There they were, gathered around the Island Park bar and a few tables in the lower lobby of the Shoreham Americana Hotel after most of those who had attended the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade's "Man of the Year" dinner had gone.
These men stayed on, laughing, drinking, joking, occasionally slapping each other on the back or throwing an arm around a friend's shoulder. It was remarkable public fellowship for a group that included many who les than 18 months ago seemed to act as if they barely knew each other.
Mayor Walter E. Washington, glass in hand and one-liners rolling from his lips, circulated among the clusters of men at the open bar. Parking lot baron Leonard "Bud" Doggett staked out a table with realtor William J. Calomiris and others. City Administrator Julian Dugas Chatted with someone on the darkened terrace.
Corporation Counsel John R. Risher Jr., occassionally smiling and one hand casually stuffed in his pants pocket, stood near the door that opened onto the terrace with former Corporation Counsel Charles T. Duncan Gilbert N. Violante, director of the Washington Parking Association, sat at a table not far away, drinking and talking with a pair of business associates of Board of Trade president R. Robert Linowes, who also was there.
It was like a reunion of one segment of the mayor's 1974 campaign organization - the money segments. Washington the candidates; Doggett the chief fund raiser; Risher the campaign lawyer, Duncan the campaign treasurer; Violante, said by souces to be a vital link between the campaign organization and its financiers in the business community, and Dugas, alleged by campaign sources to have secretly provided the campaign coordinator with at least $1,400 in $100 bills to pay campaign costs that were never reported as required by law.
In late 1976 and early 1977, Doggett said nothing to reporters. The mayor said he knew nothing about Doggett's role in the campaign and asked "Who is he?" when Violante's name was mentioned. Dugas reminded reporters that he was not only a registrated Republican but also a civil servant barred from partisan political activity by the Hatch Act. He "assiduously avoided any involvement in the campaign," Dugas said then.
"I never heard of this guy," was Risher's response when Violante's name came up. And Violante would not discuss any specifics. He didn't return phone calls. Messages had to be slid under the door of his home and still were not answered.
Those, of course, were the days of the first reports of questionable ties between parking lot magnate Dominic F. Antonelli Jr, a good friend of many in this group, and the mayor's longtime close associate, Joseph P. Yeldell. The reports of secret cash contributions as well as the continuous unfolding of the Yeldell-Antonelli story had begun to draw the mayor, Risher and Dugas more into the center of events. None of the three wanted to talk about their relations with these acquaintances they now moved among freely. The acquaintances felt the same.
Yedell and Antonelli, who have since been indicted on bribery and conspiracy charges by a federal grand jury, were not at last week's dinner. But few of those on hand for the get-together afterwards seemed to miss them.
The mayor joked with reporters present and got assurances, he said, from Calomiris, who had contribute $1,000 to the mayor's 1974 campaign, that Calomiris would be with him again in 1978.
Dugas moved among the clusters of people who were about the only ones present as midnight approached. He talked amicably and at times pulled persons aside for more private conversation. At one point Dugas asked the mayor to step out onto the terrace for a conference with someone. At another point, he asked Risher to come over to a table where Doggett and the mayor were sitting with others. "John, could you come over here a minute," he said."We need a legal opinion."
Andy Ockershausen, evecutive vice president of WMAL Radio, sitting at a table with a couple of reporters, was asked about the upcoming race for the Democratic mayoral nomination. Ockershausen said Washington was a "safe" candidate and should not be counted out, even though some cristics contend the mayor's administration has been one of inaction. "Sometimes," Ockershausen said, "he who governs least, governs best."
This was not the first time this group of supposedly unacquainted acquaintances had come together in such an apparently chummy and familiar atmosphere of good ol' boys out for a night on the town. In Febuary, following the Board of Trade's midwinter dinner, they met as wll, in a hotel suite rented by Doggett. There were free snacks and free drinks. The mayor was sitting in the middle of the room, and looked mildly suprised when a group of reporters told the man at the door that the mayor had sent them - even though he was one of those to tell the reporters about the session.
Whatever conversation they were enjoying - a lot of laughs were coming out into the hallway - was abruptly ended and an eery pall fell over the room as the reporters entered. "Come on in," the mayor said, breaking the silence and stirring in his chair a bit. "Sterling just left."
Indeed, City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker had just left with his executive assistant, Rodney Coleman. Tucker later said he could not recall who was in the room but it was "a room full of people." Among those he specifically could not recall seeing were Doggett and Antonelle, who was standing next to the make-shift bar when the reporters came in.
"There are echelons of power," the mayor told a reporter in the room that night. "This is one of them." What he meant by that was hard to determine. When the reporter asked the mayor for an explanation a few days later, Washington said he did not recall making the statement.
Calvin W. Rolark, publisher of the weekly newspaper, The Washington Informer, didn't hang around after the "Man of the Years" dinner last week, but he did manage to impress Doggett with some campaign just as the dinner was breaking up. Rolark, who is supporting the mayor for reelection, talked up Washington's experience and compared it to that of the mayor's two major rivals for the Democratic nomination, Council Chairman Tucker and Council member Mario Barry.
"Those other two, they're just a couple of house boys," Rolark said. "You need a FIELD hand."
"Whew!" Doggett shouted, backing away, shaking his head and pulling his big cigar from his mouth. "You BADDD! Calvin, you BADDD."
Former D.C. Commissioner John B. Duncan, the "Man of the Years," also had a few political thoughts on his mind. Duncan is a political mentor of the mayor and worked with Doggett to raise money for Washington's 1974 campaign. Now, Duncan said, he is retiring from public life. But, he said, "I'll help the mayor wherever I can because I believe in him and I believe the city needs a man like him of extraordinary integrity."
The names may be confusing but the politics are not. At one point during the dinner, Mayor Walter E. Washington talked politics with D.C. Democratic State Committee Chairman Robert B. Washington Jr., A pricipal strategist and fundraiser for Tucker's campaign.
When Mayor Washington made a passing reference to having his own "committee" lawyer Washington said, "You've got a committee? What you running for?"
"Mayor," the mayor said in so many words, prompting the lawyer to say, "I thought you might be running for the Senate." Then the mayor informed the lawyer that representation for the District in the Senate was a few years away, maybe as many as seven years away.
"You can count, can't you?" the lawyer joked.
"The kids at Eastern may not be able to read," the mayor said. "But I can count."