By all practical accounts, City Councilman John Wilson has only to sit back and enjoy the spoils of victory tomorrow. He has no opposition in either the Democratic primary or the general election in November.
But instead of taking it easy, Wilson is out and about his turf, the diverse Ward 2, pounding the pavement and pressing flesh like there is no tomorrow.
"He has us up until 1 a.m. putting posters on bus stops, and up again at 7 a.m.," said Kenneth Brewers, a 1984 Howard University graduate who signed up with the Wilson campaign to get experience in finance. "Everybody wonders why he's doing this."
Unlike other candidates, who have fund-raisers thrown for them by supporters, Wilson throws parties for his supporters. On Friday night, he threw one for residents of Southwest Washington to assure them that he opposes construction of the International Trade and Cultural Center that would block their waterfront view. He has raised $104,000 so far.
"He's amazing," said Robert Beckman, a member of a Southwest senior citizens association. "He's extremely responsive to the needs of his constituency. No wonder nobody runs against him."
In the wake of reports that his nemesis, Mayor Marion Barry, was considering running a pro-mayor candidate in Ward 2, Wilson vowed to "end the political career" of anyone who ran against him. The challenge did not materialize, but Wilson responded with criticism of the way Barry is managing the city and predicted that the city will undergo serious financial crisis next year.
"The city just doesn't know how to manage its money," said Wilson, who is the chairman of the council's Finance and Revenue Committee. "I think we will be seeing the effects in the delivery of services and possible RIFs. Things are being held together on shoestrings and chewing gum-like personal finances instead of big business."
Wilson says that his relationship with the mayor is misunderstood, that he likes the man personally but believes that Barry is attempting to exercise too much control over the City Council.
"The mayor wants to control the council, and I have been waging a battle against that," said Wilson, "waging a battle, not necessarily winning."
The last time Wilson had a challenger in Ward 2 was in the 1980 general election. Republican Ann Kelsey Marshall was crushed as Wilson took 80 percent of the vote.
In 1982, Wilson announced his campaign for mayor, promising to restore public confidence in the city government. A supporter of Barry's campaign in 1978 but a frequent detractor of Barry since, Wilson withdrew from the mayoral campaign because of a lack of funds but has continued his criticism of Barry's administration as one that tends "not to know what's going on in their own government."
Wilson is a third-term councilman representing Ward 2, home to about 80,000 persons. Although he has no opposition, the conflicting interests of his constituency often require sharp political maneuvering.
Wilson's ward contains some of the most diverse sections of the city, including Georgetown, Downtown and Dupont Circle. It stretches from H Street NE west to the Watergate complex on the Potomac River, from urban-renewed Southwest to Shaw, where many poor blacks are leaving and young middle-class whites are moving in.
The ward includes one of the city's highest percentages of tenants and practically all of the apartments that are being converted to condominiums. There is a high percentage of public housing, especially for the elderly, and some of the city's most expensive real estate.
The most politically potent constituency is the Ward 2 gay activist community, the Dupont Circle preservationists and the Shaw residents against drugs -- all of whom support Wilson's reelection bid.
"It's a very difficult ward to represent," said Wilson, who recently shaved his mustache because it was showing signs of graying. "Sometimes I think I don't have any opposition because nobody wants to be bothered with it. I try to look at it like a coalition of neighborhoods, and I am chairman of the coalition."
Wilson was born in Princess Anne, a small town in Somerset County, Md. He attended Maryland State College and left for New York, where he directed the local Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee office there. He also worked for the National Mobilization to End the War. He returned to the Washington area in the early 1960s to work for the Share Croppers Rural Advancement Fund, which was a lobby for small farmers founded by Eleanor Roosevelt and A. Philip Randolph.
In 1970, he managed Walter Fauntroy's campaign for nonvoting delegate to Congress. He was first elected to the City Council in 1974 in a tight race that he says he never thought he would win.
He still maintains the nervousness exhibited during his early years. He has switched from Marlboros to low-tar Vantage cigarettes, but he is still an insomniac, waking his staff up in the middle of the night to discuss strategy for outmaneuvering the mayor and Wilson's foes on the City Council.
"I see being a councilman as a 24-hour chess game," Wilson says. "It's not my ambition just to be a councilman. I want to accomplish things. I hate going to constituency meetings and having to tell people why something hasn't been done."
Such meetings, however, are rare. Wilson boasts about tax equity for condo and co-op dwellers, improvement at the new Kennedy Playground, introduction of a sales-tax exemption for medical equipment and a housing assistance fund expansion. He boasts of having introduced 65 percent of all legislation approved by the council and getting 33 percent of his measures passed.
"I like to tell them about the progress I've made," he says.
Unlike other council members, Wilson shuns the perquisites of the job.
Why Wilson works so hard is easy for him to explain.
"What I fear most is that someone will run against me and I will have to leave," he says. "I don't know what I would do."
Wilson is so concerned about this that he has left the city only two times in the past eight years. Both times were supposed to be for vacations at the beach, but he panicked after two days and returned home.
"I have to know what's going on," he said. "You know somebody could start a write-in candidacy and, boom, you're out."
His wife takes all of this in stride, even though he does not allow her to talk during newscasts. She calls him "a good American."
"I have a love affair with the ward. I love this job. It's what I want to do for the rest of my life," Wilson said.