Opposition to the proposed District statehood constitution gained momentum yesterday as numerous City Council members--including the only representative of the Statehood Party -- voiced support for removing the constitution from the Nov. 2 ballot, and the city's leading business group called for the document's defeat.
Nine of the city's 13 council members -- some of whom said for the first time that they would vote against it and thought it was headed for certain defeat at the polls -- said they favored taking the measure off the ballot but would not act unless the statehood delegates requested it.
"I think strategically it would be better to take it off rather than have it fail," said council member Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large), who also is a constitutional convention delegate. "That would be great if we could be sure we don't lose momentum for statehood," said Mason, who said she would vote for the document.
The withdrawal idea was raised by David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), who also serves as a statehood delegate. Clarke said he offered it as an option to some delegates who have expressed fears that the measure might be defeated.
The document, approved last May, has been criticized by some as too liberal for voters or for Congress, which must ratify the city's statehood bid if the voters approve the constitution. Critics have pointed in particular to provisions that they say could allow police and firefighters the right to strike, and that guarantee all city residents a job or an income.
All the council members who favored withdrawal said they believed the convention delegates should consider redrafting some of the controversial provisions.
Yesterday, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, which has been lukewarm on the idea of statehood, called for the defeat of the document. A board task force said that while the constitution "addressed a number of important problems and established many excellent basic rights," the document "is incapable of establishing a state that is fiscally, economically or administratively viable."
Council members John Ray (D-At Large), H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), and Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) said yesterday they would vote against the document on Nov. 2 and favored holding it off the ballot.
"My impression is it would not pass," said Jerry A. Moore (R-At Large), another constitutional convention delegate. Moore, William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5), Chairman Arrington Dixon and Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6) said they probably would favor withholding the document but did not indicate how they would vote if it stays on the ballot.
Charles I. Cassell, president of the statehood convention, said he did not know of any of the 45 delegates who favor removing the issue from the ballot, but said the convention would meet to discuss the idea if asked by any delegate.
Cassell and other convention delegates did ask the City Council yesterday to pass a measure that would allow D.C. residents to vote separately on the 18 provisions of the document instead of a planned straight yes-or-no on the entire constitution. Some delegates said privately they believe this would enhance its chances of ultimate approval.