When reporters sought to question Mayor Marion Barry last week on his recent firing of D.C. Human Rights Director Anita B. Shelton, the self-appointed Bard of the District Building was ready with a quip.
"Shakespeare had a saying that the past is prologue, and I'd like to leave it at that," said Barry, once again slamming the door on queries about the longstanding problems that led to his decision to replace Shelton with National Urban League official Maudine R. Cooper.
Read in context, Shakespeare seems to be telling us that much of what happens in life is preordained: " . . . She that from whom we all were sea-swallow'd, though some cast again, and by that destiny to perform an act, whereof what's past is prologue, what to come, in yours and my discharge . . . . "
But Barry read a more obscure meaning into Shakespeare's words: that government chief executives may gloss over or totally ignore legitimate questions about their administration's performance. And true to that philosophy, the mayor, faced with a succession of political "Tempests" of his own that cast doubt on the wisdom of his leadership, has arrogantly refused to comment on them.
Earlier this year, Barry and his top aides clashed with members of the D.C. Lottery Board over the awarding of major lottery contracts. When Barry's conduct came under sharp criticism from the press and key members of the City Council, the mayor unilaterally declared a moratorium on all questions regarding the lottery. Time and again he turned away questions about the justification for his actions.
Barry was the same way after his recent firing of Shelton, a former civil rights activist who ran the Human Rights Office for the last 4 1/2 years in the face of mounting criticism of her administrative skills and judgment. Barry said that he was unhappy with Shelton's performance, but when asked why he waited so many years to do something about the problem, he replied: "We're moving forward . . . . It does no good to talk about what has happened in the past."
At the same news conference, the mayor casually announced that he was replacing D.C. People's Counsel Brian Lederer, the highly regarded consumer advocate in utility rate proceedings, with Frederick D. Dorsey, currently the principal deputy corporation counsel.
Lederer has come under strong attack from utility companies, in part because of his aggressive style. The mayor's decision to replace him prompted some consumer groups to question whether Barry has not bowed to pressure from the utility companies to get rid of Lederer. Barry's decision also has peeved City Council Chairman David A. Clarke and council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), who say that the mayor must offer a strong and compelling argument for not reappointing Lederer.
But for the time being, the mayor feels no obligation to say much about this personnel change--one that could have great significance for the average District resident. Lederer did an outstanding job, the mayor readily conceded. It is just that he feels that it is time for "new blood" in the post.
Even while choosing up sides last week, representatives of the city's homosexual community worried that allegations of improper conduct by gay D.C. Human Rights Commissioner Philip Pannell may hurt efforts to boost the political and social profile of black homosexuals here.
Pannell, functioning as a chief fund-raiser for the D.C. Black Gay Conference set for Howard University Oct. 7 through 9, solicited a $400 contribution for the gathering from the owner of a gay bar that has a racial discrimination complaint pending against it at the D.C. Office of Human Rights. The mayor's office said that it is looking into Pannell's action.
Pannell's supporters, including conference chairman Lawrence Washington, say that the accusations are being used "to point a finger of scorn" at the conference, which is intended to increase local black gay activism, and to punish a black homosexual who is resented for being too outspoken.
The Pannell incident has spotlighted the separatism and tensions between black and white gays and various gay organizations, all of whom are vying for pieces of the political clout that the city's homosexual community gained by helping to elect Barry.
"The white gays want everything, but we as black gays need to realize the power in our numbers," Washington said.
Jeff Levi, president of the Gay Activist Alliance here and Washington representative of the National Gay Task Force, concedes that the city's older gay political organizations "are predominantly, if not overwhelmingly, white." But he says this is largely because white homosexual leaders came from other parts of the country and have found it easier to involve themselves in political organizing.
"Black gays tend to be Washington-born, and it's a lot harder to come out in your own hometown," Levi said.
There is no umbrella organization among the half a dozen or more gay groups that draw members from the Washington area, although various organizations have banded together on specific issues, most notably the fight to stop discrimination by gay bars against blacks.
Washington, who says that black homosexuals must combat both racism and homophobia, said the conference will accept the money that Pannell solicited. "We feel strongly that what happened was interpreted the wrong way, and we are taking the money to show support for Phil Pannell," he said.