Ever since Franklin Roosevelt's presidency, blacks in the District of Columbia have accounted for a nearly solid and growing block of Democratic votes here. Arthur Fletcher hopes to change Democratic votes here. Arthur Fletcher hopes to change all that.
Fletcher, 53, is one of two candidates seeking victory in next Tuesday's D.C. Republican mayoral primary, but he is already looking beyond that race to the equally pressing problem of how to attract bipartisan support in the general election in November.
"Everywhere I go, people are saying they want change," said Fletcher, a former Labor Department official and presidential adviser who has the local GOP organization behind him and is considered the likely winner against his opponent in the primary, Jackson Champion.
Fletcher, campaigning actively throughout the city since late April, expects to win the Republican race and says he also expects to face incumbent Mayor Walter Washington as his Democratic opponent.
"The mayor has a 10-year record," said Fletcher, who has already challenged the winner of the Democratic primary, whoever it is, to a series of debates "on the whole issue of managing D.C. affairs."
Fletcher would prefer to debate Mayor Washington - "to hear the mayor defend his programs and have Arthur Fletcher offer programs of his own" - but he said he does not think the other major Democratic candidates, Council Chairman Sterling Tucker or Council member Marion Barry, have dealt adequately with the city's "critical issues."
Having grown up in the West and graduated from a college in Kansas, Fletcher spent many years in Washington State Republican politics before a self-help business project he developed in East Pasco, Wash., caught the attention of Richard Nixon and other national Republican officials.
Fletcher is credited with influencing Nixon's ideas about black capitalism, and he moved to the Washington area in 1969 to take a job with the Nixon administration as an assistant secretary for the Labor Department.
While there, Fletcher developed the controversial "Philadephia Plan" to increase the numbers of minorities employed in federal construction projects around the country. Later he was alternate U.S. representative to the United Nations, executive director of the United Negro College Fund and, under the Ford administration, a White House urban affairs adviser.
Fletcher, who moved to Southwest Washington from Columbia, Md., in 1975, is making his first run for local political office. He said it doesn't bother him to be trying to start at the top because he considers himself to be a good administrator who will hire the best managers for District of Columbia government agencies.
"People have been coming up to me and saying that I'm the answer to all the apathy and inefficiency in city government," said Fletcher, who operated a private affirmative action employment consulting firm before he entered the mayors race.
But Fletcher is realistic about his election chances, particularly in a town where Democrats account for about 77 percent of the registered voters, compared to 9 percent for Republicans.