Everyone is waiting for Patricia Roberts Harris
Ever since word filtered out last fall that a group of her supporters had conducted a poll to assess her chances in the race, there has been a buzz of discussion as to how a Harris candidacy could affect other political fortunes.
Many city politicians expected her to announce early--in November or December--preempting a gallery of candidates in the contest. But it is now mid-February and Harris has yet to say formally yes or no.
Most consider her announcement only a matter of time. She already has about five people working on her incipient campaign. She has kept up a very busy schedule of meetings around town, telling voters she will need their support and their dollars if she decides to run.
But until she actually jumps in, despite the flurry of recent announcements, there is uncertainty in the race, with other politicians poised to find out what kind of splash Harris will make.
"People are waiting to see what she is going to do, no question about that," said Ivanhoe Donaldson, Mayor Barry's principal political advisor and head of the city's Department of Employment Services. "If she decides to run it will have an impact on the dynamics of the race."
Theodis R. Gay, head of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, said, "Mrs. Harris is definitely playing a significant part in the race even though she has not announced. It creates a limbo period."
There are some hypothetical scenarios. In most, Harris and Barry would likely emerge as the two principal candidates if the former Carter cabinet member enters the race.
The other major candidates, both announced and unannounced--Council members John Ray, Betty Ann Kane, John Wilson and Charlene Drew Jarvis and former City Council chairman Sterling Tucker--might do well against Barry in a head-to-head contest, the theory goes. But each one's chances for victory would diminish in a larger field of candidates and severely diminish with Harris in the race.
Most of the announced candidates say little about Harris publicly. Kane will say only that Harris' candidacy "does not matter to me. My polls show I can win against any of the people who may enter the race or have entered the race. She is one of those people."
Wilson says simply, "Pat Harris is not going to make me get in or get out of the race."
Ray says he thinks that after Harris announces her candidacy for mayor she will go downhill.
"My personal opinion is that the curiosity about whether or not she is going to run has her at the peak of her candidacy now," he said. "She's got the press writing about whether she is going to run, everybody wants to talk to her. . . . When she gets in the race, she's in for a fall."
Ray belittles her ability to raise money on the contention that unlike himself and some other Council members running for mayor, if Harris loses, she will not be around city political circles to show her anger to those who failed to contribute to her campaign.
And Ray says he doesn't think she will be able to raise much money outside the city either, because the 1982 District mayoral race is not a high priority for Democrats more concerned about possibly losing control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Barry refuses to comment on a potential Harris candidacy. "I don't deal with rumors," he says.
And while Donaldson acknowledges that he has a lot of respect for Harris, he doesn't think she will unseat the mayor.
Asked what Harris' weaknesses are as she comes to the local political scene, Donaldson said he has to keep some secrets for the campaign. And Harris is keeping her secret, too.
"No one is going to push Pat Harris to do anything," said Marilyn Robinson, a former television reporter who is working as Harris' media advisor. Robinson said national and local reporters have been interviewing Harris since January, all asking her when she will run and all hearing that she has not made up her mind.
"She is a very careful person who takes time to do things correctly," said Democratic National Committeewoman Sharon Pratt Dixon, who is acting as one of Harris' advisors. "She is not going to let other people rush her but . . . from what I've seen, I would be surprised if she said no."
Whatever and whenever Harris decides, she could be a dominant force in shaping the mayor's race in its early stages. Her absence would continue to invite more candidates into the race to challenge Barry.
If she decides not to run, many say, there would be no candidate with the name recognition and the potential for raising money, attracting support, and sparking nationwide interest like a Patricia Roberts Harris. Both her supporters and her detractors agree on that. photo: Patricia Roberts Harris: a candidate?