Arthur A. Fletcher, the Republican nominee for mayor of the District of Columbia, said yesterday that his performance as a high-ranking presidential appointee and his knowledge of modern business management techniques make him more qualified than Democrat Marion Barry to be the city's next mayor.
In a long, lively and at times pugnacious luncheon interview with editors and reporters from The Washington Post, Fletcher, an assistant secretary of labor during the Nixon administration, described his attempt to be elected mayor in overwhelmingly Democratic Washington as something of "an experiment."
But, he said, he has found widespread sentiment against Barry, who won the Democratic primary with only 34.6 percent of his party's vote in a close, no-runoff, three-way election and who a decade ago was a controversial black activist in the city. A major target in his campaign. Fletcher said, are voters who are disgruntled with Barry.
"I think the way I'm going to get elected in this town is to keep calling Marion Barry's name," Fletcher said. "This is one time that the opponent can feel safe in calling his opponent's name. Marion Barry - that name still draws a negative reaction."
The 53-year-old labor management consultant said his candidacy offers city voters a clear alternative in the Nov. 7 general election.
"Here's the issue," Fletcher said. "You're going to elect a mayor. It's going to be either Marion Barry or myself. Now which one of us sounds like we have some tangible understanding of how to administer government . . ."
"Why do you vote for me? You vote for me because it sounds like - and based on some kind of historical record - it sounds like you ought to trust me at the helm of this billion dollar corporation." (The city government has a $1.3 billion operating budget.)
Throughout the interview, Fletcher, often using management abbreviations - such as "BFOQ" for bona fide occupational qualifications - stressed experience as an assistant secretary of labor for wage and labor standards and as a management consultant to major national businesses as one of his strongest assets.
He often chuckled and looked at aides when one of his answers amused himself. He emphasized some points by snapping his finger or chopping the palm of one hand with the side of the other.
"I don't want to go too fast for you," he joked to a questioner who at one point asked for a clarification from Fletcher. "You can see I'm enjoying this."
Fletcher said that, if elected mayor his administration would place a major emphasis on management, but he said he would bring other new ideas to the city. Among them were the following:
As a way of solving the problem of high unemployment among city youths. Fletcher said he would aggressively seek the establishment of industrial plants in Anacostia and in Northeast Washington, near New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road. The city could use tax abatements, subsidies financed by the sale of industrial bonds and a patriotic appeal to help the nation's capital as ways to attract such business, he said.
Barry has outlined a list of department heads he would dismiss for alleged incompetence, but Fletcher said he did not believe such an approach would work. Most department heads are protected through either civil service regulations or collective bargaining agreements, Fletcher noted.
Rather than mass firings, Fletcher said, he would proposed hiring private consultants to work alongside any incapable department heads who would not leave their jobs. The consultants and the implementation of proven management techniques should improve operation of the city's bureaucracy, Fletcher said.
Fletcher said he would set a limit on the amount of taxes the city government collects each year through all forms of taxation. At the same time Fletcher said, he would work for establishment of a "firm federal payment" - a fixed, automatic, annual payment to which the city would be entitled - to replace the current system.
Fletcher also said that he would establish a city housing finance agency to help prevent black and poor persons from being forced out of their homes by the city's skyrocketing real estate market. He said money for such a program could be raised by selling bonds through an independent redevelopment authority. City taxpayers would not be responsible for paying off the bonds, he said.
Fletcher, a one-time city councilman in Pasco, Wash., who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of that state in 1968, was a pioneer in the community black capitalist movement.
He was named to the Labor Department post in 1969, and is the author of the "Philadelphia plan", a federal program that established affirmative action guidelines for the increased employment of minorities in federal construction projects.
Fletcher later served as an alternate delegate to the United Nations and as director of the United Negro College Fund. He was an urban affairs adviser to president Gerald R. Ford and now heads of his own management consultant firm.
Fletcher said yesterday that he would use his contacts with major businessmen throughout the country to attact industry to Washington. No one in city government has tried to do that before, he said.
"People came here because they wanted to build an office building here," Fletcher said. "I don't think anybody in this city has even joined the task force that went anywhere to try to recruit any industry here."
Fletcher said he would try to lure businesses to the city with tax abatements, offerings of industrial sites and other bonuses. He said foreign governments, many of whom have embassies in Washington but whose businessmen build plants elsewhere in America could be encouraged to locate operations here instead.
Large American businesses are also building new plants all over the country except in Washington, Fletcher said. "Has anybody ever suggested that there's a nickel's worth of patriotism in helping to revive the nation's capital?" Fletcher asked. "Has anybody ever suggested that this may be the one place that they would waive some profits."
Fletcher said a major problem with the operation of the city's 43,000-worker bureaucracy is that it has not been exposed to modern management ideas.
"The city was handled like any other federal agency, when it was under the complete control of the Congress. And, in fact, it might have been the tail of the federal agencies," he said. "I'm suggesting that the District of Columbia . . . did not get the benefit of mission training - of organizational development, staff development - mission training so that they could carry out the mission."
"I don't think," Fletcher said, "the election commission staff was ever trained on how to carry out an election."
Fletcher said that he does not believe the city can achieve complete budget autonomy, but does think it would be possible to reach an agreement with Congress that as long as certain basic budgetary conditions are met, Congress would not interfere with city spending operations.
In the recent past, congressional budget committees have reduced the federal payment at times when the city has collected, more revenues than anticipated. "There's no incentive to manage well there if everytime you come up with a surplus as a result of good management, the Congress is going to take it out of the next fiscal year's budget," he said.
Fletcher said it was critical for the city government to develop the resources to stop blacks from being displaced from their homes. "Rent control will never keep them here. Condominium conversion will never keep them here," said. "And in fact, condominium conversion and rent control has created a white demand for old stick houses."
Flecther said that even if he is not elected, his campaign will stimulate new ideas about government in Washington, where, he said, "110 years of the denial of political action has left this community a political cripple, culturally deprived insofar as political activity is concerned."
"That's what this campaign is doing," Fletcher said "Whether I win or not, people will not go back to behaving the way they have before."