About a year ago, City Councilman Arrington Dixon announced that he was fed up with the bureaucratic and legalistic gobbledygook being used in much of the legislation authored in the Council. Dixon introduced a bill that would require all laws passed by the Council to be written in simpler language, so that persons other than lawyers and government technocrats could understand what was going on.
The bill hasn't passed yet, and the gobbledygook remains. But even if the measure does become law, it won't do much to solve another communications roadblock which Dixon, the 4th Ward Democrat who is thinking about running for Council chairman this year, frequently sets up for unsuspecting audiences.
In his four years on the Council, Dixon has developed a kind of governmental street corner slang in which certain words get loaded up on his tongue and then come spewing out over and over in all sorts of contexts, much to the bewilderment of his listeners.
Last week, for example, when several Council members appeared at a breakfast sponsored by the Greater Washington Central Labor Council, Dixon's word for the day was "position," with "cut" and "impact" thrown in for good measure. Here's what he said while explaining the progress of a bill establishing a new civil service in the city. (The bill is pending before the government operations committee of which Dixon is chairman.)
Before the committee could go any further on the bill, Dixon began the panel had to have a "firm legal POSITION" from the Corporation Counsel. "We need the Corporation Counsel of the city and the executive branch of the city to focus on the issue, a major issue for the city, a major piece of legislation, so that we . . . and you will have the benefit of the POSITION. That POSITION has not been firmed or signed off by the mayor or the Corporation Counsel. We need that POSITION," Dixon said.
"We also have been trying to get a fiscal IMPACT. We have a tentative CUT at the fiscal IMPACT from the office of personnel . . . That POSITION - that fiscal POSITION - has to be clarified by the budget office, he continued.
"I also know you have some POSITIONS of your own that you want us to address," Dixon assured his listeners, but warned, in conclusion. "We will not always accept your POSITIONS in a rational way."
By interesting coincidence, the lanor concil breakfast, held at the Hotel Washington provided a fool-proof way of separating the runners from the non-runners. The entire 13-member Council was invited, but only those up for election this year showed up.
In addition to Dixon, who many believe is likely to run for Council chairman this fall, there was Polly Shackleton (D-3), David A. Clarke (D-1), William R. Spaulding (D-5) and Hilda Mason (S-at large). Nadine Winter (D-6) showed up just before the meeting adjourned. Marion Barry (D-at large) and City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker, who both want to be mayor, were also there. The only candidate to miss the affair was Douglas E. Moore (D-at large), who is running for Council chairman.
The tall, fair-complexioned black woman who was at Marion Barry's side last week when he launched his campaign for mayor is his fiancee, Effi Cowell.
Barry met Cowell in June 1976 during the City Celebration Festival. She was inspecting vendors' booths for the D.C. Department of Environmental Services, where she still works. He was running for reelection to the Council, where he now prefers to no longer work after Jan. 2, 1979 - the day the new mayor is sworn in.
About a month earlier, Barry had been separated from his wife, Mary Treadwell Barry, director of Pride, Inc. On Aug. 17 of last year, the Barrys were divorced.
For the first time in four known surveys of voter preferences for this year's mayoral race, Walter E. Washington has come out on top. But the mayor took the results rather nonchalantly, saying the figures, released last week, were "interesting." His caution may have been warranted, according to one polling expert.
Afro-American Datanamics of Washington asked 1,000 registered city voters. "If an election for mayor were held tomorrow, for whom would you vote?" The largest portion, 36 percent, had no choice, but 21 percent said they were for Washington, 14 percent for Tucker and 11 percent for Barry. The rest preferred a smattering of other candidates, including Jesus Christ and WTOP-TV anchorman Max Robinson. Each received two votes.
The other three surveys - one each by Barry supporters, Tucker supporters and The Washington Post - have all shown Tucker to be the leading choice, with Barry second and Washington third. Datanamics said its poll results had a 4 percent margin of error.
Albert H. Cantril, president of the National Council of Public Polls and author of the book "Polls: Their Use and Misuse in Politics" said the results of the Datanamics survey could be misleading. For one, he noted in an interview, the polling took place over an unusually long time, November and December of 1977.
Milton White of Datanamics said the survey was issue-balanced to make sure that no breaking news affected it. Nevertheless, it was during the polling period that the chief judge of the D.C. Superior Court handed down a decision saying that Tucker had violated the city charter's restrictions on outside income by working at Howard University. That may have affected the poll, Cantril said.
Cantril also noted that the survey sample contained a slightly disproportionately high number of women and senior citizens among those interviewed. He also felt the type of question asked strongly influenced the results obtained.
"By not including the names of the candidates in the question," Cantril concluded, "there is a significant chance that name recognition is a large part of what is being measured, not candidate strength."