Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday that he will not withdraw his nomination of the Rev. Willie Wilson to the University of the District of Columbia's board, despite objections from several D.C. Council members who say Wilson has used racially divisive rhetoric in the past.
"I strongly stand by my nomination," Williams said in a statement in which he said he expects all his nominees to city boards to "uphold the principles of my administration; chief among them are inclusiveness and harmony."
Meanwhile, several black activists stepped up their criticism of the council, calling a committee's delay in considering Wilson's nomination a slap at the black community. All three council members who questioned Wilson's nomination on Monday are white, and for the first time since last year's elections gave the 13-member council a slim white majority, the council is under fire from black activists on a matter of race.
The dispute also has put Williams (D) in a unique situation.
The first-year mayor has been viewed with suspicion by some middle- and lower-income blacks, partly because of his push to cut city jobs. But by nominating Wilson--a supporter of former mayor Marion Barry who backed Williams last fall--Williams has ingratiated himself to some black activists while scoring political points against a council that occasionally has been a thorn in his side.
Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia, spoke for the first time yesterday about the concerns raised by council members Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large).
"This is horrendous, the whole situation," said Wilson, adding that he did not see any "sound reasons" why he should not be on the UDC board and that some council members were giving "trumped-up, bogus reasons" for questioning his nomination.
"I have a long-standing commitment to the university," Wilson said. "I have lectured [there] and successfully mediated disputes at the university. The church has provided over 300 scholarships. . . . There's a lot I can bring to the board--creative and innovative thinking and business sense."
But Ambrose, Patterson and Schwartz--three of the five members of the council committee reviewing the nominations of Wilson and three others to the UDC board--have questioned various aspects of Wilson's past.
Schwartz said Wilson has used "racially charged" language in some instances, and wondered whether he would be a divisive figure on the UDC panel.
In 1986, Wilson led community protests against an Asian owner of a carryout who had pulled a gun on a black customer. Wilson, a fiery speaker, said then: "They say, 'Reverend Wilson, you are not forgiving.' But we did forgive [the Asian merchant]. If we didn't forgive him, we would have cut his head off and rolled it down the street." Wilson said yesterday that he has mended relations with the Asian community.
Ten years after the Asian protests, Wilson took aim at Andrew F. Brimmer, a black man who then was chairman of the D.C. financial control board--and, to Wilson, a symbol of Congress's move against home rule. Wilson called Brimmer "the foolish Negro at the top" of the board.
"I don't particularly recall saying that," Wilson said yesterday. "[But] I don't see anything divisive about it. There were a lot of people who had problems with the disrespect for home rule."
Schwartz said such comments work against racial harmony, making her wary of supporting Wilson. And she rejected the notion that being against his nomination reflects racial insensitivity.
"My history of racial sensitivity speaks for itself," Schwartz said. "It's unbelievable how these tables are being turned. The person who historically has brought up racial issues is not me, it's Reverend Wilson."
Ambrose also has raised questions about unkept properties near Wilson's church, and Patterson believes there are more qualified candidates available for the UDC board.
The two other members of the Education Committee, Chairman Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), have not indicated whether they will support Wilson's nomination.
If the committee rejects Wilson, his nomination likely will be dead. But there is a procedure to bring a nomination before the full council without a committee recommendation. A council majority could vote to discharge a committee from further consideration of the issue; if the discharge were approved, the council then could vote on the matter.
Still, Patterson said yesterday: "I don't believe the votes are there to get [Wilson's nomination] out of committee or to approve an emergency resolution. I think there are stronger candidates."
Some community activists don't see it that way.
"Maybe I'm a little paranoid," said JePhunneh Lawrence, a Ward 8 activist. "But there are whites in opposition of Reverend Wilson, and what that translates to from my perspective is that this is old racism creeping back in here. . . . This is a slap in the face to every African American person in the District."
Ward 8 Democrats Chairman Phil Pannell, who hasn't always supported Wilson's tactics, is lobbying for the minister.
"I think this has the potential to be quite ugly," Pannell said. "There is no compelling reason why Reverend Wilson should not serve on the UDC board."
Staff writer Vanessa Williams contributed to this report.
CAPTION: The Rev. Willie Wilson said there's a lot he could bring to the board.