A card attached to six red roses sent to D.C. City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) last Thursday wished her a happy Valentine's Day, and was signed simply "M". The roses came from Mayor Marion Barry.
This after Jarvis had led a successful move to override a Barry veto and presided over a budget hearing in which several council members took to task his administration's economic development policies. Both actions, Jarvis had said, were signals to Barry that the council demands to be an equal branch of government.
The flowers, Jarvis suggested as she clipped and arranged them in a vase, reflected the mayor's cordial public behavior toward the legislators.
"The mayor never criticizes the council in public," she said. But at the same time, "the mayor has completely undercut the council in so many ways that the council has said 'enough.' There has been an active exclusion of the council. We want to be sitting at the table at the time decisions are made."
The council got a new sense of its power last week, and some members believe that it put Barry on the defensive. After the bold actions, sources say, Barry personally visited some members, telephoned others and consulted with his advisers about how to deal with what appears to be a rift between the two branches of government.
"I think he [Barry] has to be concerned about it . . . " said one council member. "If he lets this thing start moving, you look around and the mayor has a much bigger problem. He realizes it is something he's got to deal with."
Barry, however, rejected such an assessment. Although there is some "healthy institutional tension" he said, "there is nothing that is going on that bothers me.
"Some members of the council, and rightly so, go out and get beat up by the constituents, and obviously when they get beat up they want to beat me up," said Barry. ". . . And a lot of this tension between the mayor and the council is media hype . . . . "
But some council members insist that Barry habitually has demonstrated a lack of respect for council members and has forced some members to realize that they have nothing to lose by challenging him.
"He has been able to pit one of us against the other and will tell me very quickly that he has seven votes," said council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6). "Well, the people he has normally been counting on are not there. His base is being eroded."
City Council member John Wilson (D-Ward 2), a longtime critic of some of Barry's policies, said that too often a council member's role is confined to reacting to a media account of some government action. Wilson said he was embarrassed by the criminal justice report recently sent to a congressional subcommittee by Barry. The report suggested that burglary, weapons offenses and drug use may not warrant prison terms.
"If the mayor is going to be a spokesman and articulate the views of the government, he should consult with the council," said Wilson. "It is about time that somebody flexed some muscle around here."
Much of that flexing is taking place behind the scenes. For example, ward representatives want a better distribution of such things as housing projects, economic development and city services. While they previously have looked to Barry to help secure their fair shares, some now are looking to committee chairmen and forming alliances with Barry's critics on the council to shift budget dollars in a way that will benefit their wards.
Such arguments were used in connection with Barry's veto of the emergency Housing Finance Agency legislation. Jarvis, head of the council's Committee on Housing and Economic Development, had told members that voting to allow the council to approve mortgage revenue bonds issued by the finance agency would give council members an opportunity to establish housing priorities for their wards. As a result, the council overrode Barry's veto, and members began to talk to one another about ward shopping lists.
"As long as there is some equity in the distribution of the dollars, I'll be satisfied," said H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7). "If I can get my shopping centers and my commercial areas restored, it makes sense to support the efforts of the chairman of the economic development committee."
Still, there are other factors not related to legislation that have prompted the council to reconsider their status.
On the political side, some members say they have done a slow burn watching Barry appoint council members' political adversaries to city boards and commissions and weaken the members' political organizations by enticing volunteers with such things as city jobs.
In 1986, six council members and the mayor will be up for reelection. Some members are weighing the possibility that Barry may be politically vulnerable -- despite his apparent ability to overcome allegations of wrongdoing within city agencies and his personal tie to a city employe who was convicted of selling cocaine.
Some council members who have known Barry over the years believe he views the council's get-tough approach, and especially Jarvis' behavior, as a betrayal. Barry, for example, endorsed Jarvis in the Ward 4 race last year, only to hear Jarvis say during her January swearing-in ceremony: "I for one, Mr. Mayor, intend to lock my rubber stamp firmly in the drawer."
Nevertheless, Barry said last week he has only praise for the council members, that he doesn't feel betrayed and he has never viewed the council as a rubber stamp.
"I don't have a problem," Barry said. "This is a shared responsibility and, as I said earlier, I welcome more input, more oversight, more anything from the council . . . . I think we share a similar philosophy about things. That's my view. If there are others who have a different view about it, I'm not going to add any fuel to what may be a potential fire."