AMONG THE HORDES of political casualties who are signing up for unemployment these gray January days is former D.C. City Councilwoman Willie J. Hardy, who represented the 7th ward from the first day of the elected City Council in 1975 until 22 days ago. Hardy is not a loser from last fall's elections. She chose not to run for office again. But she is a casualty in the sese that her percieved ties to the business community made it unlikley, in the view of some, that she could be reelected.
Either way, Hardy's circumstances provide both a striking example of the city's political adolescence -- it has not produced a "spoils system" for former politicos -- and raise as well the question of whether people comfortable can go into public service in this town and leave without facing an uncertain future.
Hardy, 56, is an earthy, outspoken widow and mother of seven and no pathetic character. She hopes to open her own consulting firm to work in the areas of crime and youth. In the meantime, she's collecting $196 a week in unemployment benefits, a far cry from her $37,500 annual salary as a council member.
There are four living alumni of the DiC. City Council, and among them only former Chariman Sterling Tucker has landed a job that suggested his prior experience was important. The day in 1978 after he lost the race for mayor, he was hired by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and ended up in the job of Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. Last Tuesday, he left that job and opened a consulting firm with a prestigous Connecticut Avenue address and clients that already include top corporations in utilities, transportaion and housing.
By contrast, the Rev. James E. Coates, council member from ward 8 from 1975-1977, returned to duty as the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, and former at-large council member Douglas E. Moore, also a minister but without a pulpit, was twice defeated and now says he is in "the oil business."
Willie Hardy was considered a champion of business and she served as chairman of the counsel's housing committee during the last two years of her tenure. "Had a white person fought for business interests the way she had, [business] would have felt some debt to her . . . ," one former coleague said.
But like many of the former activists on the City council, Hardy built her political reputation on the city's sidewalks, and it is to the problems of the poor that she is returning to, not to the board rooms.
Washington's city government has been a clean and scandal-free one -- and in many respects the ridgid code of Hardy and others who say they do not want to appear to be using their public postions for personal gain is somewhat of a plus. But a person ought to be able to market his of her knowledge within acceptable frameworks.
Former mayor Walter E. Washington landed on his feet with a job with a respectable if not spectacular New York law firm and a number of prestigious appointments to corporate boards. Mayor Barry, would have far less impressive lines in the "previous occupation" blank on his resume if he one day decided to leave politics. Members of the current council, aside form the professionals and those with inependent incomes, could face a similar problem -- indeed, council member Betty Ann Kane once drew unemployment while a member of the D.C. School Board.
Related to all this is the problem of the limited ladder of elective office in Washington -- 26, count 'em. People with political talents and ambitions who can't be accommodated by the political stucture may eventually tend to consider a political office, such as council member, as "a job" and hestiate to move on because they consider the ladder is sawed off at the rung on which they're standing.
The fates of Coates, Moore and Hardy are not reassuring for people considering public service, and in the end the city would suffer if people continue to run continually for the office they hold simply because there is no alternative.
Says Hardy, "The constituents don't understand what they have elevated you for. It's the newness of politics of this city and that this government doesn't understand . . . Something needs to be set up. I'm not asking for that. I can do it on my own. But every [other] state takes care of people like [me].