In January 1977, H. R. Crawford, once one of the nation's highest ranking black public officials, was ending a year in virtual seclusion and public disgrace. He had been fired by the president of the United States from the Department of Housing and Urban Development while the Justice Department investigated whether he had used his position improperly to line up future consulting contracts.
That month, the investigation was dropped with no charges filed, and Crawford vowed to pick up the pieces of his shattered life and begin the long, painful climb back to the kind of public life and prominence that had once put him on the cover of Jet magazine and in the list of Who's Who in America.
With about 100 friends and supporters gathered to celebrate on the 10th floor of the Edgewood Terrace housing complex, Crawford said "Watch me now."
Now in January 1981, H. R. Crawford is back on top, about to be inaugurated today as the new D.C. City Council member from Ward 7, the far Northeast and Southeast corner of Washington where he grew up. Crawford is 41 now, and somewhat mellower than the disciplinarian landlord who once carried a gun and the headline-grabbing HUD assistant secretary who bulldozed deteriorating federal housing projects.
Crawford's comeback is just one of many peaks in his roller coaster career. He attributes his success and resiliency to the bootstrap philosophy he advocates. "I don't talk black power, I talk green power," he says.
Over the years, Crawford's basic philosophy hasn't changed -- a belief that blacks must pull themselves out of poverty by their own bootstraps, without handouts, much the same way he pulled himself from poverty. Crawford does not talk about exactly how much money he has made that way, but he has all the trappings of affluence -- a stately stone mansion on the winding hilltop of Westover Drive in Southeast Washington, 2,000 apartment units he manages in the city and a new chocolate brown Mercades.
His message has always been that if he could make it, other blacks could too. But Crawford's boostrap credo is likely to isolate him on a City Council made up primarily of old-school liberals and social advocates from the civil rights era. He will be the first major businessman on the council, making his initial success in private enterpreneurship instead of through the traditional prehome-rule political forums that produced most of the council's current members -- community activism, civic groups, the school board and the church.
Crawford's political enemies are also starting to question whether his substantial real estate interests, including 10 rental housing units he owns in the city, will conflict with his public decision-making. Crawford is president of Crawford Edgewood Management, of Landover, directly managing about 2,000 subsidized housing units in the city.
In addition, Crawford acknowledges he is being investigated by a federal grand jury probing P.I. Properties, a real estate spinoff of Youth Pride, Inc., a black self-help organization, and its co-founder, Mary Treadwell. The probe started after the publication in 1979 of a series of articles in The Washington Post detailing the theft, misappropriation and diversion of at least $600,000 by Treadwell and some of her associates from a federally financed housing project. Treadwell has denied any wrongdoing.
Crawford was the HUD official who approved the 1975 sale of the project, Clifton Terrace Apartments, to P.I. Properties against the advice of HUD's own lawyer and despite the fact that P.I. Properties, as manager of the property, had taken the low-income apartment building thousands of dollars into the red.
In one of his business deals that attracted publicity at the time, Crawford netted a reported $150,000 profit on the sale of 33 largely vacant housing units to a city-funded housing corporation. Crawford originally bought the homes as part of a widely publicized plan to give housing to poor families. t
Crawford said the housing now is going to the poor, which was the original intent, and "I was attempting to encourage other black folks to do was I was doing."
Through the controversy that has dogged his public and private life, Crawford says he sees himself as a victim of his own successes, a victim of a system designed to discredit successful and outspoken black men. He believes that a double standard exists in judging the actions of blacks and whites in public life, that blacks are judged more harshly, scrutinized more closely and accused of wrongdoing more quickly than whites.
Crawford's views often sound the same as those of former D.C. Human Services director Joseph P. Yeldell, who was indicted and later acquitted of conspiracy charges. Crawford's campaign last year was waged in part to vindicate people like Yeldell, says Crawford campaign manager James Baldwin.
In the HUD firing, for instance, Crawford said that it was common practice for federal officials leaving the government to try to line up outside jobs early. He said he was singled out and summarily dismissed before the investigation of the charges against him partly because of the "Watergate syndrome" and partly because he had made too many enemies with his out-spokeness.
As for the P.I. Properties controversy, Crawford said, "When I was at HUD, you'd think the only thing I did was give Mary Treadwell Clifton Terrace."
Crawford said that if he had to do it over again, he would decide in exactly the same way to sell the apartments to P.I. Properties. The reason goes back to his same belief in the principle of self-help, he said, and in Youth Pride, Inc. as the city's perennial black self-help organization.
"Inner city organizations with proven ability and with a level of government assistance, they can make it," Crawford said. Asked if he thought his way of handling the Clifton Terrace sale gave the appearance of impropriety, he said, "One does not make those decisions based on whether or not there is the appearance of an impropriety. Certain allowances should be made for minority entrepreneurs who are attempting to stake their place in the sun."
He added, "I'm sorry that things developed into such a morass of problems, but that doesn't change the way I feel."
Crawford's defense of his handling of the Clifton Terrace sale reflect what many of his supporters, business asociates and former HUD collegues call a basic Crawford quality that is likely to show up on the City Council: ca sense of mission undeterred by the restraints of bureaucracy or legal technicalities when it comes to getting what he wants.
While often outspoken and abrasive, the stocky and articulately. He came to Washington from Winston Salem, N.C., at age 3, living first in Kalorama and then in Southeast. A devout Roman Catholic who wears his religion proudly, Crawford said he was poor like many black children in Southeast Washington today. He made it, he said, because he had discipline, positive role models to emulate and a grandmother who told him, "You can be poor, but you don't have to be dirty."
Crawford would like to be that kind of role model now, which is why he is particularly disturbed when he is subjected to what he calls negative publicity. Besides developing a "positive role model," he said he will concentrate his energies on the City Council to putting his ideas into practice by pushing for more law- and moderate-income housing. He is strongly against rent control.
Crawford also said he will concentrate more on local ward issues, instead of trying to solve large problems like the city's worsening budget deficit. His concerns, he said, are crime and public safety, small business development in Southeast, and soil erosion problems around homes in low-lying areas.
Crawford said that his private real estate interests will not conflict with his role as a council member, since all but two of the properties he owns or manages in the city receive some form of federal housing grant or subsidy and are therefore exempt from city rent control and condominium conversion laws.
The exceptions are two housing projects Crawford manages, Edgewood Terrace and the new Villager apartments. "As long as you declare it up front, there's no problem with it," Crawford said. He said he will disqualify himself from voting on any issues that would directly affect his business dealings with the two public housing projects or any of his private properties, and he has instructed his firm not to acquire any new District properties during his tenure on the council.
Crawford is guarded when he talks about his personal wealth, noting only that he has complied with the city's financial disclosure law for public officials. The law requires office holders to disclose all business affiliations and properties they own, but not personal income and bank transactions. He adds that when affluent white politicians like Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and H. John Heinz (R-Pa.) run for office, no one accuses them of conflicts of interest.
Crawford's loosely-knit circle of close friends, neighbors and advisers generally reflects the same slice of backbone, church-going Washingtonians who believe in Crawford's attitudes about self-help, back-to-basic and discipline. It was largely this group of voters who supported Crawford's election.
Included in this circle is former Mayor Walter E. Washington, who Crawford describes as a longtime personal friend. Also in the group is the Rev. Robert L. Pruitt, pastor of the Metropolitan AME Church; Barbara Morgan, a public school teacher, longtime city Democrat and Ward 7 candidate for the City Council in 1976; the Rev. Maurice Fox, a Catholic priest who is now press spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington, and James Banks, executive vice president of the Washington Board of Realtors. j