Mayor Walter E. Washington took his traveling political announcement suspense show to church yesterday, where he came close enough to announcing reelection plans to get a group of influential Baptist ministers excited.
But the mayor refused to end the suspense, even though the group of clergymen presented him with petitions signed, they said, by more than 4,000 persons that urged Washington to run for a second four-year term this fall.
On several occasions the past two weeks, the mayor has used biblical and symbolic allegories to keep alive expectations of his candidacy. This time, he likened himself to the Old Testament figure Nehemiah, who, despite some opposition, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and revived the national life of the Jews.
Jerusalem, like the District, is a capital city, the mayor said. And while he did not profess to have built a wall around the nation's capital, the mayor did claim credit for reconstructing this city following the ruins of the 1968 riots.
"They said, 'Nehemiah, come down.' He said, 'I'm not comin' down,'" the mayor said, paraphrasing Nehemiah's resistance to those who tried to stop his work.
Then, speaking of "words" he said he has received from "above,' the mayor added, "The message says to you this day, 'I'm not comin' down.' I built this city our of ashes and I'm going to keep on building it. I got some more time left. I'm gonna build these walls."
"I came to you with that kind of message. You know how to translate it," he said, and a hearty chuckle rumbled through the chapel of the Trinidad Baptist Church, 1611 Benning Rd., NE. "I'm not comin' down. That's not political. That's just a profession of faith in myself."
Despite the mayor's assertion, however, his appearance before the weekly meeting of the baptist Ministers Conference of Washington, D.C., and Vicinity, appeared to have politics as its sole purpose.
About an hour before the mayor arrived, Lillian Huff, on of strong supporters, was on hand in the basement of the church, where many of the ministers were eating lunch. She moved among the group like a campaign advance person. Shortly afterward, the mayor came in, escorted by Lacy Streeter, who is temporarily replacing the mayor's indicted top aide and political confidant, Joseph P. Yeldell, as Washington's general assistant. The mayor sent around shaking hands.
Like good campaign public relations specialists, the city's public information office had called various news media to alert them of Washington's appearance. The result: reporters - and cameras - from two television stations, one radio station and one daily newspaper were on hand.
The ministers group includes between 300 and 500 members and represents more than 100,000 voters in the city, according to group spokesmen. It had already passed a resolution urging the mayor to run, even though about half a dozen members are key supporters of another mayoral candidate, John L. Ray.
The Rev. Andrew Fowler, executive secretary of the Committee of 100 ministers - which includes one portion of the larger group - initiated the idea of the petition drive. It was carried out by the Rev. Andrew J. Allen, pastor of First Baptist Church of Deanwood.
Allen was the minister who at a recent mayoral prayer breakfast thanked God for Mayor Washington, saying, "Not because we think he is the best person in the world, but because we do not want to see him succeeded by the worst person in the world."
Allen said the mayor had given the city "10 years of leadership in the right direction."
"We saw him walking the streets night and day in the rain and the snow when others who are running now were not to be seen. We saw the city in ashes and we see the city now with new buildings under the leadership of Mayor Washington," he said.
Washington is expected to announce his candidacy within the next 10 days to two weeks. The six announced candidates for mayor, are Ray, Sterling Tucker, Marion Barry, Dorothy Maultsby, Richard A. Jackson and Charles S. (Trummie) Cain.