It's still too early for the field to be anywhere near set in this year's election for chairman of the city council.But one early and noteworthy product of the fledging "AMB" - Anyone But (Councilman Douglas E.) Moore - movement among regular city Democrats is that 1st Ward Democrat David A. Clarke is seriously considering a run for council chairman.
Clarke's possible candidacy is interesting as another one of those "only in Chocolate City" phenomena because he is one of the few whites in a position to seriously contemplate an at-large candidacy for major political office in a town whose population is more than 70 per cent black.
It would be wrong to simply view Clarke as a "Great White Hope" reaction to Maverick Moore, who among other things has been chairman of the Black United Front and tries not to let people forget that. Rather, Clarke's potential candidacy seems to be yet another indication that election to the second highest position in city government could be a wide-open affair this fall, and like any good politician, Clarke seems to be thinking, "Why not me?"
A Washington native, Howard University Law School graduate and former civil rights lawyer, Clarke has come down just as hard as Moore on some of the issues - rent control, for example, where Clarke led the pro-tenant floor fight. And Clarke, who one knowledgeable city political observer calls admiringly the "big, tough white boy on the block," can even boast that the city's ghetto street corner extraordinaire - 14th and T Streets NW - is part of his world.
Still, the irony of a white "first" in local politics is a timely reminder that, not surprisingly, race is still a prominent, although sometimes tender subject in this town. It forms an ever present if not always conscious backdrop to much of the political maneuvering that takes place in the city.
Some blacks proudly boast of a city government that is nearly all-black, dismiss media criticism of city hall as an attack on black leadership and, even in some of the highest political circles, fear privately that limited home rule is somehow a Trojan horse with a built-in plan for black self-embarassment and political self-destruction.
Some white neighborhood leaders confide to reporters that some of those around them equate the current problems with the delivery of city services with the time that "they" took over city government. There is talk of the need for more "people of substance" on the city council, and coincidentally there are only two whites on the 13-member council, each representing one of the two wards that city election cartographers seem to have set aside for the city's white population.
All of that is likely to become intricately entwined the issues of this fall's political campaigns, as it has already become a part of the decision-making on who will run for what in those campaigns.It may not be the purest kind of politics, but it certainly seems to be the style of politics that - barring major shifts in population patterns - this city have for some time to come.
There is another side to the phenomenon of D.C. police and firemen retiring at early ages on disability pensions and then finding other jobs. It is what Councilman Marion Barry calls "double dipping," and involves people coming to work for D.C. city government after they've begun earning pension pay from another job - sometimes with the same city government.
The D.C. police department and the U.S. armed forces seem to be two major sources of D.C. double dippers, according to Barry, who last year tried unsuccessfully to have the city council prohibit persons collecting police, fire or armed forces pensions from working full-time for city government.
Barry says there are at least a dozen or so persons in the city police department who have retired as patrolmen on disability and then taken jobs with the same police department in civilian capacities. These people receive both retirement and regular pay.
The others are retired military officers, of whom there are 18 to 20 in the city's Department of General Services, Barry notes, including director Samuel Starobin, whom many in city government still refer to as "Col. Starobin." Environmental Services Director Herbert L. Tucker still lists his name in the telephone book followed by the notation, "Lt. Col. USA Ret."
Barry says he has nothing per se against the retired workers. But jobs are scarce in the city, he contends, and those who are already earning some kind of income ought to take a back seat in city government to make way for those who have none.
Take a good close look around the city and you will see that one thing is beginning to make this town look a little bit more like Chicago, and it is not Walter Fauntroy's efforts to build a big city type political machine.
Rather, it is the fact that every now and then, signs announcing public works projects are being emblazoned with the signature of Mayor Walter E. that almost everything in Chicago at one point seemde to bear the inscription," Richard J. Daley, Mayor."
One of the latest is a sign outside city hall which notes that the city is creating new and larger quarters for its city council on the first floor of the District Building, at an estimated cost that could reach $1 million.
"The District of Columbia Moving Forward with District Building Renovation," announces a sign that has the mayor's signature scribbled in its lower right-hand corner.
Naturally, the signs will be good publicity if the mayor decides to seek reelection this year. True, they are not that classy. But the joy of politics is sometimes similar to the joy of buying a new car with a loan from a finance company that charges 36 per cent interest: credit is good wherever you can get it.