The White House is refusing to appoint a new chairman of the powerful Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, sources said, until it learns unequivocally whether a leading candidate for the job, who once supported Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, is now backing President Carter.
Max N. Berry, a lawyer with the firm of Berry, Epstein, Sandstrom and Blatchford, has been nominated for the position by Mayor Marion Barry. Lawyer Berry, chief campaign fundraiser for the mayor, is considered one of two leading candidates for the position. The other is Thomas J. Owen, chairman of Perpteual Federal Savings & Loan Association, Washington's largest savings and loan institution.
Until October, Berry was a member of the D.C. Committee for the Democractice Alternative -- a dump Carter, draft Kennedy group.
Sources said that the Carter adminstration does not want to go against the mayor's wishes, but feels its own campaign efforts in the District would be hindered if it chose someone for the post whose support for the president is unclear.
"It would be interpreted by some as an unwise and premature appointment to make if he were appointed before the smoke cleared," said one well-placed White House source, who asked not to be named.
Sterling Tucker, assistant secretary for Housing and Urban Development and former chairman of the D.C. City Council, said the appointment would be hastened if both lawyer Berry and Mayor Barry would actively join the Carter team.
"If Marion and Max do not say whether they support the president very soon, I don't see how the administration could choose Max for the job," said Tucker, who is expected to play an active role in Carter's effort to win the May 6 District of Columbia Democractic primary.
The chairmanship of the Pennesylvania Avenue corporation, the independent agency overseeing the development of hundreds of millions of dollars of new construction on Washington's main street, has been vacant since Joseph B. Danzansky died Nov. 8.
The agency has authority to spend up to $200 million and select achitects and developers for numerous potentially lucrative hotel, commercial, residential and office buildings to be errected along the avenue.
The property under the commission's control is among the last major parcels of land suitable for large-scale development in the old downtown area.
The stalemates over a new chairman is due as much to divisions in the ranks of local politicians as it is to differences over presidential preference, according to several sources.
Two of the principal Democratic politicans in the city, both of whom are important to the Carter administration, are backing different candidates.
The mayor, (along with several City Council members), is supporting Berry, who was treasurer of Barry's campaign organizatin in 1978. Owen has the backing of Robert B. Washington Jr., chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee. Washington is a member of Perpetual's board of directors.
At the same time that the White House does not wish to offend the mayor, it also does not want to turn its back on Washington, who has been a died-in-the-wool Carter supporter and fund raisers since last year.
"They are very important people, in the mayor, with whom we have a strong working relationship, and Bob Washington, with whom we have a strong political relationship," the White House source said. "The recommendation (to the president) has been withheld because we have not been able to work the situation cut."
Berry, 44, said that he has been interviewed for the post. But he said that no one in the White House has raised the question of political support as a prerequisite for obtaining the job.
Berry said he dropped his support for Kennedy last fall, both because he was opposed to some of Kennedy's views on the Middle East and because he did not find Kennedy's statements about 'chappaquiddick convincing.
When Berry was asked if he is supporting Carter now, he replied, "Yes, I am, and if I don't get the job, I'm going to still support him."
Berry said he has been delaying a public announcement of his support for Carter because he did not want it to appear that he switched candidates just to get the appointment.
When asked about his defction from the Kennedy ranks two weeks ago at the mayor's first anniversary celebration, Berry said, smiling, "Honest. I left Kennedy before Joe (Danzansky) died."
Ivanhoe Donaldson, Barry's chief political strategist and general assistant, said that the mayor's support for Berry was based largely on the fact that the lawyer is a city resident. Owen lives in the Maryland suburbs. f
"It's not as political as people think it is," Donaldson said.
Donaldson said he was aware that there was "some concern at the White House about whether Max was a Kennedy supporter."
In the past, sources have said, the White House has been impatient with the mayor's refusal to place his endorsement of the president on a grand scale, call a press conference and pledge to hit the hustings on Carter's behalf.
A few weeks ago, for example, administration officials told Barry aides that the mayor's recommendations to fill some of the 1,500 census jobs in the city would be delayed until a formal endorsement was made by Barry.
Donaldson said Friday that he did not believe selection of a PADC chief was being delayed for that reason. "I don't think the White House would be silly enough to hold the PADC appointment hostage to Marion's endorsement," said Donaldson, adding later he was sure Barry would officially endorse Carter "at some point."
That view was disputed by some leading members of the city's business community. "They want a price," said one businessman, "and the price is a vigorous promise to campaign. They want an enthusiastic getting out into the black community is not all that good."
In the face of the standoff between Berry and Owen, some compromise candidates are being considered. Ironically, one of them is Washington, a lawyer with the firm of Danzansky, Dickey, Tydings, Quint and Gordon.
Although Washington supported Tucker against Barry in the 1978 Democratic primary, he and the mayor have tried to draw closer together politically since then. But when asked if Barry would support Washington, Donaldson said, "The mayor is supporting one candidate, and one candidate only."
Another possible compromise candidate, sources said, is Philip G. Hammer, an urban planner with the firm of Hammer, Siler, George Associates, who was a member of Barry's transition team.
Among those also considered for the post, sources said, but believed less likely to be chosen are zoning lawyer R. Robert Linowes, developer Theodore Hagans, lawyer Charles A. Horskey, real estate executive Raymond J. Howar, architect Nationiel A. Owings, and developer James Welson Rouse.
The PADC has not met since Danzansky's death, which occurred only hours after a PADC meeting. The next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 23. However, a White House source said the selection of a new chairman may not come until after that date.