Last Thursday, just a few days before the Rev. Willie F. Wilson was set to take off for his annual pilgrimage to Ghana, he was spotted having lunch with D.C. Council member Sandy Allen (D) at Cole's Cafe.

Normally, a lunch between the prominent pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church and the council member who represents his Southeast Washington ward wouldn't draw much attention. But, given the timing, this particular meeting attracted notice.

The tete-a-tete comes in the midst of a hotly contested council race in Ward 8. Old friends and supporters are reluctantly being forced to choose sides in a fight between two veteran city politicians. The big buzz in the ward that afternoon was that Wilson wasn't just breaking bread with Allen, he was endorsing her -- abandoning a longtime friend and once-noted parishioner, former mayor Marion Barry.

In the past, Wilson served as a faith adviser to Barry. He was at Barry's side during some of his toughest moments, including when he went to trial on drug charges and when he decided not to seek reelection for mayor in 1998.

Allen's supporters were quick to say that the lunch was evidence of Wilson's support of the council member. Of Allen's challengers, Barry is by far the best known. The former mayor remains widely popular in Southeast and was Ward 8's council member for two years until he decided to run for mayor again in 1994.

At lunch, Wilson appeared surprised to see Washington Post reporters stopping by the cafe. Allen brushed it off, saying matter-of-factly that the reporters know their way around her ward.

Neither Allen nor Wilson was eager to comment on the luncheon meeting. Sheets of purple paper announcing the "Grand Opening" of Allen's campaign office last Saturday were visible on the table.

The lunch certainly looked like a campaign gathering. Allen nibbled on fresh fruit, while Wilson chowed down on the cafe's noted soul food cuisine. They were both joined by trusted aides. Allen was with Yvonne Cooper, the campaign's press secretary, and Wilson was joined by Vernon E. Hawkins, who was director of the D.C. Department of Human Services for 16 months under Barry.

Although Barry supported Wilson when he ran against Mayor Anthony A. Williams in 2002, Wilson's candidacy won the endorsement of only one council member: Sandy Allen.

"It was not an endorsement luncheon," Allen said. "He said, 'I will support you.' I had been the only city council person who supported him when he ran for mayor."

Voting Rights (Cont'd)

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and D.C. Democratic Party Chairman A. Scott Bolden signed a letter that was hand-delivered Monday to Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe, expressing concern with the lack of attention to D.C. voting representation in the party's convention July 26-29 in Boston.

"We would appreciate the opportunity to sit down with the DNC to discuss how the D.C. Voting Rights issue will be treated in the DNC Convention program so that we may work together to insure that D.C. voting rights and full self-determination for all D.C. citizens is appropriately addressed," the three D.C. leaders wrote.

The District Democrats said the national committee has promised to "allocate important time regarding the D.C. voting rights issue" at the convention, and they expressed concern about the failure of the party's presumptive presidential nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), to engage in detailed talks on the subject.

The letter concludes, "It is imperative that the DNC and the Kerry campaign keep this commitment to us and the citizens of the District of Columbia."

Bobb Hires Aide

City Administrator Robert C. Bobb has never shied away from talking to the press. But now he'll have a little more assistance in managing the media with a new special assistant, Tara T. Dunlop.

Dunlop, 33, a native Washingtonian, made it clear this week that her job is not to make it more difficult for reporters to reach her boss directly. "Oh, no," she replied, when asked.

Instead, she said she plans to attend community meetings with Bobb, learn about the concerns of local residents and help her boss see priorities in addressing issues. She is also charged with updating the Web site of the Office of the City Administrator.

The behind-the-scenes role is a change of pace for Dunlop, who was born in the now-closed Columbia Hospital for Women, in Northwest, and graduated from high school in Northern Virginia. She returns to the District from Detroit, where she was the public face of the Detroit Police Department, serving as its spokeswoman. She would field questions from reporters at crime scenes and had the unenviable task of putting on a poker face if reporters asked for information she couldn't release.

"I don't intend on making any public statements on behalf of Mr. Bobb," she said. "I like to be behind the scenes."

Staff writer Theola Labbe contributed to this report.