A major effort to overturn a D.C. citizens' initiative that would permit gambling in the nation's capital surfaced yesterday, as the conservative Christian lobby Moral Majority, two D.C. City Council members and Marylanders who feel their own lottery receipts might suffer all announced plans to push for congressional rejection of the gambling proposal.
The measure was approved by D.C. voters last Nov. 4 by a margin of nearly two to one. But by the terms of the city's home rule charter, Congress still has 26 legislative days to disapprove the initiative before it automatically becomes law.
Moral Majority states coordinator Charles R. Cade said that the group will use the full influence of its lobbying apparatus to try to get the measure rejected on Capitol Hill. "We're in the halls of Congress every day," he said. "We welcome a recorded vote on this issue."
Cade's statements came at a press conference called by City Council members Jerry A. Moore (R-At Large) and William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5) to announce that they have sent letters to each member of the Senate asking that they disapprove the initiative, which would authorize a city-run lottery and numbers game in addition to bingo and raffles for charity.
Meanwhile, in Annapolis, businessmen from Prince George's County who fear they will suffer if District residents have their own lottery to patronize asked their state legislators to lobby Maryland's congressional delegation to vote against the initiative.
The call by Spaulding and Moore for congressional nullification of a decision made by District voters drew immediate and harsh criticism from several of their City Council colleagues who considered it an attack on home rule.
But the two veteran council members -- both of whom served on the first home rule council elected in 1975 -- said they believed the gambling initiative was potentially so harmful to the city that it warranted drastic steps.
"We believe . . . that legalized gambling is an issue of such importance, and will so affect the image of the nation's captial at home and abroad, that it is imperative for Congress . . . to act to protect the moral fabric of our community," Moore and Spaulding said in a prepared statement.
"If you look at the Home Rule Charter, Congress has the last say," Moore said. He maintained that gambling is morally wrong, that it hits poor people hardest, that it would damage the city's image and that government-run gambling operations are an improper method of taxation.
Both men are outspoken foes of legalized gambling. Moore is a Baptist minister, and Spaulding represents a socially conservative, churchgoing part of the city where the Baptist clergy -- who led the fight against the initiative -- are seen as powerful. Also attending yesterday's press conference were several clergymen, including the Rev. Ernest R. Gibson, pastor of First Rising Mt. Zion Baptist Church in the Shaw neighborhood and head of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Churches.
Cade said that Moral Majority had been anxious to take a position on the gambling initiative, but felt doing so without invitation would be "presumptuous."
He said his connection with the effort by Spaulding and Moore began several weeks ago when he addressed the city's Baptist Ministers Conference and praised the organization's opposition to gambling.
One of the ministers in the group called him on Thursday, Cade said, and asked if he would attend the press conference. When he arrived, Moore and Spaulding welcomed him and Moral Majority's backing.
The conservative Christian group became controversial during last year's national and state elections, when it urged its members to support only candidates who agreed with the organization's fundamentalist philosophy.
In Annapolis, Earl Griffin, representint 124 suburban businessmen like himself who sell Maryland lottery tickets, issued a similar call to ask Congress to kill the D.C. gambling measure on the grounds that a lottery in the District would drain money from their stores.
Griffin asked the Prince George's delegation to the Maryland legislature to lobby the state's congressional delegation to vote against the initiative. State officials believe Maryland stands to lose $30 million a year in lottery ticket sales if the District is allowed to set up its own lottery. One of every five dollars taken in by the Maryland State lottery and numbers games comes from tickets sold in counties that abut the District of Columbia.
Moore and Spaulding said they also plan to ask the District's nonvoting delegate to Congress, Walter D. Fauntroy, to launch an effort in the House of Representatives to kill the gambling measure. Fauntroy, a Baptist minister, opposed the initiative, but said last year that he would instigate no move to invalidate it.
He stuck to that position yesterday, telling a reporter, "I guess I have to say that I just haven't reached the point where I am prepared to work against the majority will of the people."
Though he said he would not initiate action against the gambling law, he left open the possibility that he might support such an effort, adding that he would find himself with a "severe moral dilemma" if his stance became pivotal.
If Congress were to kill the gambling measure, it would be only the second time that a piece of D.C. legislation was rejected by Congress. In 1979, Congress disallowed a bill that would have restricted the locations of consular offices in the city.
Alan Grip, spokesman for Mayor Marion Barry, said Barry did not support the action by Moore and Spaulding. City Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) said it was an "absolute disgrace" that any District official would "try to get Congress to overrule the will of the voters of the District of Columbia," and accused them of trying to "undermine our people's right to self-government."
Council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1) said he was "appalled," and suggested that Moore and Spaulding "resign their elected positions and register as congressional lobbyists."