Everything was joyously simple last April when Jose Gutierrez was appointed acting personnel chief for the District of Columbia. He was the first Hispano named to Mayor Marion Barry's cabinet, and proud Hispanic leaders clapped and cheered when the appointment was announced at the District Building. Barry grinned and poked out his chest. He had kept his campaign promise to bring the Hispanic community into the mainstream of city government.
The view from the barrios now is that the smile on Barry's face has soured. After eight months on the job, Gutierrez has still not been nominated as the official personnel director and the mayor's chief political confidant appears to have suggested that someone else may get the post.
So these are days of late night strategy sessions in the Hispanic community. The idealistic expectations of what Barry would do have been tempered by experience, said architect Harry Quintana, the only Hispano to serve on the Barry transition team.
"I think the honeymoon may be over with the mayor," Quintana said. "We want to look at each other a little more realistically. We want to say not only what's your promise, but what's your timetable for delivery."
"We're concerned," said Angel Irene, director of the Council of Hispanic Agenices, "that some people in the mayor's office may not look with the right perception on a Hispanic keeping this position. They may feel it is too much of a powerful position for a Latino. To some people in this city, we are seen only as a bunch of wetbacks."
Gutierrez became acting personnel director when George R. Harrod took leave from the post after being indicted for allegedly assaulting a woman staff aide. Harrod's case has not yet gone to trial.
Technically, the position is not vacant, City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers said coolly, so the time has not yet come to determine if Gutierrez has done well enough to have earned the job. "At the appropriate time, the mayor and I will consult and make a decision," Rogers said.
When Gutierrez took over the post, many viewed it as a politically convenient and harmless position. The job brought with it the unenviable task of implementing a new and independent city personnel system that is to become fully operational next month. (Good luck, Jose.) Now the picture is beginning to look somewhat different.
Once the system becomes operative, the personnel director's staff will multiply nearly sevenfold -- from about 70 to almost 450. Numerous departmental personnel offices and their staffs -- once the private patronage of department heads -- will be consolidated under the personnel director's command. In the Department of Human Resources alone, about 150 personnel jobs will be pared down to 60 through a reduction in force.
The personnel director's post is emerging as one of the most important in city government. Gutierrez's efforts to hire Hispanos in premium level jobs have met with criticism and resistance from some blacks, who themselves have waited patiently to replace whites in the upper levels of the District bureaucracy and finally see themselves at the head of the line.
"He's been tryng to promote upward mobility for Hispanics. That's fine. But he's doing it in blatant violation of the merit system," said one GS-12 who fears competition from a Hispanic newcomer for a long-sought promotion.
"Mr. Gutierrez is not a person who has demonstrated that he is one who can act in the interest of all employes. He will be completely silent when it comes to a fellow Hispanic," the GS-12 said.
Barry assured Hispanic leaders three months ago that he was satisfied with the job Gutierrez was doing and planned as soon as possible to nominate him to be ermanent director, according to Pedro Lujan, president of the Hispanic Council.
But in recent weeks, the mayor has said privately that he is now uncertain about the nomination, according to several sources, partially because of political considerations.
Many blacks have been suspicious of Barry's political ties to whites.His payment of political debts to the odd-lot interest groups that helped put him in power -- including gay rights advocates and Hispanos -- has prompted some blacks, especially Protestant ministers, to complain that certain groups are accumulating too much policical power.
But in the Hispanic community, Barry's reluctance to go ahead with Gutierrez's nomination was coupled with several other actions that many Hispanic leaders have come to view as signs of retreat.
The Barry administration, for instance, was slow to process a $700,000 grant for the Latin American Youth Center in Adams-Morgan. It also backed off from a proposal to build a Latin Quarter shopping district in that multi-ethnic neighborhood, which houses most of the city's Hispanos. The decision came in response to opposition from blacks and whites.
Then last week, during a class on city politics at the Institute for Policy Studies, Ivanhoe Donaldson, Barry's alter ego, mentioned that the administration was having problems with the new personnel system and also noted that there was a "young, new director" in charge.
Among the class members are two reporters from The Washington Post and several community leaders, including on prominent Hispano. Some in the Hispanic community viewed those remarks as an indication that Gutierrez was in trouble. Donaldson's every work is considered some indication of what the mayor is thinking.
Pedro Lujan said he is puzzled. "We tried to prove to the administration that the Latino community is not only good for cooking and for dancing, but we have people with good minds and good ideas. If they don't like him (Gutierrez) over there, I don't know why. The only reason I can see is because he is brown."
Council director Angel Irene is more than puzzled. "We're ready to fight. We're going to hold Marion Barry accountable for whatever happens," Irene said. "If we're going to talk about the Third World and human rights and all those good things, we're gonna have to be able to stand by what we say. We didn't work for Marion Barry just because he was good-looking."