When Ronald Reagan was elected president a little more thatn a year ago, a group of localRepublicians, confident that a Republican administration and a party majority in the Senate afforded them new prominence and influence, gave notice to the city's Democratic officials that dealings with the Reagan White House would go through them.
"Obviously, access to the White House will be there," said Melvin Burton, an attorney and longtime District Republican, just a week after the 1980 elections.
Today, however, many Republicans in the District are still waiting to plug into the GOP network.
Burton, a cochairman of Reagan's campaign in the District, summed up the past year for local Republicans: "It's been a mass disappointment."
Robert Carter, chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee, described the past year as "very good," however, and said that he is satisfied with the committee's access to the White House.
The two assessments are but one indication of how differently some District Republicans view things. They are at odds with each other over a variety of issues and caught up in intra-party jousting. Meanwhile, other prominent District Republicans are simply standing by. They decline to even comment on local GOP affairs or say they are too uninformed to address the issues.
The friction and discontent have led many local Republicans to question whether the local influence that party members expected to regain a year ago will arrive. They make others wonder whether the Republican Party--with only 21,000 registered voters out of city's 273,000 registered voters--can ever gain enough support to break the Democrats' dominance
It wasn't always that way. During the days of Reconstruction, Washingtonians, many of them blacks who felt an allegiance to the party of Abraham Lincoln, swelled Republican ranks. But during the Depression, Washingtonians turned to the Democratic Party, whose policies under Franklin D. Roosevelt were more sympathetic to the needs of the poor and minorities.
In the 1980 elections a small percentage of Washingtonians cast their ballots for Reagan and the Grand Old Party. Once ignored in local affairs, they expected to be the ones consulted by the White House and Congress on high-level appointments and policy and budget decisions affecting the city.
Today, however, many local party members complain that they do not have the connections, influence or considerations they expected as local hosts of the party in power.
Burton said he is part of an unofficial local network of black Republicans who are concerned that many "faithful, hardworking" party members have not been offered jobs in the administration and have little access to the White House or Republicans in Congress. Burton said he has been seeking jobs for others but not for himself. He also complained that many local Republicans don't even get invited to official Republican or White House "affairs of dignity" and can't afford the $1,000 fundraising dinners that are open to them.
"The administration has not, as prior administrations, honored or made use of the Republicans in the District," said Burton, a George Bush delegate in the initial rounds of the Republican National Convention. "We need more recognition for local Republicans who feel they are being frozen out."
Burton, 53, is a Cardozo High School graduate who joined the GOP while he was a Howard University law student in the mid-1950s.
Clinton Chapman, vice chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee, said most of the panel's contacts with the White House are through the local party's three Republican National Committee members, including Carter. Chapman, head of the local committee's patronage subcommittee, said many people he has recommended for jobs have not received them. "It's taking longer than any of us thought," he said.
But some Republicans question whether District party members expected too much.
"A lot of people feel that because we are the party in Washington , we have more coming to us than other states. We have no more," Carter said. "As a matter of fact, we have less than the states that did support Reagan."
District delegates to the Republican National Convention originally rallied behind Bush.
Still, Carter, a partner in a local public relations firm, said the D.C. Republican Committee has good access to the White House, "although we don't get everything we want."
What the committee did not get, Carter said, was the appointment of D.C. Republican Benton Becker (now living in Florida) as U.S. attorney for the District. But, Carter pointed out, local Republicans were successful in getting former school superintendent Vincent Reed appointed as an assistant secretary in the federal Department of Education. Carter declined to name or say how many others recommended by the committee had gotten appointments. According to White House figures, Carter said, 155 District residents have gotten jobs in the Reagan administration, although the committee did not have a hand in most of those appointments.
Burton also said he and other Republicans outside the committee--the official policy making body of the local Republican Party--are working around the committee to get jobs and occasionally have gone straight to the White House for appointments.
But jobs and access are not the only issues on which local Republicans don't see eye to eye. The committee's role and efforts are subjects of controversy among many Republicans. Opponents charge that the group is more interested in national committee politics and single neighborhood concerns than citywide issues or promoting the growth of the party in the District.
For example, many say District Republicans are not making a serious bid in the upcoming city elections.
James Champagne, a declared Republican mayoral candidate, said one of the biggest obstacles in his campaign is getting Republicans to believe the party can win. "The most difficult thing is convincing Republicans that the myth that the only election that counts is the Democratic primary is not true," he said. The Republican candidate selection comittee held its first meeting last week.
Many of those at odds with the committee are blacks concerned about the effects of national policies on the city's poor and minorities as well as the recent controversy in which the administration suported tax credits for racially segregated schools. Others unhappy with the committee are former members who were ousted two years ago by a more conservative group.
The split widened with disagreements over whether to support the District voting rights amendment and whether to support Bush or an open platform at the 1980 Republican National Convention. The new D.C. Republican Committee, comprised mainly of white conservatives from Ward 3, is about 15 percent black. The new group replaced the more liberal committee that was 33 percent black.
Committee chairman Carter said the split was not divided on racial lines and that the committee needs and wants "visible, responsible blacks in leadership positions."
Many of the blacks on the committee are prominent attorneys or longtime Republicans. At-Large council member Jerry Moore is a committee member. Arthur Fletcher and Cecil Grant were among those defeated for committee leadership, but remained on the new committee. Fletcher, who unsucessfully opposed Marion Barry in the 1978 mayoral race, Grant, a past national committeewoman, and Moore all said they are not actively involved and could not assess or comment on committee affairs.
Chapman, an attorney, is the only black on the new committee's executive body. "At first it looked as if I was going to be a token," said Chapman, 56. He said the subcommittees he directs--patronage and candidate selection--are two of the group's most important.
Chapman said that, as a minority member, he is concerned about the entire city, not just the affluent Ward 3, and that the District as a whole must be considered when the committee takes a stand on issues such as crime and redistricting. Chapman is a resident of Ward 4's lush Portal Estates section.
Carter said the committee is establishing groups to monitor foul-ups in the D.C. government and is opposing property tax increases and high crime rates. He said the committee plans to promote the concerns of the local party throughout the District with a write-in campaign to community newspapers such as the Uptown Citizen and the Georgetowner. Carter said a plan to bring in Republican college students for a voter registration drive has been postponed until the D.C. Board of Elections clears up its registration problems.
But former committee chairman Paul Hays, who was ousted by the conservative coup, said the committee is not having much of an impact because there's no evidence of the party doing anything."
Burton, a former Nixon adminstration appointee, said: "Over a year and a half after their so-called elections you have more Republicans wondering where is the party, who is it, who speaks for it."