STRIKING IN THE rough equivalent of the dead of night and with no warning worth mentioning, Corporation Counsel John R. Risher Jr. has charged D.C. City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker with violating the law by delivering lectures as an "adjunct" professor at Howard University at a salary of $7,500 a year. For this, Mr. Risher would have the D.C. Superior Court remove Mr. Tucker from office. Mr. Tucker, for his part, contends that he made a special effort to satisfy himself that his outside work did not violate a law that requires that the council chairman work full time and accept no other "employment." He says he discussed his lecturing with members of the House and Senate District committees, at the time the home-rule legislation was being created, in order to be sure that he was not breaking the law. The chairmen of both committees have since indicated, that, on the basis of what they knew about it, they did not think that Mr. Tucker was doing anything illegal. Mr. Tucker's lecturing and the compensation he received for it have both been a matter of record for several years.
So what are we to make of this curious affair? With respect to Mr. Tucker, not very much, in our view. Although it is not our custom to comment on matters before the courts, we are moved to depart from that rule today and simply state that if Mr. Tucker made a mistake, it was an honest mistake. With respect to the performance of Mr. Risher, on the other hand, we would put it down, at best, as a case of bad judgement and overkill and, at worst, as a low political blow. You would have thought that the most this issue required might be a court interpretation of the meaning of the word "employment" in the law, and an agreement by Mr. Tucker to give up his professorship if the court should rule against him. But no, Mr. Risher felt constrained to file his suit against Mr. Tucker in a way that will cost the council chairman his job - if the case goes against him - and quite possibly his political career as well.
Now why would Mr. Risher or the man who appointed him and to whom he is directly responsbile, Mayor Washington, want anything like that to happen? It doesn't take a particularly suspicious and cynical mind to come to the conclusion that there is a political explanation. For one thing, Mr. Tucker is expected to challenge Walter Washington in the mayoralty election next year. For another, the two men have been increasingly at odds on a variety of local politics issues. But Mr. Risher insists that he was acting on his own, and Mr. Washington insists that he had no idea his corporation counsel had any intention of taking Mr. Tucker to court. To this, we would reply that if the mayor was really that ignorant of what Mr. Risher was up to, there is something drastically wrong with the way he is administering an important office of his goverment that is supposed to be under his control. As for the question of political motive, we would invite you simply to consider the manner in which this action was taken (without even the courtesy of advance notice to Mr. Tucker). We would draw your attention to a certain ambiguity in the law, and to the fact that this is acknowledged even by some of the members of Congress who helped to draft it. We would point to the severity of the judgement requested of the court, and to the past performance of the corporation counsel and the mayor in comparable cases involving alleged misconduct by, let us say, former Director of Human Resources Joseph Yeldell.You are free, of course, to judge for yourself. But, frankly, it strikes us as a bit much to believe that politics did not enter into this matter, somewhere.
There is a way out, we think, and that is for Mayor Washington to prevail upon his corporation counsel to withdraw his suit against Mr. Tucker and to attempt to resolve this question out of court. This may ultimately require a petition to the court, seeking clarification of the law. It may also require Mr. Tucker to give up his salaried professorship. It would certainly require of the mayor an act of decisive leadership - and given his look-on-hands attitude so far, that could be the hardest part. But there is no other way that we can see to repair at least some of the damage that Mr. Risher has already done.