The District of Columbia's history makers -- its only two mayors, present and former City Council chairmen and all 13 current City council members -- gathered on the same stage yesterday to celebrate both past and future: the 10th anniversary of D.C. home rule and the swearing-in of six council members.
Later, red and white balloons filled the halls at the District Building, where about 600 persons drank eggnog and champagne at an open-house reception that featured a huge white cake shaped like the District Building. The day's festivities concluded with a special inaugural ceremony for the city's recently elected Advisory Neighborhood Commission members.
At the council's inaugural ceremony, witnessed by a crowd of about 500 at the Washington Convention Center, Mayor Marion Barry, former mayor Walter E. Washington and D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy praised the City Council for its role during the years of home rule. HOME RULE THE FIRST DECADE ------------------
But it was Washington who stirred the crowd with an address that called home rule a "sweet victory" and challenged the city to continue the fight for full representation in Congress.
"Our citizens have lived and died like other citizens all over this world," said Washington. "We have kept on moving forward with our citizenship. We have brought this city through riots and demonstrations and trashing and tension and fighting and fuming and fussing like no other city in America and why should we go hat in hand to anyone? We have earned the right of citizenship.
"Nobody is giving us anything. We have demonstrated a responsibility by taking the city from nowhere to somewhere. We have taken the city from the dregs of segregation, from people who tried to tear it down from one end to the other. We have been in the streets when it was burning; we have been out in the streets when the tension was there. We have been the ones who fought the battle. And all I'm asking for is the same right that every other American has at the time of birth."
Washington called the District's legislative body the best in the entire nation because it performs the multiple roles of a city, county and state government and advised the City Council not to allow critics to "make a mockery" out of the city's "sweet victory."
One by one council members John Ray (D-At-Large), Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), John Wilson (D-Ward 2), Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) and Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) swore to the best of their abilities to "preserve, protect and defend" the laws of the District and the United States as City Council Chairman David A. Clarke administered the oath.
All but one of the members were incumbents. A two-minute limit on their remarks grew longer and longer as the speakers introduced parents and friends, ward residents and campaign workers and a second-grade teacher.
Schwartz, the only new council member, thanked the crowd for electing her. "I just want you to know that this is a wonderful moment in someone's life," said Schwartz. She introduced her staff and told the audience to "keep in touch with me at the City Council."
Saying that the role of the government is "to protect those who cannot protect themselves," Wilson urged the city officials to dedicate the new term to District residents who need food, homes and "a decent education."
Rolark and Crawford pledged to continue their efforts to improve conditions in their wards and Jarvis had a special message for Barry.
"It is time to reconfirm the separate but equal status of the council of the District of Columbia and the executive branch," said Jarvis. "I, for one, Mr. Mayor, intend to lock my rubber stamp firmly in the drawer."
After the council members finished, Washington, who had been told to end his speech by 1:30 p.m., did not get up to speak until 1:35 p.m. "I wasn't sure if they were running for office or being inaugurated," quipped Washington.
Despite all of the praise from city officials, the city's handling of home rule has had its critics. The most stinging criticism came recently from former U.S. attorney general John Mitchell, who compared the city's ability to run its fiscal affairs to the running of the "Amos 'n' Andy Taxi Company."
Clarke repeated that remark during yesterday's ceremony and took the opportunity to compare home rule and the Nixon administration.
"Mr. Mitchell and the Nixon administration were supposed to be so tough on crime," said Clarke. "Nixon himself used the city as a whipping boy around the nation, decreeing us to be the 'crime capital of the world.' However, when Mitchell and Nixon were here, our drug laws were so poor that they treated the sale of heroin to a juvenile as a misdemeanor, no more seriously than the possession of a prescription cough syrup without the prescription. It took the home rule council to develop a strong, comprehensive, up-to-date controlled substances act."
And Clarke, who called the City Council the "most comprehensive, professional and astute legislature of any kind in the nation," got in a jab of his own.
"When Mitchell and Nixon were here, there was no up-to-date corruption law. Those matters were left to, of all people, Mitchell and Nixon, who did prove to have some expertise in that area."
At the District Building celebration, visitors witnessed another sign of governmental growth as the City Council, during a legislative session, appointed Richard W. Clark, Clarke's executive assistant, to serve as the first liaison officer between the council and Congress.
The continuing conflict that comes with running a government was also present as union representatives appealed to the council members to stay away from an inauguration day reception scheduled at the the J.W. Marriott Hotel, which is being picketed by members of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union.
And most visitors seemed happy to be a part of it.
"I think the city has progressed quite a bit in its housing, the streets and the schools," said Virginia E. Thomas, who had served as an advisory neighborhood commissioner for 10 years. "I feel great. I was a part of it. I never thought I would be doing anything like that. Now my son's a commission member. That's something to think about.