This is a story about men and women, friends and relatives and daring political deeds. It is an election year tale about how the mayor of the District and some of his political pals tried to dump the wife of the City Council chairman as Democratic National Committeewoman, and ended up getting dumped upon instead.
Above all, it is a saga of how politics in the District operates behind closed doors, with power brokers large and small wheeling and dealing to shore up their own positions while at the same time trying to increase their strength.
It is a saga of political clashes between the District's two top local elected officials -- Mayor Marion Barry and City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon.
The heroine of this drama is the chairman's wife, Sharon Pratt Dixon, fearless District political operative. Her daring deeds take place during the past several weeks of intratribal warfare that has consumed the city's handful of regular Democrats in their efforts to divvy up four dozen slots on the D.C. Democratic State Committee well in advance of the May 6 primary election.
In the May 6 Democratic primary, voters will choose 44 members of the state committee, plus a national committeeman, committeewoman and an alternate for each.
For the past few weeks the political hotspot on the proposed slate, being put together by the city's Democratic office holders in conjunction with state committee incumbents, has been the position of national committeewoman, a post held for the past three years by Sharon Dixon. In some respects, Sharon Dixon could be viewed as the number one political nemesis of the Barry administration.
The national committeewoman's post is a prestigious one. Not only is she a member of the party's national policy-making arm, she is also influential in local party matters because her position is among the highest ranking in local party politics.
By profession, Sharon Dixon is just another lawyer, who happens to work for Pepco. In practice, she is a hard-working ally of her husband and a stalwart in the more moderate, middle-class and socially well-polished collection of blacks who supported Sterling Tucker for mayor and would like to see more native Washingtonians -- like Dixon and her husband -- in positions of power now that the city finally has an elected government.Barry is from Memphis, a little more to the left, and socially, a bit of a diamond in the rough.
There is mutual respect but no love lost between Sharon Dixon and Marion Barry. "I don't think it's any secret that she's not a strong supporter of the mayor," said Barry's political alter ego, general assistant Ivanhoe Donaldson.
She is also not a favorite of council member John Ray, who is one of Barry's favorites on the council (Barry put him there). When Barry urged the state committee to appoint Ray as his temporary successor on the council, Sharon Dixon fought it tooth and nail, and, according to Ray, hasn't stopped fighting since. She's "opposed to just about everything (I've) done," Ray said.
So it was no surprise that when Barry, Ray and council member Betty Ann Kane, after consulting with other council members, proposed a unified slate of state committee nominees for the May 6 election, Sharon Dixon's name was not on it.
Instead, Barry, Ray and Kane supported Marilyn Brown, a city school administrator close to Del. Walter E. Fauntroy and well-rooted in Ward 4 where neither Barry nor Ray has great political strength. Brown also worked hard in Kane's campaign.
Barry himself was the bearer of the bad news in a telephone call to Sharon Dixon on Jan. 31. The call came just before Barry sent Ray to a meeting of City Council members at which a slate Barry and the others had drawn up was to be unveiled.
"I called Sharon and said that I had a number of concerns . . . and I had run into some questions about whether she should be supported. I had some of my own questions," Barry recalled the other day.
Dixon got the message. "He said he would not be supporting me for reelection. He said he had friends, among whom were John Ray, who had problems with me," she said. "There were also some problems his friends had with Arrington, that Arrington had not been a dependable vote.
"That's what really took me aback, that there were some differences between Arrington and Marion that would be a reason for sanctioning me . . . I told him I regretted his decision, that he had hyped my adrenaline and I would stand for reelection anyway."
At that point, her husband is said to have stormed up to the mayor's office to complain.On the following Saturday, Chairman Dixon, Barry, Fauntroy, Kane and Ray met. Knowing that if a vote were taken, it would underscore sharp division in the upper ranks of the council party leadership, they decided not to endorse anyone.
Fauntroy was in the most difficult position. Sharon Dixon is a close friend of his and Marilyn Brown introduced him to his wife. Fauntroy pleaded with his colleagues for a no-vote and got it.
But Sharon Dixon's adrenaline was already pumping. She first garnered support among members of the council, some of whom were said to be hesitant about offending her husband since he doled out the committee assignments and staff allotments on the council.
Later, in what one listener describes as an "impassioned plea" to the state committee, Sharon Dixon made her case for being on the proposed ticket on the basis that she, like many of them, had worked hard through the years and deserved reelection. She was well received and even got support from some of Barry's stronger supporters on the committee. They were more concerned about state committee unity than the mayor's whims.
Last Saturday, there was another meeting at which the big five tentatively agreed to keep Dixon on the slate. Barry, Ray and Kane lost.
"The mayor may have misread a factionalism that wasn't there. There was more of a desire on the part of the committee members to work together than might have been apparent," Kane said.
Barry, refusing to flatly acknowledge that he is supporting Sharon Dixon, disagreed. He said he had scored a victory by creating more discussion in the state committee.
"I have created more dialogue in the last week and a half than in the last six months," Barry said. "Where have I lost? I've gained a little bit more respect around here."
Meanwhile, National Committeeman John Hechinger seems to have locked up near unanimous support for reelection, along with his alternate Joseph B. Carter. Daria Winter, the daughter-in-law of council member Nadine P. Winter, is vying with former Ward 3 Democratic leader Mary Ann Keeffe for the alternate national committeewoman's slot on the ticket.
Marilyn Brown could still be on the ticket, but only as an at-large candidate. If so, she'll be in relatively good company there. Another candidate for one of the 12 at-large seats is Noel W. Kane, council member Betty Ann's husband.