When David A. Clarke was elected D.C. Council chairman in 1982, the former Ward 1 council member was chastised by some for continuing to ride his bicycle to work. Unseemly for someone in the city's second-highest elected position, said then-council member Jerry A. Moore (R-At Large).
The new chairman, an avid bicyclist, switched to a plain beige Chevy Citation and drove it until last month.
But Clarke, whose antifashion tone in style and dress is nearly a style itself, in recent months has begun sprucing up his image -- working out to drop extra pounds, buying tailored suits and getting spiffier haircuts.
And now, the chairman has added an upscale official car to his ensemble.
In place of the Citation, Clarke is leasing a 1987 Mercury Marquis with four doors and tinted windows at an annual cost of $3,000.
Mayor Marion Barry, by comparison, leases a Lincoln Town Car for $3,700 per year, according to city records.
Under city law, both the mayor and the council chairman are entitled to full-time use of their cars, although Clarke raised a few political eyebrows around the District Building in August when he took his new car on a cross-country family vacation to Seattle.
Asked about at least the appearances of using a city car for a private trip, Clarke said this week that he paid for all expenses and said the city would have paid the leasing expenses even if he had kept his new car parked in a garage during the summer.
"I paid every cent in gas, tolls, the one parking ticket I got and repairs," Clarke said.
How does the chairman account for the changes in recent months, some District Building regulars wondered?
"The Citation wore out," Clarke said this week, disavowing any scheme to polish his image in anticipation of a possible run for mayor down the road.
"As one grows older, one takes greater attention" in appearances, Clarke said.
He said he switched to tailored suits because he got tired of searching racks for 48 extra-long suits to fit his large frame.
One clerk, Clarke said, showed him a suit "with polka dots."
Clarke said he has no interest in competing in style with other city politicians.
"I don't think we're ever going to have someone in the mayor's office as well-dressed as we do now . . . . "'Bugs' in the District Building
In the District Building, where talk of corruption, payoffs and wiretapping is commonplace, a little humor never hurts.
Last week, John C. White, the mayor's new press secretary, tried his hand at it before Mayor Marion Barry's monthly news conference.
"Since there has been so much talk about bugging of offices and so forth, I just want to hold up something I found in my office," he said, whipping a small, shiny item out of a torn white envelope.
"What is it?" Barry asked, squinting to get a better look as the gathered reporters leaned forward.
"It's a bug," White responded dramatically. As the television cameras zoomed in for a closer look, it became clear that what White held was, indeed, a bug. But of the nonelectronic sort.
"It's a June bug," White said later. "I found it in the carpet in my office a few weeks ago." The large, greenish insect was dead when he found it, White said, and he had been saving it ever since for its special post-mortem reappearance as a bad joke. Barry laughed. Homesteading
Lynn French, who has written, redrafted and shepherded legislation through the council since 1980 for members Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1), John Ray (D-At Large) and others, has left the District Building to help run the new city homesteading program that she helped create.
French is now deputy administrator for the Homestead Program Administration operating out of the housing department. The program will give tenants the opportunity to become homeowners by making funds available to renovate vacant buildings. As a member of Smith's Public Services Committee staff, French was Smith's right hand on the homesteading issue, which drew interest from tenants groups and property owners.