A headline in yesterday's District Weekly created a misimpression about responses to the increased support for David A. Clarke's candidacy for chairman of the D.C. City Council. The headline, "Suspicions Over Clarke's Support Rise," referred only to questions and envy arising in political circles, primarily over whether Clarke was receiving unannounced support from Mayor Marion Barry in Clarke's efforts to raise funds and win endorsements.
On Saturday night, at union leader Bill Lucy's pool party in Northwest Washington, with many of the city's political stars in attendance, the three candidates for the City Council chairmanship came by to politick and gossip.
But while City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon and former chairman Sterling Tucker moved among the crowd talking, only Ward 1 council member David A. Clarke was allowed to speak over the microphone at the party. Lucy is secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which has endorsed Clarke in the race.
Again Sunday morning, Tucker and Dixon had to sit and watch as Clarke won the blessing and endorsement of Bishop Walter McCollough of the United House of Prayer for All People, who embraced him as the responsive candidate. McCollough is the spiritual leader of several thousand city residents, and his endorsement, which is thought to influence the votes of his followers, was sought by many candidates.
They were the latest in an impressive string of political coups that Clarke has achieved in what started as an underdog bid to unseat Dixon and derail Tucker in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary.
Clarke's overwhelming success in gaining endorsements is in stunning contrast to a June Washington Post poll showing 56 percent of those surveyed did not know him well enough to express an opinion about him. In that poll, 31 percent of the respondents said they would likely vote for Tucker, 28 percent chose Dixon and only 15 percent named Clarke. However, 25 percent of those responding said they were undecided.
Clarke is the only one among the candidates for mayor and the City Council who can claim the near-unanimous backing of organized labor, including the Washington Labor Council, hotel and restaurant workers, city firefighters, American Federation of Government Employees and AFSCME.
Clarke also has been endorsed by the D.C. Women's Political Action Caucus, Washington chapter of the National Black Women's Political Action Caucus, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, Ward 6 Democrats and several tenant organizations.
Although many of those organizations do not provide much money to a campaign, they are important to Clarke because they provide him with campaign workers, garner media attention and help publicize his candidacy among the rank-and-file union membership.
Tucker and Dixon both disputed the meaning of the endorsements Clarke has won recently. They point out that there have been no polls since the early ones, several months ago, showed that Clarke trailed both of them at the time among voters polled. They also questioned whether the endorsements reflect wide support for Clarke among voters.
Clarke's surprising successes have sparked questions and suspicions, as well as envy, in political circles.
From every direction, fingers point at Mayor Marion Barry as a key ally of Clarke's campaign.
Clarke acknowledged he and Barry have some common supporters, even some of the same people raising money for them. When asked if Barry or any of his aides have made Barry's polls available to him, Clarke said: "I have too much respect for you to lie to you, so let me just say I'm not going to answer."
Barry denies showing Clarke his polls, helping him raise money or supporting him.
When Clarke announced his candidacy last spring, he said Barry would publicly support him. But Barry said his remarks to Clarke about support were intended to be private.
The question remains: Why would Barry support Clarke?
One possibility, according to Barry and Clarke supporters, may be Barry is backing Clarke because he was irritated with Dixon for the current chairman's constant criticism of him during the past few years when Dixon was considering a bid for mayor. Dixon is now often seen at Barry campaign events, and has backed off on criticisms of Barry, particularly about the city's financial condition.
Tucker is an old Barry rival from the 1978 mayor's race, and Barry would not likely be anxious to see Tucker revive his stalled political career, according to campaign observers.
Whatever problems Barry has had with Dixon, the mayor and Clarke, along with Ivanhoe Donaldson, Barry's longtime political aide, have a lengthy association, dating from the civil rights movement and the early effort to bring home rule to the District.
Apart from the support he may be getting from Barry, Clarke is drawing from a political base he built during nearly eight years on the council.
In addition, Clarke has a core of support around the city from housing activists because of his stands on such issues as rent control and condominium conversion restrictions. Clarke's own ward has one of the highest concentrations of apartment buildings.
Although Clarke is not that well known to the general public, he is one of the regulars among community and political activist groups whose members are aiding his campaign.