D.C. City Council Chairman David A. Clarke, angered because Mayor Marion Barry has not sought the council's assistance in planning a new prison in the District, brought his gripe to a congressional hearing yesterday only to have it dismissed by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) who said he didn't have time to "referee" squabbles between the city's top elected officials.
Clarke, undeterred by Specter, persisted in what he termed his "stern but frank" challenge to the senator to intervene in the politically sensitive prison planning issue. "If you intended for the City Council to be a part of that process, then you ought to defend your own requirement" that the council participate, Clarke said.
Specter, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the District, attempted several times to cut off the council chairman, saying, "Mr. Clarke, if you don't like what the mayor is doing, why don't you submit your own plan? Why don't you go your own route? . . . I have had as much of this as I am going to listen to."
Barry, who was seated next to Clarke during testimony on the city's proposed fiscal 1987 budget, kept his head down during the fiery exchange. Later, the mayor told reporters he doesn't believe he is obligated to win council approval for a prison proposal but that he would seek the body's support for the prison, which he has described as a "treatment facility" emphasizing drug and alcohol programs.
Barry told Specter that planning for the new facility, which he agreed almost 18 months ago to build, was behind schedule because a commission appointed to study the matter had advised against construction of a prison. Barry described his decision to rely on the commission to resolve the prison question as a mistake.
"If I had not made the mistake of going with the commission, we'd have drawings [of the proposed institution] by now," he told Specter.
Clarke has said in the past that he believes Barry is delaying the prison planning process until after the Democratic primary election Sept. 9. A Barry aide offered a contrary account yesterday, however, saying that the mayor has not sent over preliminary plans because several council members have asked him not to do so.
"The reason why the mayor never sent anything over to the council was because certain individual council members who were up for election did not want to vote for the plan," the aide said, adding that it is unlikely that a detailed final plan could be completed before September in any case.
Barry, Clarke and several council members -- including Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), in whose ward the prison is slated to be built -- are up for reelection this year. Winter, who opposes construction of the prison, said yesterday she is "urging the mayor to bring it before the council" but that "hypocritical" council members are seeking to duck the issue.
Accusing Clarke of "politicking," she said, "If he wants the council involved, [he] can call a hearing, write a bill tomorrow. He has not done any of that . . . . If this is an independent branch of government, let's exercise our authority."
After Barry's testimony that the prison is in the early design stages, Clarke called attention to a House-Senate conference committee report issued last fall mandating that before $30 million in federal funds can be released for prison construction, House and Senate subcommittees must approve a plan "submitted by the mayor and City Council."
Clarke, charging that Barry has failed to submit any plans to thecouncil and has not sought its participation in the development stages, told Specter, "If you didn't want the council to be a part of it, you shouldn't have written it in there."
Specter asked Clarke about a resolution cosponsored in February by the council chairman and eight other council members that rejected the prison site, adjacent to the D.C. Jail, in favor of a proposal to expand the prison facilities at the Lorton Reformatory complex in Fairfax County.
The senator, pointing out that the $30 million appropriation requires that the prison be constructed inside the District, took issue with the resolution. "For you to sit there and tell us your [site] is Lorton I think is just unsatisfactory," he said.
Clarke responded by saying that the council, at the mayor's request, has not taken a vote on the resolution. Barry said later he believed that some of the nine council members who supported the resolution have changed their minds.