Before the books are closed on the Sept. 14 District of Columbia primary elections, we need to address grass-roots black fears about an imminent takeover of the city government by whites.
Dave Clarke's victory in the race for D.C. Council chairman triggered the street talk, and the Barry organization's seeming role in that victory makes the theory appear complete.
The alleged "sellout" is said to have gone something like this: Mayor Barry needed white support for his reelection, support that Dave Clarke could provide. Barry, in return, could bring credibility and support to the Clarke candidacy in the black community.
Now there is confusion and even anger in the streets. Comments range from "Barry the traitor" to "blacks are the only people on Earth who willingly give up power."
You cannot put the lid on this kind of talk. People may be wrong, but their emotions are genuine and deeply felt. Let's discuss the issue openly.
First I want to reiterate something I truly believe: Dave Clarke is an able and dedicated public servant. He is hard-working and well-prepared. He will make a good leader of the council.
Next it must be said that Mayor Barry and his campaign organization had a right to support whomever they wished for any post. If the inner circle quietly helped the Clarke candidacy, that is a legitimate campaign option. In hindsight, however, it would have been better for the mayor to have backed Clarke openly at the outset to avoid the appearance of a secret sellout. But the damage has been done. The task now is to put things right.
There should be room at the top of the District's government for capable people of all races. Yet with whites, as with blacks, the people must believe that public officials are competent and that they earned their position.
The conspiracy theory notwithstanding, Dave Clarke has clearly earned the right to high position through his service to the community. No matter how one feels about coalition politics, Clarke deserves a fair chance at his new job.
We know that Washington, in too many respects, is still a divided city, divided among the black, white and growing Third World communities. But blacks, whites and the Third World newcomers all want the same things: efficient government services, dignified work, a decent place to live, an education for their children, streets free of crime. We must, however, close ranks if our full potential as a city is to be realized, to direct our best energies against the problems that weaken us all.
The people spoke a week ago today; they have chosen well, in my opinion. Let the victors soon end the period of self-congratulation, the vanquished soon stop licking their wounds.
Public officials will be watched and held accountable for their actions. I intend to be active in the ranks of the watchers. I can do nothing less for the people who so faithfully supported me for council chairman.
But let us recognize that the political battle is over and important public business is before us. With straight talk now, we can clear up suspicions and let the healing begin.