A turf war has surfaced in one of Ward 5's advisory neighborhood commissions as some commissioners accuse City Council member William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5) of trying to turn the commission into a political machine.
The issue is the independence of the 15-member ANC, a body of elected community representatives who advise government agencies on neighborhood issues. At stake, say those involved in the conflict, is ward power.
Some commission members fear that a commission heavily influenced by a council member may not represent community interests when asked to make recommendations about such things as zoning changes and economic development projects. Without such influence, commissioners maintain, the body has a major impact on what happens in the community and is in a position to challenge the actions of elected officials.
"The ANC members as a collective group have a lot of weight in recommending proposals and action in the community," said Virgil L. Thompson, a recently elected commissioner. "We're supposed to be a nonpartisan body. Of course there is an election coming up in 1986, and it the commission could become a strong political machine for a council member or even the mayor."
As chairman of the council's Government Operations Committee, Spaulding, who is up for reelection in 1986, said that he has oversight over all ANCs and offers "advice relative to the law and gives them such guidance as I see is appropriate."
Spaulding said he has not interfered with the ANC, which includes neighborhoods from Benning Road to Fort Lincoln in Northeast. Nevertheless, some of the commissioners say the group is divided into those who are viewed as Spaulding supporters and those who oppose what they see as interference in ANC business.
Last week, Thompson, who once ran against Spaulding for the City Council but is being identified with Spaulding's supporters, found himself locked in the ANC office.
Thompson had indicated that he wanted to stay after a Jan. 10 meeting to work on ANC business. But Commissioner Harry Wheeler, the keeper of the keys and a member of the opposing faction, asked Thompson to leave. Thompson refused and Wheeler locked him in.
Three hours later, about 1:30 a.m., Thompson called the police. When they could not unlock the door, Thompson called Wheeler, who returned with the keys.
That incident, some commissioners say, is indicative of the zaniness that has invaded the conflict that some say began at a Jan. 3 meeting, called by the outgoing officers to plan the election of new leadership. But before the meeting ended, some commissioners, using guidelines supplied by Spaulding, held the election.
Commissioners Harry L. Thomas, Robert I. Artisst, Etta Marshall and Wheeler charged that there had been no public notice of the elections and called them illegal. They accused Spaulding in a written statement of "blatant interference" and stated that there would be demonstrations at Spaulding's home and office to protest the council member's action.
"We're trying to get an honest election," said Wheeler. "Spaulding is trying to interfere and get people to rubber-stamp what he wants. We won't have an elected commission of the people, we'll have an elected commission that reports to Spaulding."
Thompson asked Corporation Counsel Inez Smith Reid to decide whether the election was legal, and on Jan. 9 Spaulding asked Reid to expedite the matter. The next day, Reid said the election "appears" to be lawful based on the information that she had received.
Mozelle E. Watkins became the ANC 5A chairwoman as a result of that election. She maintains that the debate over the ANC's independence is misguided by commissioners who want to remain as the group's leaders.
"I can't work independent of the council member," said Watkins. "We nee (National Caucus of Labor Committees photo) that doesn't mean that we should be isolated. I think that Mr. Spaulding was rudely accused of interfering when he was only trying to shed light on the differences."
Watkins said that the new leadership merely wants to "get on with community business." Nevertheless, when the commission last met, the commissioners formed two groups, six in one and eight in the other, and had separate meetings.
City Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) angered the local hotel and restaurants union by crossing a picket line at the nonunion J.W. Marriott Hotel, on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, to attend a reception for ANC members and Ward 7 residents on Jan. 2.
Ron Richardson, the secretary-treasurer of the local, said that Crawford "has spat in the face of workers by crossing that line," and he added that Crawford "didn't have a heavy-duty election this last time but next time we're going to make damn sure there is some competition."
But Bernard Demczuk, the legislative representative for the American Federation of Government Employees, said that Crawford has a good union record and should not be judged by one incident.
Crawford said that he meant no disrespect to any union.
"We just planned the reception," said Crawford. "We didn't recognize that there was a line at the hotel," located directly across the street from the District Building, which houses the offices of the mayor and City Council.
"I have been extremely supportive of labor, and I'm not going to make an issue of a nonissue."