D.C. City Council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) said he probably would not run for mayor this year, citing difficulty in raising money and saying that he and others have been blocked from entering the race by the potential candidacy of Council Chairman David A. Clarke.
"In all likelihood, I'm out of it," said Wilson, who was among a large field of candidates who challenged Mayor Marion Barry four years ago and who has seriously considered running again this year.
In an interview this week, Wilson charged that Clarke has no real intention of entering the mayor's race but has made a deal with Barry to keep others out. By hinting to Democratic Party activists and reporters that he might run, Clarke has kept potential supporters and money from other candidates, according to Wilson.
"I do feel cheated this time. I never felt that before," Wilson said. "What he [Clarke] has effectively done is block anyone else's entry into the race."
Clarke angrily denied being in league with the mayor.
"I have no agreement with the mayor on politics. If John wants to run, he should run," Clarke said. He also pointed out that he would have to choose between running for mayor and running for reelection as council chairman, while Wilson could enter the mayor's race and still retain his council seat, since he is in the middle of his term.
"I have more at stake this year than he does," Clarke said. "So I will make my decision when I make my decision."
James Christian, chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, said yesterday that "the thought has crossed my mind, too . . . that the chairman is a straw man" for the mayor, but he said he would not question Clarke's integrity by suggesting Clarke had made such a deal. Whether intentional or not, however, Clarke's waiting to make a decision does help the mayor, Christian said.
"If it's not a game plan, the longer the chairman indicates he may run , the better off the mayor will be," Christian said, because others would wait to decide whether to get into the mayoral or chairman's race.
This year's mayoral race, what there has been of it, has shaped up far differently from the 1978 and 1982 campaigns. In 1978, Barry won a hard-fought Democratic primary race against Mayor Walter Washington and then-City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker. By this time in the 1982 campaign, there was a large field of announced challengers to Barry, including Patricia Roberts Harris, a former cabinet member in the Carter administration, and council members Betty Ann Kane, John Ray, Charlene Drew Jarvis and Wilson.
This year, the announced field of candidates consists of former school board member Mattie Taylor; sex entrepreneur Dennis Sobin; Ward 2 community activist Brian Moore, who ran for an at-large City Council seat in 1984, and Calvin Gurley, an unemployed auditor with $500 to spend on the race.
A Barry campaign finance committee filed its organization papers with the Office of Campaign Finance, and Barry has said he will announce his plans in late April or early May. Candidates for the Sept. 9 primary must file a declaration of their candidacy with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics by July 2.
In addition to Clarke and Wilson, City Council member Jarvis (D-Ward 4) is reported to be considering entering the mayoral race but could instead decide to challenge Clarke for the chairman's seat.
Wilson said his main problem is money. He has commitments of $250,000 to $300,000 for a possible campaign so far, but it would take about $400,000 to $500,000 to launch a serious challenge to Barry, he said.
"If you're talking about a serious campaign, you're talking about half a million dollars," Wilson said. "I have some zealous volunteers, but I think I'm going to hit a wall of $250,000 to $300,000 . . . . I'm not that popular among the special interests, and that's where the money is."
Barry has said he has already raised more than $200,000, and a high-level campaign aide said that this year the Barry campaign could raise "as much as is needed." In the last campaign, Barry spent $1.3 million.
But aside from money, Wilson said the potential candidacy of Clarke, who is white, has prevented black candidates from getting in, because of a pervasive belief that blacks in the District still must "circle the wagons" around black leaders to keep whites from taking over. In a campaign between Barry and Clarke, black community leaders would see any other black candidate as draining votes from Barry, Wilson said, who added that he does not agree with this view.
"I don't think he [Clarke] has any intention of running for mayor," Wilson said. "I think he did the mayor a favor by blocking out black candidates."
Another City Council member, who asked not to be named, said that Wilson was just looking for excuses not to run.
Wilson, 42, one of the remaining members of the first City Council under home rule, also expressed a lot of general frustration with his present job. Calling himself a "neoliberal," he said his political views are out of step these days with the tenor of the council as a whole.
"The conservatives are in charge here and will be for a long time." He said that he probably could keep his council seat for another term or two but that, to both his constituents and himself, "it seems like I've been here forever."
"I would like the chance to run things [as mayor], but I don't think I'll ever get a chance to do it, not in the next 10 to 12 years," he said.