If the push for D.C. statehood were to go as smoothly as last Saturday's Liberty Bell Express train trip to Philadelphia, you could start chilling the victory champagne.
But don't reach for the ice bag yet. Even supporters say there's a long way to go.
Still, the whistle-stop trip to Philadelphia by nearly 900 statehood revelers, the speeches and rallies en route in Baltimore and Wilmington, Del., and the finale in Philadelphia appeared to give a genuine boost to the spirits of those involved in the long and far-from-finished battle to make the District the 51st state.
"This is really wonderful," said longtime statehood advocate Josephine Butler as she walked near the Liberty Bell Plaza, wearing her three-corner colonial hat with something approaching aplomb. Butler didn't play a prominent role in any of the day's events, but those familiar with the statehood push knew the trip was at least partially her idea.
As political events go, things worked well. The trains ran on time. There was free hot coffee and doughnuts in the morning, and cold drinks and beer at regular train prices in the afternoon. Some riders said the train's loudspeaker system worked too well, given the number of times it was used to talk to the captive audience.
Festive with red, white and blue decorations, the campaign-style excursion on Amtrak was a bonanza for local politicians and community activists who walked the narrow aisles, networking, seeing and being seen.
D.C. Council members aboard included Chairman David A. Clarke (D), John Ray (D-At Large), Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8), Harry L. Thomas (D-Ward 5), John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) and Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3).
One council member -- who traveled round-trip on the train -- privately groused that too many politicians made only a partial commitment to the trip.
Mayor Marion Barry, for example, rode up on the train, but flew back from Philadelphia to attend the 50th wedding anniversary party for longtime D.C. community leader Joe Carter. Carter's party drew many people back to Washington early. Nathanson, who said he couldn't afford to fly, dropped off the train in Wilmington to return to the District.
Council member Hilda H.M. Mason (Statehood-At Large) was conspicuous by her absence. Mason reportedly was miffed because the trip was rescheduled and she could not break a previous commitment that sent her to Denver.
Although organized initially by Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) as a way to promote the statehood bill, the trip drew complaints from some council members about efforts to get them to sell seats on the train at $44. The train, reserved subway cars in Philadelphia, and assorted other expenses cost about $35,000, officials said.
A plan to have the House vote on Fauntroy's bill by the end of June faltered after the measure struggled to get out of the House District Committee. Fauntroy hopes to have the bill back on track for a September vote in the House, then move to the Senate for a bigger battle.Commitment on the Home Front
Local Commitment, the fledgling new political group, reports that it had a successful fund-raiser on June 25 and that it plans to hold its first official meeting soon. Mark Plotkin, one of the key organizers, declined to say how much money was raised, but he said it was enough to get rolling. The group makes its first financial report at the end of the month. Plotkin suggested the group may take a look at citywide development issues. "We don't have oil, we don't have gas, but we do have land. Who is going to benefit?" said Plotkin, who made development issues central to his unsuccessful campaign for the D.C. Council last year in Ward 3.
Plotkin said the group also will consider campaign finance reform, possibly to eliminate corporate financing. The group is trying to make certain that it is not perceived as an anti-Barry organization, focusing on issues, not personalities. Its success is still to be measured. Mayor's Annual Crabfeast
Barry was busy on the political circuit in addition to the train to Philadelphia. He held his annual crabfeast at his home Friday night for members of the D.C. Democratic State Committee and again on Sunday for community leaders. As usual, the news media were not invited. The ribs, chicken, flounder and shrimp cocktails were super, according to guests. NAACP Drops Barry Resolution
Barry's continuing legal troubles briefly became the focus of discussion during the NAACP's annual meeting last week in New York. Local delegates to the convention, led by the Rev. Edward Hailes, had planned to have a resolution of support for Barry passed by the full convention.
But that plan was discouraged and ultimately dropped by NAACP Executive Director Benjamin L. Hooks, who said in an interview that he did not want to single out a specific case.
"Sometimes you call more attention to it by having to defend someone who hasn't been charged with something," Hooks said afterward.
Hooks and others, however, said that investigations into the behavior of public officials, such as the one going on in Washington, "seem almost like a vendetta against black officials."Staff writer Gwen Ifill contributed to this report.