Defenders of home rule government in the District said yesterday that the guilty plea of Ivanhoe Donaldson in federal court was an example of individual corruption and not a flaw in the institutions governing the nation's capital.
At the same time, community and political leaders offered differing assessments of the impact the Donaldson case could have on the administration of Mayor Marion Barry.
"I think the whole thing clears the mayor," said Theodis R. (Ted) Gay, former chairman of the Democratic State Committee who lost that position to Donaldson. "The [grand] jury, I'm sure, took a long look at all the evidence around this, including whether the mayor was involved. I don't see this as a handicap for the mayor by any stretch of the imagination."
However, D.C. Auditor Otis H. Troupe, asserting the prosecutors' case showed the misdoings were "not committed in a vacuum," said he would initiate his own investigation of improprieties in the Department of Employment Services.
"There was clearly the knowledge and possibly either the active or passive assistance of other persons," he said. "I think that makes it appropriate to consider a rather broad audit."
John Hechinger, the Democratic National Committeman who served as an appointed chairman of the City Council before the beginning of home rule in 1975, said he was relieved that the investigation of wrongdoing by Donaldson had not led to charges against other D.C. officials.
"My principal thought now is I just am glad it hasn't spread beyond [Donaldson's] own errors and stupidity," he said. "My principal concern is that the status of our home rule government is based upon the institutions and not on any individual's weaknesses and dishonesty."
Hechinger said there are enemies of home rule who are waiting in the wings to make the city "a whipping boy" for "hidden purposes."
Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee on the District, voiced concern that some would use the Donaldson case to attack home rule in the District.
"You can't have in the capital of the free world the kind of political problems this represents," Mathias said yesterday at a luncheon held by the Greater Washington Research Center.
The news of Donaldson's guilty plea spread swiftly throughout the District Building as city workers turned on radios to hear the latest news reports and traded information in the halls. The atmosphere, one City Council staffer said, was not unlike that of a wake.
"He was so very well respected around here and had the reputation of being a good manager," said Russell Smith, City Council secretary. "I feel that it is a tragedy."
Beyond the personal tragedy of Donaldson, however, few officials were willing to comment on the implications the case may hold for the Barry administration.
Bernard Demczuk, legislative representative for the American Federation of Goverment Employees, said he doubted the scandal would hurt the mayor or affect his chances if, as expected, he runs for reelection next year.
"There have been other inappropriate actions by city officials that didn't hurt Barry and I don't think that this will either," he said.
James Christian, chairman of the Democratic State Committee, said that the timing of the guilty plea -- well in advance of any reelection bid next year -- ensures that the mayor will not suffer for the misdeeds of one of his trusted aides.
"Having it happen now doesn't hurt the mayor at all," Christian said. "Certainly it is better for him and his administration to have this issue addressed at this time."
Mattie Taylor, a retired Employment Services deputy director who has said she plans to run against Barry next year, said he would have a difficult time escaping some responsibility for appointees' misdeeds.
"What official in the world isn't hurt when people high up in their administration do things?" she said. "It hurt Eisenhower when Sherman Adams fouled up. Sure, it's going to hurt the mayor."