Mayor Marion Barry would like to begin doling out his share of the nearly 1,500 jobs for census takers in the District. But the word from the White House is that until Barry stops dancing on a dime and formally endorses President Carter, his job referrals will be held up.
So around Jan. 7, the mayor is expected to make the official announcement. That should deliver the census jobs to Barry. But the big question then will be: can Barry deliver the District to Carter?Many of the mayor's most loyal and most effective political lieutenants are solidly in the camp of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
Anita Bonds, deputy manager of the Barry campaign and his administration's principal in-house political operative, is seriously weighing an offer to resign as special assistant to the mayor and join the Kennedy staff.
Lawyer Max Berry, one of Barry's most effective fund-raisers; business executive Joseph Carter, who was chairman of the strategy committee for the Barry campaign; and Susan Meehan, a Barry supporter in the Dupont Circle area, were early backers of Kennedy. City Council member John Ray, the mayor's main man on the council, is chairman of the Kennedy drive in the District.
Sources in the Barry administration said that the White House expects Barry's endorsement to be more than just sweet-sounding words. They want to see him on the stump, both here and nationally, enthusiastically calling for four more years.
That is likely to be a tough personal dilemma for the mayor, who is privately more fond of Kennedy than Carter. It also leaves Barry, who wants very badly to broaden his narrow political base and assert control over Democratic politics in the city, with the glum and potentially disastrous prospect of having to, in effect, run against some of the strongest cogs in his own political machine.
The situation appears to have dashed all hope Barry had of seizing control of the D.C. Democratic State Committee in the May 6 election -- the same election in which delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be chosen.
It will also provide an acid test of loyalty in a town where intense Democratic in-fighting sometimes produces bitterness that is slow to go away.
Some of Barry's own key supporters, for example, still despise the fact that when Barry chose a new chief lobbyist for the city, he picked the sister of State Democratic chairman Robert B. Washington, who was one of the most active opponents of Barry in last year's feisty Democratic primary.
What's more, four months after the presidential primary, six seats on the City Council will be up for election. Will Barry be able to go back to people like Barry, Carter, Meehan and possibly Bonds and ask for their support in his efforts to broaden his influence in politics throughout the city?
The dilemma is one that is not unique to the mayor of the nation's capital. Months ago, when Kennedy was being coy about his possible candidacy, conventional wisdom held that he could soundly trounce Carter among black voters throughout the country, and the District of Columbia is a predominantly black city.
In the time since, however, Kennedy's record on issues affecting blacks has been questioned increasingly. More importantly, black politicans, especially the mayors, have found that Carter's incumbency gives him a secret weapon. The mayors may not like Carter's brand of politics, but he has the goodies when it comes to dispensing discretionary federal funds in areas such as transportation, housing and environmental affairs.
Cash-short city leaders are finding it hard to stick by Kennedy's possible two birds in the bush for Carter's one in the hand. The problem is even more acute for Barry because the District of Columbia government is even more dependent on the White House than most other municipalities.
Coming into the Carter camp, Barry will find crowded quarters. The line forms on the right. Democratic State Chairman Washington, Barry's old foe, is already there. Former City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker, who joined the Carter administration after losing to Barry in the Democratic primary, is also expected to work in the Carter campaign in the District.
Then there is City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon, another Barry antagonist, who has already officially endorsed the president and constantly makes a big deal over the fact that he is not a closet supporter of Carter. So far, Barry is.
Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, who actively supported Tucker against Barry in the primary, is the only major elected official in the city who has not yet announced his preference for president. Fauntroy is being sweet-talked by the Kennedy camp but said late last week that he will not make his announcement until early next year.
The Carter administration must already feel pretty confident about which way Fauntroy will go. Two of the top spots in the District census operation have been filled with persons chosen by Fauntroy.
The upcoming Democratic presidential primary is undoubtedly a new ballgame for the emerging power brokers in District Democratic politics. For the first time since home rule, they have to scramble for power and influence while a Democrat running for reelection is in the White House.
The name of the game is hardball, and it's outcome is likely to have the greatest effect on Barry. He doesn't have that much to gain because the Carter administration has already done well by the District, in Barry's view. If Carter wins, Barry will have to share the spoils with Washington, Dixon, Tucker and perhaps even Fauntroy.
Nevertheless, Barry, who in the past has clearly been the most liberal of the leading city Democrats, has so very much to lose. No matter who wins the election, Barry could lose a good deal of his political base.