In a rare display of peace and harmony, and with their usual flair for comedy, D.C. Council members lowered their swords Tuesday -- if only for an hour -- and paid tribute to three veteran members leaving their ranks.
It was the last day on the job for two of the council's original members, Chairman David A. Clarke (D) and Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), and for Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), who was first elected 11 years ago.
After meeting for the last time this year, council members paused to praise their departing colleagues' contributions and commitment to the city.
"This is not only a sad day for me, it's a lonely day," said John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), the incoming council chairman who, with Clarke and Winter, was part of the first elected council in 1974.
Clarke, who ran unsuccess- fully for mayor this fall after deciding not to seek reelection to the council, was lauded -- even by members usually annoyed by his aggressive style -- as a man of uncom- promising principle.
Council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1), spoke a bit about Clarke's role as a white man whose career began in the civil rights movement. "He's one of the boys," Smith said. "He has earned his stripes, and he has an impeccable record."
Council member William Lightfoot (I-At Large) described Clarke as the council's "dreamer" and, along with others on the council, said Clarke's advocacy of gun control and rent control were his legacy.
Clarke, who has said his plans are not yet clear, offered a brief valedictory in which he credited the council for showing courage on tough issues.
Lamenting the wave of violence that has swept the city in recent years, Clarke pleaded with the council to continue to press for solutions. And he said the council's greatest gift to him was its vote this month to hold manufacturers and retailers of assault weapons liable for injuries or deaths their guns inflict in the District.
"I hope that as I leave, the council will continue to keep as its charge bringing the people of this city together," Clarke said.
There were other stories too. Council member Harry Thomas Sr. (D-Ward 5) recalled a visit to Germany he and Clarke made -- and how Clarke got lost on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall.
"Thank God you were able to get out of that," Thomas said, laughing.
For Winter, who lost this fall to political newcomer Harold Brazil (D), there were more kind words, as well as a few pokes at her unpredictable and sometimes eccentric manner.
Several members spoke of her as the "Queen of the Environment" for advocating extensive recycling laws, and Wilson said she worked harder than any other council member.
Lightfoot, a former council aide, said he once lived in fear of making errors on council reports and encountering Winter's wrath. And council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) joked of Winter's penchant for asking that her every thought be included "for the record."
Winter, for the record, bowed out by noting that in 16 years she had missed only one council meeting.
Meanwhile, Kane, who was defeated by Eleanor Holmes Norton in the race for D.C. delegate to Congress this fall, was hailed as the council's principled "technocrat" who paid close attention to detail and who had the deepest knowledge of city government and finances. Other members said they admired how often Kane crossed the city to meet constituents.
"Sometimes I wonder if you have a sister out there," Wilson joked.
Kane, who has not yet decided what her next job will be, left by saying that she is certain of one thing: that she intends to continue scrutinizing the D.C. government. "I'm going to be a taxpayer, and I'm going to be watching," she said.
At times, council members' remarks told tales of the birth and growth of home rule. And it was lost on no one that the departures of Clarke, Kane and Winter -- along with the exits of Mayor Marion Barry and Del. Walter E. Fauntroy -- mark the start of an entirely new era in the city.
"Some of you are originals, and there is nothing quite like an original," council member Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3) said before Clarke lifted his gavel and adjourned a council meeting for the last time.
Clarke then left his seat, moved quickly toward Wilson and stretched to hand him the gavel. Wilson clutched it, and the two men embraced.