There's more talk of Ivanhoe Donaldson, the deputy mayor for economic development, leaving the District government and the side of Mayor Marion Barry, with whom he has walked and worked from the old days when they were civil rights and anti-establishment operatives to today's comfortable establishment seats of prestige and power.
Donaldson himself is saying: "I'm going to be leaving soon."
There are whispers that Donaldson may become campaign manager for the presidential bid of Jesse Jackson, head of Operation PUSH, who has not officially announced his candidacy for U.S. president, but who is contemplating a run. (Jackson said at last week's PUSH convention that a black "should run a serious primary campaign and seek the Democratic nomination.")
Donaldson denies any plans to serve as campaign manager for Jackson.
"I've talked to Jesse," Donaldson says. "But I'm still working for Marion. We should cross that bridge of Jackson when we get there. Jesse is assessing what's out there. I think that is a responsible thing. I talked to a lot of people. What that will lead to is hard to say. I have talked to Mondale's people also. Jesse Jackson has to speak for himself."
In response to a question in Atlanta, Mayor Richard G. Hatcher of Gary, Ind., chairman of a committee exploring a black presidential candidacy, said his group is putting the machinery together for a Jackson run and one of the people they would like to have involved is Ivanhoe Donaldson.
Regardless of what happens, Donaldson's anticipated departure gives us an opportunity to look again at this clever, feisty man who resists the label of "the second most powerful man in the city government."
"What does that mean?" he asks rhetorically. "Nobody ever elected me to anything. I don't understand power, but I have influence. I can get things done."
The Donaldson who is preparing to leave government is in many ways quite different from the man who stood smiling with Barry seven years ago, both of them part of the first generation of civil rights activists who went into politics.
Asked on a recent TV show by his Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee friend, journalist Charlie Cobb, how much of a difference he was making as part of the dominant political power, Donaldson said: "Can government be radical and become an institution of change? No. Its role is the status quo. We can only get more people involved."
In the months that he's tried to fulfill the mayor's latest charge--to get the city's economic development program moving--the people Donaldson has gotten involved have earned him his share of criticism even as he and Barry have drawn praise for the forward-looking but oft-troubled minority business initiatives, the 14th and U Street office building and downtown development.
Some critics charge that when the city agreed to sell the potentially lucrative Metro Center sites to developers Oliver Carr and Theodore Hagans at a reduced price, they were overly generous to them. Others say he favored friends such as William Fitzgerald, president of Independence Federal Savings and Loan, and Robert Washington, an influential lawyer, and failed to foster a broad economic development plan with vision not just for downtown but for areas such as Anacostia as well.
Donaldson bristles at such criticism. "When has Bill Fitzgerald ever gotten a city contract since home rule? (The recent award of a $10 million bus shelter contract to a company including Fitzgerald had been contested, although on Friday a judge dismissed a suit opposing the decision.) And why would I have to go take a trip with Bob Washington to work a deal? I see him every week." Donaldson says development is piecemeal because the process is long and complex. "But a comprehensive plan does exist. It's slow. It's beginning to happen. I want to be careful about neighborhood development."
He's called Machiavellian and arrogant, but his harshest critics agree that he is a superb political organizer who loves managing political drama. That's because he believes "politics is the only game in town." That's also why he could be tempted by the biggest political plum of all--a black presidential run.