Five million dollars and another woman have sparked a feud between two of the better-known poker partners in city hall, City Council member Charlene ("Sugar" to her playing pals) Jarvis and Marion ("Mr. Mayor") Barry.
The high stakes involved are up to $5 million in federal funds for renovation of the ragged Upshur Street Community Health Clinic, which Barry and the council have voted to close later this year.Jarvis has vowed to keep it open, because it is the only such public health clinic in her otherwise very private ward (the 4th) in upper Northwest Washington.
The other woman at the center of the fray is council member Polly Shackleton, the grande dame of Democratic politics in Ward 3, who is chairman of the council's committee on human resources and known to play tough on occasion.
Jarvis is usually considered a close ally of City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon, one of Barry's most consistent political rivals. But until not too long ago -- right about the time a reporter discovered it, to be exact -- she was on the same poker circuit with Barry. Lately, she now says, she has stopped playing. "I don't have that kind of money," she explained. But that's another story.
Saving the clinic has become a cause celebre for Jarvis in her ward. "She is willing to go to the mat on this one," one observer said. And, many of the same observers suggest, Barry has close political ties to Shackleton. Many of his staunchest supporters live in her ward and are members of her political organization.
When Barry proposed his city operating budget for the fiscal year beginning next Oct. 1, he asked that the Upshur Street Clinic, located at 1325 Upshur St. NW, and two others be closed. Funds to operate the clinics would amount to $1.4 million a year and the city did not have the money, the mayor argued. Adequate health care could be obtained at other clinics nearby, he said, and there was also no money available with which to make badly needed repairs at the Upshur Street facility.
The council approved the mayor's recommendations, over strong protests from Jarvis. She then promised to find funds for the facility on her own, and she did. Before endorsing President Carter for reelection, Jarvis got a commitment from the White House to provide funds for renovation of the facility.
Up to $5 million for renovation may be available, and it could be dispatched promptly, according to Pauline Schneider, the White House liaison with the District government. The only problem is that such requests have to come from the city's chief executive officer -- the mayor -- and Barry has yet to make one.
"The money is ready to be delivered," Jarvis complained to a reporter the other day. "I'm astounded that this city would not take money for health care."
At first, Jarvis said, Barry told her he didn't think she was serious when she said she would go out and find funds herself. Then he told Jarvis he was opposed because Shackleton was against it. Early this week, Barry tried still another tack.
"It's not true that he has refused to take any money," said Florence Tate, Barry's press secretary. "He will accept it" if he is officially told that the funds are available, Tate said.
Well, that, chuckled one person familiar with the release of such grants, is simply not the way things work at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Ask first, and then it shall be given unto you -- maybe.
Shackleton, for her part, says money to run the facility is just not to be found. "Even if $5 million was firm, you would still have to find a half million for operating funds, and that would have to come out of somebody else's budget," Shackleton said.
What's more, she added, Jarvis' brand of rugged individualism and me-first ward politics is out of place. "I think it's a wrong thing for any member of the council to just go out and look for things for their own ward," Shackleton said.
Well, said Jarvis, "We are talking about health care for people in my ward. I don't expect anybody from any other ward to interfere with it."
Shackleton's response: "It's not (a question) of her ward. I'm responsible for the Department of Human Resources programs that are going to be funded citywide. I'm responsible for making sure that health services are provided for all the people who need them. If there's (extra) operating funds available, maybe Ward 7 could use some, maybe Ward 2."
Jarvis said she is willing to look around for ways to get the operating money from other funds being spent in her ward. "But we can't even move that far in the discussion because there is such an intransigence," she said in frustration the other day.
When a reporter called to tell her that Barry had denied her assertion that he is refusing to ask the White House for funds, Jarvis's patience wore thin. "That's just a baldfaced lie," she snapped. "That's just a baldfaced lie."
Mary Ann Keeffe is still chairman of the Ward 3 Dems, not the "former" chairman, as reported here last week. And John Ray wants all to know that he has not agreed -- not even tentatively -- to support Sharon Pratt Dixon for Democratic National Committeewoman in the May 6 election. Ray did not attend the Feb. 9 meeting at which such a temporary agreement was made among four other major Democratic office-holders.