Several key city politicians are offering only lukewarm public support for passage of the proposed D.C. Statehood constitution, with a few saying privately that the measure is too radical and should be rejected by voters in the Nov. 2 election.
Defeat of the measure as now drafted would permit statehood constitutional convention delegates to reconvene and possibly modify the document, especially controversial provisions such as those that would permit police officers to strike and guarantee all city residents a job or an income.
Many city officials, reluctant to oppose any measure that would increase local self determination, are concerned that if the measure is approved with those provisions in it Congress would be more likely to veto that approval. Such a veto would aggravate further effort to expand home rule, the officials say.
Charles I. Cassell, president of the Constitutional Convention, said yesterday that opposition to the document comes from a small minority of delegates and others opposed to statehood, all of whom have distorted provisions of the document.
"We're talking about changing the status quo," Cassell said, "there's always an element that is afraid to change the status quo." He said some opponents of statehood "are attacking the constitution because it is the only thing available to them to attack at this moment."
In separate interviews yesterday, the three highest elected officials in local politics -- Mayor Marion Barry, Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D -- D.C.) and City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon -- indicated support for approval of the constitution for the proposed state of New Columbia. Yet spokesmen indicated that none of the three would become involved in the public debate over the constitution.
Annette Samuels, the mayor's press secretary, said Barry would vote for acceptance of the massive 18,000 word document, but she declined to say specifically whether Barry would recommend that others vote for it.
A spokesman for Fauntroy, who has pushed a separate constitutional amendment to give the city full voting rights in Congress, said Fauntroy would not take a position on the document until after the Nov. 2 election, but would work to win Congressional approval of whatever measure is sent to Capitol Hill.
A spokeswoman for Dixon said the outgoing chairman "basically supports the document, but has problems with it."
Council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), who defeated Dixon for chairman in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary and served as a constitutional delegate, has publicly said he would vote against the document but also has declined to campaign against it.
Clarke, who has no announced opposition in the general election, objects to some provisions of the proposed constitution's bill of rights. Those include one that Clarke said would require prosecutors to turn over all evidence -- including the names of informants -- to lawyers for defendants and another that he contends would prohibit prosecutors or judges from considering danger to the community as a factor in granting bail.
Council member Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At Large), who like Clarke was a delegate to the constitutional convention, declined yesterday to take a public position on approval of the measure.
Council member Hilda Mason (Statehood--At Large), also a member of the constitutional convention and the lone member of the Statehood Party in the city's legislature, is one of the few city officials who has expressed support for the document.
"I'm going to vote for it," Mason said yesterday. She said the document could be amended if sections of it are found unworkable. "People should be encouraged to vote for it," she said.
Last night, proponents of the proposed constitution defended the document at one of several public forums that will be held to discuss the proposal before election day.
"Voting against this constitution will set us back two or three years" from getting statehood, said constitutional convention delegate and psychologist Robert Love at a meeting of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association. "This is a vote for or against statehood."
About 20 persons, all but one of whom said after the meeting that he or she opposed the constitution, listened for more than an hour as four statehood delegates debated the issue and answered questions at St. Thomas' Church, 18th and Church streets NW.
Kenneth Rothchild, a delegate from Ward Two, said he reluctantly opposed the constitution, but said it would never gain the required congressional approval.
Rothchild specifically objected to provisions guaranteeing the right to a job or an income, a 40-member legislature and what he said was the failure of the convention to consider the cost of proposals it mandated.
However, Love and delegate Alexa Freeman said voters should approve the constitution despite problems with any particular section. They argued that the measure could be amended before it is sent to Congress.