Marion Barry's decision to take a role in the D.C. Democratic State Commitee's selection of a person to temporarily fill his at-large seat on the City Council could bring the mayor-elect more political problems than some think it is worth.
By endorsing lawyer John Ray as his temporary successor, Barry has stirred up fears of political bossism and creted ominous discord among committee members.
Ironically, it was Barry, the underdog candidate in the September Democratic primary for mayor, who first cried bossism when other influential party leaders urged him to run for mayor.
The committee is to meet Jan. 8 to select someone to replace Barry on the council until May 1, when a citywide special election will take place to determine which person-Democrat or otherwise-will complete the remaining two years of Barry's term.
Barry is no actively campaigning for any of the 13 candidates seeking to temporarily fill his at-large seat. But he has endorsed Ray, a newcomer to city politics, who campaigned for the Democratic mayoral nomination for a year before dropping out and becoming an active worker in Barry's made several well-publicized-and many more less publicized-efforts after winning the divisive Sept. 12 primary to pull the party back together, wounds remain from the close and occassionally bitter battle.
The primary put four of the city's most popular Democratic politicians at odds with one another-Barry, Mayor Walter E Washington, City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker and Del. Walter E Fauntroy, who endorsed Tucker.
Before the campaign began in ernest, Fauntroy, fearing that s split between Tucker and Barry forces would lead to Washington's reelection, actively discouraged Barry from running, saying Tucker was older, more experienced and had served his time as council chairman.
But Barry refused to stay out of the race. In fact, when he announced his candidacy Jan. 21, he declared, "I've to run, to play along, to wait my turn, not to upset the applecart. However, I will not sit by and watch home-rule turn into boss rule."
Now, through his endorsement of Ray Barry is being privately branded "Boss Barry" by some state committee members, many of whom supported Tucker or Washington in the primary.
"Who does Marion think he is?" one ranking committee member said privately last week. "He does all this talk about political bosses and Walter Fauntroy and then he goes and gets just anyone off the street to run for council at-large and expects us to endorse (him)."
Ivanhoe Donaldson, Barry's principal political strategist, said he believes there are clear differences between Barry's role in relation to Ray and Fauntroy's role in realtion to Tucker.
"Marion hasn't told anyone they shouldn't run. He hasn't talked about a pecking order. He's not actively campaigning for John. He's just played it straight and people respect him for it, Donaldson said.
Among those on the state committee interviewed, there seem to be consensus that the race at this point is between Ray and realtor H.R. Crawford, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic at-large nomination in September, only to finish a distant second in a crowded field led by council member-elect Betty Ann Kane.
Ray, who has the endorsement of council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), said last week he already has 21 of the 26 votes needed to win the nomination (a simple majority of the 50-member committee is necessary). For the past month, he has been actively lobbying state committee members on a one-to-one basis, and expects a significant boost from loyal supporter of Barry who make up a key portion of the committee.
But other state committee members think Ray has far fewer committed votes and added one ranking member, will not win unless Barry abandons the passive role. "John Ray can win this only to the extent that Marion gets on the phone and call everyone," the member said. Crawford is considered the front-runner.
In the emerging party organization politics of the city, the at-large seat is a coveted position. Some members of the state committee who have labored in the party's vineyards-in City Council campaigns, delegate selection skirmishes and other unglamorous "party building" activities-think Ray should pay more dues before being considered for a top position.
To be sure, Crawford, has not been that active in the local Democartic party, either. In fact, his greatest notoriety stems from his service as an assistant secretary of housing in the Nixon administration.
But this is a political squabble, in which very often one and one equal three. What's more, there are factors beyound pure party loyalty that contribute to the way people think.
Some Democrats fear that Ray is not "electable." He never showed indications of widespread name recognition in the mayor's race. He has no citywide organization, these people say. He is virtually unknown in the business community, which would have to play a key role in contributing the money he would need for a relatively expensive, media-heavy campaign.
Like Barry, Ray is not an eloquent "dictionist." His Tom Creek, Ga., origins show in his speech. Like Barry, he is sometimes "soft on his d's and t's." Some state committee members think that lack of middle-class social polish can be a political drawback on election day. It's also not reflective of the king of City Council member they want to see.
There is also the obvious fact that as an outsider, Ray owes nothing to the Domocratic heavyweights (other than Barry), which may make his election mean no access for those in other political factions of the party.
Still other Democrats worry that if the state committee does not somehow unify behind a black candidate, there will be a flood of noteworthy Democrats running in the May 1 election. Most of the candidates probably would be black, these persons fear, and as a result, the Barry seat will go to someone who is white.
Kane, a white won the September primary, these persons believe, because two blacks, Crawford and Goldie C. Johnson, essentially split most of the black vote (Kane appeared to get a good portion of that vote as well). The white horse in the race this time is Coucilman David A Clarke (D-ward 1), who has already filed for the May 1 election.
Another certain vote-getter expected in the May 1 contest is maverick Democratic Councilman Douglas E. Moore, who lost the September race for council chairman. He will lose his seat on the council next week, but is believed to have a significant following in the city-enough of a following to make him more of a threat on May 1 than on Jan. 8, when the state committee is to make its choice.
Donaldson said last week that whether Ray wins or loses, Barry cannot in anyway be tarnished by his support of Ray.
Mayor Washington, musing in his ofice the other day, said he was reminded of his own involvment in an intraparty clash in 1976 over the election of state committee members in which the mayor, against the advice of some, supported the Open Party slate and was soundly trounced by the Unity '76 Coalition.
Washington said he just doesn't understand why Barry has bothered to get involved in this one.