The City Council, convinced that Mayor Marion Barry's dominance of the city government has not always worked out to the council's benefit, is demanding that Barry accept the council as an equal partner or pay a higher price to maintain the status quo.
For years, Barry managed to get his way with the council through his influence on individual members, which added up to what he often called a working majority. But some council members have concluded that Barry, who controls city services from trash pickup to police protection, has not sufficiently rewarded his supporters -- especially with the 1986 election year coming.
The higher ante that council members have demanded was reflected in the council's aggressiveness in recent hearings on the fiscal 1986 budget, which will spell out whose constituents get what city projects in the election year.
The council is scheduled to begin final action on that budget today. In hearings, council members were unusually aggressive -- and cooperated with one another to an unusual degree -- in moving to take for their constituents and themselves what the mayor hadn't given.
"I think they were doing it [supporting the mayor] for petty things, and now they want bigger things," said one city official who asked not to be named. "Their constituents are demanding more. You can't go out and say that the mayor is a wonderful person and the streets are filled with trash."
For example, Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) complained at budget hearings that the mayor's economic development efforts had sorely neglected her ward, the city's poorest. Help has come from Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), head of the council committee that oversees development, who has recommended taking $105,000 from another program and earmarking it for efforts in Ward 8.
Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), who heads the Public Works Committee, polled her colleagues before issuing her budget recommendations, which include spending $240,000 to provide trash cans to 30,000 District households, as well as additional funds for enforcement of residential parking restrictions and replacing street signs.
"More than ever, the budget will reflect the priorities of individual council members," Winter said. "We are more eager to grab the bull by the horns. Before, we had just thought the mayor would do right by us."
In addition, council members have moved broadly to exercise more oversight of city agencies. William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5), head of the Government Operations Committee, has recommended shifting $107,000 from the Office of Inspector General, which reports to the mayor, to the D.C. auditor's office, which reports to the council.
Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), a longtime Barry ally, recommended killing a $1.4 million appropriation to fund a "transition house" for young adults. And Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large) recommended cutting $800,000 from the once-sacrosanct budget allocation for the University of the District of Columbia, citing administrative costs that she considered too high.
At the same time, some council members have sought to share more equally in the trappings of power. Jarvis' committee proposed giving council members more funds for travel and to entertain constituents at the Washington Convention Center, having council members' travel arrangements made by Convention Center staff members and listing council members' names on city promotional materials.
"It creates a new reality for us," said one Barry administration official. "We have to do more base-touching and consultation with the council. Before, that was not required. It's more important now that we tell them what we're about to do, rather than what we have done."
Some District Building observers say the friction reflects a void created by the absence of two former high-ranking Barry aides, former city administrator Elijah Rogers and former deputy mayor Ivanhoe Donaldson, both of whom had the savvy and the stature to run political interference for the mayor. Jarvis recently insisted that the mayor, rather than his council liaison, deal with her on legislative matters.
In an effort to temper the council's frustrations, Barry invited the entire council to lunch last week for the first time in about five years. Observers also noted that the Barry administration shake-up that made longtime Barry aide Gladys W. Mack a general assistant puts her in a position to keep a closer watch on the council's political needs.
Some, like Frank Smith (D-Ward 1), said the council is merely "coming into partnership with the mayor in making policy for the District government." But others say that the coming of an election year -- one in which the mayor, the council chairman and five other council members are up for reelection -- is the larger factor.
"I don't care what . . . any of these people say," one council member said, "a lot of this has to do with next year. A lot of people here feel that the mayor needs them more than they need the mayor. Because of the political landscape, people find that they can get away with a lot more. The mayor has been courting people real hard because the mayor knows he has some bombshells out there."
The council member was referring to a grand jury investigation of Donaldson's handling of city funds while he headed the Department of Employment Services, along with other allegations of wrongdoing within city agencies and the mayor's personal relationship with a city employe who was convicted of selling cocaine.
Barry's reaction has been conciliatory. In addition to issuing his lunch invitation, Barry went out of his way in his State of the District speech yesterday to be deferential to council members, letting them share the limelight.
Nowhere has the mayor's light touch been more evident than in his dealings with Jarvis, who challenged Barry for mayor in 1982 and in recent weeks has become perhaps the most aggressive council member in bucking the mayor's wishes.
Jarvis, whom Barry endorsed in her last reelection bid, led the movement to hand Barry his second veto override in three months in connection with a bill giving the council effective control of the D.C. Housing Finance Agency. When six of the agency's board members resigned in protest, Barry amazed some of his supporters by giving his blessing for Jarvis to become chairman of an interim finance board.
Some of the more active council members have complained that Chairman David A. Clarke seemed to remain neutral for weeks in the tug-of-war. Recently, Clarke has begun pointing out that greater council oversight of city agencies was one of his 1982 campaign promises. Clarke has argued often that Barry managed his seeming hold on the council by finding out the council's wishes and then articulating them first.
Despite all the action, some insiders point out that the mayor still holds a lot of the high cards in this game. It is the mayor who really makes the bureaucracy move, not the council, they say.
Said one longtime observer of the council: "They're sitting on top of a Ferrari and playing with it like it's a Volkswagen -- honking the horn, playing with the windshield wipers -- hoping that the mayor will notice and make the machinery move."