Mayor Marion Barry has invited the City Council to lunch today -- not big news, perhaps, except that politics seems to be on the menu.
Some council members could not recall ever having lunch as a group with the mayor, and say that the two branches of government have not dined regularly since the early days of the Barry administration in 1979 or 1980, when the mayor had informal breakfast meetings with the council.
The luncheon comes in the wake of the City Council's emphasis on greater review of city agencies and its new, aggressive stance toward the mayor in recent budget hearings.
Barry's first request to be put on the council's lunch calendar came on Feb. 12, the day the council voted to override the mayor's veto of legislation giving the council authority to approve mortgage revenue bonds issued by the D.C. Housing Finance Agency.
City Council Chairman David A. Clarke, who was asked to pick a day for the luncheon, said yesterday that the mayor wants to have a series of meetings with the council.
Clarke said the proposed meetings indicate that the mayor recognizes that he must communicate with the council as a collective body.
"He has dealt with us as individuals in the past," said Clarke. "Now he has begun to recognize that council members do deal with each other . . . . What is happening now is not that much different. It is just that people have woken up to that. The mayor is getting upset a little about that so now he wants to set meetings and powwow. It will be an equal powwow."
Barry could not be reached for comment.
In recent weeks, council members have stressed that they plan to exercise more scrutiny over city agencies to determine whether the agencies are spending money and operating programs in the manner intended by the council.
Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), a vocal advocate of a stronger role for the council, has repeatedly said that the mayor must treat the council as an equal branch. Last week she made budget recommendations to increase the oversight responsibility of the housing committee that she heads and to give the council new responsibility for promoting the city through such activities as overseas travel and a $5,000 budget for each council member to entertain constituents at the convention center.
Other members say that they plan to rely less upon the mayor to help them address the concerns of their constituents, and instead will look more toward building coalitions with their colleagues.
"Inviting the entire council to lunch is very unusual," said one member.
"It means he the mayor is sensitive to the council and it means he knows he has to deal with the council."
Some council members said they had no clue as to why the mayor had invited them to lunch.
"I gathered the idea was to give us an informal opportunity to talk to one another," said Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large).
"I was asked if I would come and I said, 'Sure, I'll take a free lunch.' "