks it's doubtful that the city could get Senate voting rights.
Most of the questions submitted in writing to the panelists - White House aide Martha M. Mitchell D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, Washington Post columnist William Raspberry and Butler - never got asked because there were so many live questions from the floor.
A glance at the unasked questions showed that a number of things were on the minds of the more than 400 persons present in addition to full voting representation, which dominated the question and answer session. Among the unasked questions were these:
"Del. Fauntroy: If we get statehood or voting representation, how can the voters of the District prevent a political situation where the Democratic Party, through closed door, back-room dealings - which is much of what we see today - hand pick our candidates who inevitably become our legislators?"
"Mr. Raspberry: Do you have a relative who works at Sidwell Friends School?"
"Mr. Fauntroy: If you are so against racial discrimination, why does it matter whether or not we have a colored government? (signed) Art Linde, Bethesda."
"What, economically does statehood involve, and if the District residents knew, would they want statehood? (signed) To Walter Fauntroy, Love (Damian Young)."