D.C. City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker unveiled a list of 71 clergymen yesterday who he said are supporting him for mayor in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, surprising some of Mayor Walter E. Washington's political allies - and two of the prominent persons on Tucker's list as well.
The announcement of endorsements by the ministers - both blacks and whites and representing several denominations -- was meant to reinforce Tucker's contention that he has broadbased support, in this case within the politically influential city religious community.
Among those on the list were Bishop Smallwood Williams of Bible Way Church, Bishop Samuel Kelsey of Temple Church of God in Christ, Canon Lloyd Casson of Washington Cathedral, the Rev. Henry Gregory of Shiloh Baptist Church and the Rev. John R. Wheeler of Vermont Avenue Baptist Church.
"I strongly supported Mayor Walter Washington in the last election, for which I have no apologies," said Williams. "However, there comes a time for upward mobility politically and the use of available talent. Why do we have to fight over these lean meat bones?"
Two of the most prominent ministers on the list, the Rev. Robert L. Pruitt of Metropolitan AME Church and the Rev. Leamon White of Mount Bethel Baptist Church, said they had no idea that their names were being released as affirmed Tucker supporters.
"Is it?" a surprised Pruitt responded to a reporter when told his name was on the list. "I specifically told his ccampaign manager a member of Pruitt's Church not to put it there . . . I have made absolutely no decision on that."
White, who is also president of the Baptist Convention Washington, D.C., and Vicinity, said, "I told Mr. Tucker that since he had not made his position on gambling, I would not support him."
After a reporter called Tucker's campaign office, however, both ministers received telephone calls from Tucker. Later, they called a reporter back to slightly alter their views.
Pruitt still would not say if he was for or against Tucker, but he did say, "I'm leaning that way."
White said he had been told that Tucker, who has publicly said little about possible legalized gambling in the city, had given some other ministers a statement saying "he is unalterably opposed to gambling."
"We are supporting him on the assumption he will come out forthright against gambling," White said. If He will not, none of the ministers will be for him,"
Lee Carty, Tucker's deputy campaign manager, said she could not give the candidate's views on legalized gambling, to which Mayor Washington is opposed. When Tucker announced his candidacy April 22, he made no mention of legalized gambling in more than a dozen major campaign planks.
Despite the uncertainty of Pruitt and White, the endorsement list appeared to indicate that Tucker had made some inroads into the church community, which has long been considered a political force in the city and has in large part supported the mayor.
A few miles away from Shiloh Baptist Church at Ninth and P Streets NW, where the Tucker list was disclosed at a press conference, the Baptist Ministers conference, the Baptist MInisters Conference of Washington, D.C. and Vicinity (not to be confused with the convention with a similar name was holding its weekly meeting at Trinidad Baptist Church, 1611 Benning Rd. NE.
The conderence is already on record urging the mayor, who is still an unannounced candidate, to run. Lilian Huff, a campaign worker for the mayor, was passing out petitions on behalf of Washington's candidacy when news of Tucker's church supporters arrived.
"That don't make no difference," Huff said, leafing through the list, finally adding with a note of skepticism, if they got'em."
When the Rev. Andrew J. Allen, past or of First Baptist Church of Deanwood and one of Mayor Washington's strongest supporters, saw Williams' name on the list, he doubted its authenticity.
"It's frightening to see people of this category talking in such a shallow fashion," Allen said."Tucker's leadership supports vices and everything I can think of that's destructive to the city."
"They represent a whole lot of weight," Allen said of the group supporting Tucker. "But I think we have more weight than they have."
Gregory, of Shiloh Baptist Church, said that the ministers will probably take out newspaper ads in Tucker's behalf, conduct voter registration programs, circulate petitions and give pamphlets to members of their congregations. He said the ministers represent about 75,000 to 100,000 city residents, not all of whom are registered voters.
Among the isues the ministers expressed concern about the at yesterday's press conference were housing displacement, legalized gambling, city leadership and unemployment of black youth.
Many of the minister who endorsed Tucker yesterday were not surprise supporters. The Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy is the District's nonvoting delegate in Congress, and Tucker is his political protege and hand-picked mayoral candidate.
Seventeen persons on the list were representatives of the CME church. The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church Ministerial Alliance had already endorsed Tucker. Three other ministers were affiliated with other Bible Way churches and five more came from a single church - St. Benedict The Moor in Northeast Washington.
Also listed as supporting Tucker, an Espicopalian who is a member of St. Stephen & the Incarnation Church, were the Rev. Jerry A. Moore (Ninteenth Street Baptist Church) a Republican City Council member; former City Council member the Rev. James E. Coates (Bethelem Baptist Church); Dr. George W. Hill (Calvary Baptist Church), and the Rev. Theodore S. Ledbetter Sr. (Plymouth Congregational Christian Church).