A top aide to the D.C. City Council has outlined a strategy for waging political war in Pennsylvania against Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the prime mover behind a proposal for a new prison in the District, telling a key council member in a memorandum of ways to portray Specter's handling of the issue as "inept."
The memo, written by Richard Clark, the council's congressional liaison, was addressed to council member Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward 8), chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee and a primary opponent of prison construction.
One of Clark's suggestions in the memo, dated March 21, was to contact potential Democratic opponents of Specter, who is up for reelection this year, "especially if the prison issue can be linked to 'inept' antihome rule handling and posturing by Senator Specter which has resulted in local citizen outrage and mass confusion."
The memo adds that "a case might be made [for example] that the prison problem could have been resolved if the senator had pushed for construction at Lorton . . . . "
Council Chairman David A. Clarke, a strong opponent of a new prison in the District, said the memo does not reflect his opinion or a strategy of the council, which is on record against a new prison in the city. "The political pieces of this were inappropriate, and Mr. Clark has been told that," Clarke said.
In an interview yesterday, Richard Clark also characterized the memo as a reflection of his own thoughts. He said he wrote the memo after discussing the prison issue with Rolark. The memo indicates that Rolark had requested information on Specter's campaign contributions and had suggested communicating with his contributors.
Rolark denied this yesterday, however, calling the memo "unsolicited." She said she had not had time to think about the suggestions in the document.
Clark said the memo was not a strategy for defeating Specter but a method for trying to "buy time" on the prison issue in part by getting candidates to speak out.
The questions of whether a new prison is necessary and, if so, where to build it have been sources of great controversy in the city for several years. Specter, chairman of a subcommittee that reviews city spending, had pressured D.C. officials to build a facility in the District to relieve crowding at the D.C. Jail and at Lorton Reformatory. He persuaded Mayor Marion Barry to end his opposition a year ago and go along with the idea.
Barry and Specter, now on the same side of the issue, are at odds with the City Council. A majority of the council members have expressed opposition to building a new prison, adding that if more capacity is necessary the facilities at Lorton, in Fairfax County, should be expanded.
This is the first indication, however, of any discussion or thought within the council of going after Specter politically.
Specter dismissed the memo in a short statement issued through a spokesman. "I am not going to pause very long on their behind-the-scenes planning," he said. "I am just going to press ahead to get the prison built because Washington, D.C., needs it and it is long overdue."
The memo, in discussing possible communications with Specter opponents, also said the senator "has succeeded in offending District residents" with his insistence on building a prison in the city.
"It would also be of media and voter interest if it were discovered that any of the companies who are pursuing the land in and around Lorton for development purposes are major contributors to the Specter campaign," the memo stated.
The seven-page memo discusses Specter's two potential Democratic opponents, Rep. Bob Edgar and Pennsylvania Auditor General Don Bailey, and ways in which Specter is "vulnerable to attacks."
It notes that Specter "has no intention of backing off the [prison] issue," but that next year he probably will no longer be chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the District, the post that has enabled him to pressure the District on building a prison and to add $30 million in federal funding to the city's budget for doing so.
But Clark also said that, with pressure from Virginia and Pennsylvania delegations, a congressional mandate to build the prison could carry, "especially if there is a continuing appearance of bungling by the District government."