For two days last week, the 13 members of the D.C. City Council attended a "retreat," gathered around a large table at the Howard Inn on Georgia Avenue NW to map out the council's structure for the next two years. It was chairman-elect David A. Clarke's first attempt to lead the often fractious group of lawmakers.
The council gave him a characteristic welcome.
According to participants in the closed-door sessions, Jerry A. Moore (R-At large) chided Clarke for continuing his favored mode of transportation through Washington's traffic-choked streets: riding a bicycle.
That is not the proper thing for a chairman to do, said Moore. As an example, Baptist clergyman Moore noted, his own congregation expects him to act like a minister.
Clarke, who had offered to give up his right to a leased car to help trim the estimated $500,000 budget deficit the council faces, promised that he would try to limit his cycling to once a week.
There were strong complaints from Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 5), according to participants. Winter reportedly said that she was tired of her "tea and cookies" job as chairman pro tem, which is largely a ceremonial role.
She had scheduled a poolside press conference, but several other members, moved by her plight and anxious to get on with the meeting, volunteered to give up items under their jurisdiction. Winter ended up with oversight of the city's legalized gambling operation, and seats on the National Capital Parks Commission and the Council of Governments.
Winter then canceled her press conference, but participants say that now she is asking for a larger staff for all the work she will have to do.
John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), a powerful member of the council as chairman of the finance and revenue committee, suffered a rare defeat: His proposal to invite visiting clergy to open each council session was turned down in favor of the current moment of silence. "It's the only one we get at those things," said one staff member later.
But beneath the jockeying for more staff and better office space, the sessions also outlined the opportunities and pitfalls that await Clarke as he moves from his role as the council member from Ward 1, a post he has held since the inception of the elected council in 1975, to a four-year term as chairman beginning Jan. 3.
Clarke takes over a council with a majority of members more loyal to Mayor Marion Barry than to their own institution -- a political fact of life that often was the undoing of outgoing chairman Arrington Dixon.
Clarke acknowledges that, like Dixon, he does not have a loyal core of members he consistently can lead. But he maintains that his willingness to involve the members in planning sessions -- something Dixon was faulted for not doing -- will help him.
"The fear is gone. Trust will take time to build," Clarke said after the meeting, explaining that after the election some members were uncertain of how he would approach his job.
Some council members acknowledge privately that Clarke, one of three whites on the 13-member council in this city that is 70 percent black, also will have to contend with an undercurrent of racial politics.
The mercurial Wilson has emerged as a key figure in the evolving coalition politics that many members say will determine whether Clarke succeeds in his promise to run the council more smoothly than Dixon. Wilson's influence and skill at behind-the-scene maneuvering could be invaluable in molding the majorities that Clarke will need.
Clarke did achieve a major goal at the session by avoiding most of the political bickering over committee chairmanships that erupted two years ago under Dixon.
The council members went along with Clarke's general scheme. It creates two more committees, for a total of 10, and means that only freshman Frank Smith, who takes over Clarke's old Ward 1 seat, will be without a committee chairmanship or other special role.
The council members refused, however, to give Clarke the power to keep legislation off the agenda of the Committee of the Whole, authority that Dixon had used to manage the flow of bills at the council's legislative sessions.
Clarke, who is expected to aid Barry in budget squabbles with the independent school board, also was unsuccessful in persuading Hilda Mason (Statehood-At large) to give up her post as head of the council's education committee.
Clarke's leadership shifts are expected significantly to alter the political debate over some controversial issues. For example, council member John Ray (D-At large), an opponent of Barry in last September's Democratic primary, will head a committee that will give him oversight into the major new regulatory agency Barry will announce this week.
But Ray, who is up for reelection in 1984, also must contend with controversial issues that he did not want: rent control, condominium conversion and "repair and deduct" housing legislation that formerly came under a committee headed by Charlene Drew Jarvis.