Although the District of Columbia has no legal voice in its ratification, the embattled Equal Rights Amendment became the center of a tempest at city hall yesterday.
Before the day was out, Mayor Walter E. Washington and City Council member Marion Barry, who has announced his own candidacy for mayor, found themselves simultaneously on the same side and on opposite sides of two ERA issues.
Only one thing was clear: From now on, no D.C. employe may spend city money to attend any conference or convention in a state whose legislature has not voted to ratify the ERA. Currently, 15 states have refused to ratify.
Such spending of city money is now prohibited by two completely separate legal documents - an executive order signed by Maylor Washington and an emergency bill sponsored by Barry and passed by the council that became law last night despite the mayor's refusal to sign it.
The mayor also refused to sign a second emergency measure, also sponsored by Barry, in which the Council symbolically voted to ratify the ERA.
While stressing that he, just as much as Barry, favors the ERA, the mayor called the symbolic ratification "a legal nullity since formal ratification by the District is not legally possible!"
Emergency bills are effective for 90 days. Permanent legislation identical to the two emergency bills is pending before the council.
Barry, told of the mayor's actions on the emergency bills, said "I don't know what's wrong with the mayor in not showing a very strong support in this area. I am going to urge the council to pass the permanent legislation."
Barry has announced that he will run for the Democratic nomination for mayor, whether or not Washington decides to seek another term. Council Chairman Sterling Tucker also has announced his own mayoral candidacy.
Two others are in the race - lawyer John L. Ray and teacher Charles Cain.
The ERA issue emerged on the council last May, when backers of the proposed amendment began organizing boycotts of states that had failed to ratify the measure. By this means the supporters hoped to bring economic pressure on state lawmakers.
Although the D.C. government's potential clout is limited - the city has an annual budget of only $210,000 for out-of-town travel - the council approved a Barry-sponsored resolution asking the mayor to prohibit the spending of money in states that had not ratified.
Barry said last night that he introduced the two new emergency measures at the request of women's groups. The council approved the measures last month.
At the time, there was no dispute over the spending prohibition, but several council members questioned whether a symbolic ratification of ERA was worth the bother. After a brief discussion the measure was approved unanimously, on the grounds that the action, at best, could help the ERA cause and, at worst, would be harmless.
Last Wednesday, with the two measures on his desk, the mayor signed an executive order barring the spending of D.C. funds on meetings in the 15 states, including Virginia. Meetings at the D.C. reformatory at Lorton, Va., were specifically exempted.
No public announcement was made on the day the mayor signed the order. Copies were distributed yesterday by an aide to Barry.
In a letter to the council explaining why he was allowing the two emergency bills to become law without his signature, the mayor said he wanted "to make clear my basic support for the principle that is involved."
The mayor also voiced "the hope that after reviewing my letter, the council will not take further action . . . in these areas."
The mayor also criticized the council for declaring emergencies to pass the two measures when no emergencies actually existed.
"I am nevertheless prepared to have these laws in effect for 90 days as an expression of the seriousness of the District government to the principle of equal rights," the mayor declared.