The proposed statehood constitution for the District of Columbia--the most controversial portions of which are likely to be changed by city officials -- won strong approval from city voters yesterday.
District voters also overwhelmingly approved an initiative calling for a nuclear weapons freeze. It won by a margin of more than 2 to 1.
According to complete returns from the city's 137 precincts, 59,300 people were in favor of the constitution compared to 52,177 against.
The freeze initiative, which was endorsed by most of the city's political leaders and also appeared on the ballots in nine states and 30 other local communities, had received 77,521 votes in its favor compared to 33,369 against.
The initiative would require the mayor to appoint an uncompensated commission to promote a nuclear weapons freeze in the United States and Soviet Union and redirect government resources toward human needs.
The fate of the constitution, which received only qualified support from most city officials, is still unclear, despite the outcome of the election.
The measure is still expected to undergo major revision by the City Council and still another submission to the voters before it is formally sent to Congress for ratification.
Nevertheless, yesterday's vote on the constitution marked still another milestone in the city's efforts toward increased home rule. But it posed a thorny political problem for some city politicians, who opposed many of the particulars of the document but did not want to be seen as being opposed to increased self-government for the city.
In the closing weeks of the campaign, a few delegates to the convention that drafted the document and many politicians who previously had offered only lukewarm support for the document, including Mayor Marion Barry, Del. Walter E. Fauntroy and several City Council members, urged voters to approve the measure anyway.
Such approval permits the document to be changed by the City Council rather than the 45-member convention that framed the document last sping. Some officials contended that the delegates lacked the political skill to draft a document that would be accepted by Congress.
At the District Building last night before final returns were in, three of the delegates who helped lead the fight against the measure, said that regardless of the final vote count, the heavy vote against it "was a mandate to change the document."
The delegates -- Courts Oulahan, Sandra Johnson and Joel Garner -- had helped form a campaign group called "Citizens for a Better Constitution" and said rejecting the measure would "advance the statehood cause."
Charles I. Cassell, who served as president of the constitution convention and has been the chief spokesman for the document's passage, said he expec ts any modifications in the document to be minor.
Critics most often mentioned provisions that could require the new city-state to provide jobs or adequate incomes to all city residents and could allow firefighters and police the right to strike. Questions also were raised about the document's provisions for a 40-member legislature and defendants' rights in criminal procedings, as well as the general financial impact of the document on the proposed state.
The constitution, which would call the city-state New Columbia, establishes a governor and lieutenant governor in addition to the 40-member unicameral legislature; a two-tiered court system; full budget and taxing authority; new election procedures and the power to create semiautonomous neighborhoods.
D.C. voters approved a statehood initiative in 1980 by a 3-to-2 margin, and last November elected 45 delegates to a constitutional convention, which was called to order in February of this year and drafted the 18,000-word document after a session marred occasionally by acrimonious disputes.
Many delegates also were angry that the D.C. City Council slashed the convention's budget from $750,000 to $150,000 and imposed a 90-day time limit. The original statehood initiative that voters approved in 1980 by a 3-to-2 margin had allotted the higher amount and more time. The delegates rushed to complete their work, with some complaining that there had not been enough time for public hearings on the document.
The convention appointed a 24-member Statehood Commission which was to promote the document begining Oct. 1, but Congress, which controls the city's funds, changed the commission's purpose, ordering instead that an objective report on the constitution be mailed to the city's voters by Oct. 22.
Meanwhile, most of the city's leaders shied away from publicly embracing the constitution, giving it lukewarm support at best.
In early October, nine members of the 13-member City Council, including the council's lone D.C. Statehood Party member, said they would vote to take the constitution off the ballot for further discussion and possible revisions if the convention delegates would go along.
The delegates voted against that move. The council then refused a request by the convention delegates to allow voters to decide each of the constitution's 18 articles separately -- a move the document's supporters said would help improve its chances for passage by singling out controversial provisions.
The nuclear freeze issue was begun by a group local residents as part of the worldwide movement to avert nuclear war.
In August, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics placed the issue on the ballot after receiving petitions with more than 23,000 names from the D.C. Campaign for a Nuclear Freeze committee, about 10,000 more than needed to qualify it for a ballot position.
Although the nuclear freeze was an issue in nine states and 30 local communities around the nation, no formal opposition formed against the measure here.
Proponents held a series of community meetings and encouraged local churches to participate in the moral discussions over the country's nuclear policies.
Damu Smith, a spokesman for the antinuclear weapons group, said last night, "We were confident it would pass by a significant margin because people understood the significance of sending a message about the danger of nuclear weapons."
Smith said the group will now work to get the initiative implemented as quickly as possible.
The initiative, although approved by voters, is still subject to routine 30-day congressional review.