Jesse L. Jackson shared a stage last night with D.C. City Council Ward 4 candidate Barbara Lett Simmons, praised her, said he hoped she would win, but stopped short of endorsing her.
Jackson's appearance at a gospel concert held in honor of Simmons at the Mount Jezreel Baptist Church in Northeast had been billed by her staff as an endorsement.
But Jackson told a reporter following the concert that he would not characterize his statement as an endorsement. "I support her. I don't know what the difference is," he said. "I don't want to get in the middle of local politics."
But Jackson told the crowd of about 300 persons, "When the rainbow coalition needed you, Barbara, you were there. Now you need the rainbow and it is here with a pot of gold," Jackson said. " . . . She was with me in San Francisco. I am with you in Washington, D.C."
Jackson said to the Ward 4 voters in the audience, "Help is on the way." He told Simmons to "stand tall. Don't let them break your spirit. Smile through your tears; your time has come."
Simmons, a District school board member and a Jackson delegate to the Democratic National Convention, is challenging incumbent Charlene Drew Jarvis, who was a District coordinator for Walter F. Mondale's campaign and a Mondale delegate to the convention.
In an interview before the concert, Jarvis said she thought it was inappropriate for Jackson to get involved in a local race.
"My opponent is a professional campaigner trying to ride on Jackson's coattail and it won't work," said Jarvis. "I don't know why Jackson would come to a local race. This is a local race with local issues. Jesse's enemy is Ronald Reagan, not Charlene Drew Jarvis."
Two Jackson delegates to the convention, City Council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) and District school board member R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8), are engaged in a heated battle for the Ward 8 council seat, but Jackson has not endorsed either of them.
Last night, Lockridge attended the concert and was recognized and embraced by Jackson.
Mayor Marion Barry, who nominated Jackson for president at the Democratic convention, has endorsed Jarvis in the Ward 4 race.
Jackson said last night that he discussed the Ward 4 race with Barry yesterday and said, "We have an understanding."
Simmons, who said that she raised thousands of dollars for Jackson's presidential campaign, said that she invited Jackson to appear at the concert. Although Simmons acknowledged that Jackson did not say in advance that he would make an endorsement speech, Simmons' campaign staff issued a press release three days before the concert indicating that Jackson would make an endorsement.
"I didn't ask him to endorse me," said Simmons. "His very presence is tantamount to an endorsement. I don't think I need his endorsement to win in the ward. I won school board elections without Jackson."
Yet at public forums, where she proclaims herself as a "rainbow coalition candidate," and in some of her campaign literature, Simmons draws a direct link between herself and Jackson. "Bring the rainbow to Ward 4 . . . . Our time has come," is the message on the front of a campaign flyer that outlines what Simmons would do as a City Council member.
A written statement by Simmons' staff announcing Jackson's appearance said Jackson's involvement in a local race stems from his statements "that the rainbow coalition will be transformed into a political organization which assists the campaigns of state and local candidates."
Jarvis said that she had the support of the majority of the Ward 4 voters before she became a Mondale delegate and that she did not expect to lose that support because of Simmons' connection with Jackson.
"A national political figure who enters a local race where the mayor has already indicated his preference is really challenging the mayor's choice, and the mayor ought to resent it," Jarvis said.