Charlene Drew Jarvis came to the City Council in 1979 as a political novice in a hurry, long on confidence but short on savvy.
In short order she challenged veteran council member and committee head Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) over Shackleton's plan to close the Upshur Street Community Health Clinic. Jarvis not only lost but managed to ruin her relationship with Shackleton for several years.
It was the kind of miscalculation that former staff members say persuaded Jarvis that she needed better political counsel. The adviser she came to rely on was Woodrow Boggs Jr., a streetwise lawyer and political operative who helped teach Jarvis, the daughter of a famous Washington scientist, the mechanics of political trading.
With Boggs helping point the way, Jarvis (D-Ward 4) has emerged in the past few years as a major power broker on the council and a mayoral aspirant, crafting some of the council's most important recent legislation and winning several head-to-head battles with Mayor Marion Barry. But her relationship with Boggs has also landed her in the biggest trouble she has faced as a politician.
The U.S. attorney's office is investigating whether Boggs improperly benefited from Jarvis' position as chairman of the council's powerful Committee on Housing and Economic Development. The probe was triggered by disclosures that Citicorp, a New-York based banking giant that lobbied Jarvis' committee heavily on interstate banking legislation, paid Boggs $28,200 for consulting services.
Meanwhile, the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance is seeking civil fines and criminal penalties against Jarvis, Boggs and others for alleged violations during two campaigns that Boggs managed for Jarvis: her unsuccessful 1982 mayoral campaign and her 1984 campaign for reelection to the City Council. D.C. police have begun investigating her 1984 campaign finances, which, according to an audit by the campaign finance office, were largely controlled by Boggs.
Jarvis' close friends see bitter ironies in the 44-year-old council member's current troubles: that her reliance on Boggs, who was supposed to be the skipper of Jarvis' political fortunes, now threatens to sink them, and that Jarvis, who prides herself on being a quick study, should be so slow to see the potential liabilities in her relationship with Boggs that seemed evident to others.
"People are stunned because they thought she was too smart to let this happen," said one council aide who asked not to be identified.
Though she now is distancing herself from Boggs, Jarvis maintained the close relationship for seven years against the advice of friends, constituents and council colleagues, partly out of what some friends view as an emotional commitment. Whether she is romantically involved with Boggs is a question that Jarvis will not answer, even to some of her friends. "I don't know that, and I was super close," said Yvonne Cooper, Jarvis' council aide for six years.
What is clear is that Jarvis and Boggs have tried to help each other in myriad ways to make a mark on the political scene. "It's clearly a symbiotic relationship," said one political activist who knows Jarvis well. "They play off each other. They complement each others' needs. They both want the same thing -- power."
When she first ran to represent affluent Ward 4 in Northwest Washington, Jarvis had virtually no political experience other than having done some campaign work for Sterling Tucker, who was then chairman of the City Council, when he ran for mayor in 1978.
But she had instant respect by virtue of her family connections. Her father was Dr. Charles Drew, whose pioneering work in blood plasma led to the establishment of the modern blood bank -- a man whom council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) and others describe as having been "an institution" in Washington. Initially, she had followed her father's path into science, earning a doctorate in neuropsychology from the University of Maryland and a position at the National Institute of Mental Health. But she was frustrated by the isolation and the slow pace of lab work and eager for work where she could see more immediate results, according to Dr. Mortimer Mishkin, Jarvis' supervisor at the institute.
To Ward 4 politicians such as former City Council chairman Arrington Dixon, she seemed a fitting candidate to carry the mantle of the city's traditional black political and economic elite, which had effective control of city government until Barry deposed it when he won his first bid for mayor in 1978.
Jarvis was a fourth-generation Washingtonian, articulate, lively and warm with crowds. Her background of childhood summers on the beach and after-school fencing and piano lessons went over well with the established, well-off families of Ward 4's Gold Coast. Even her physique, with her height of 5 feet 11 inches and her imposing figure, conveyed stature.
With her husband, W. Ernest Jarvis, another product of elite black Washington, working beside her, Jarvis beat 14 other candidates in a special election for the Ward 4 seat vacated by Dixon when he was elected chairman. From then on politics was "a total love affair" for her, said Ernest Jarvis, who divorced Jarvis in 1980. "I essentially gave my life over to politics," the council member said in a recent interview.
Jarvis moved quickly on the council. In less than two years, she won the chairmanship of the Housing and Economic Development Committee, upstaging two colleagues, Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) and John Ray (D-At Large), who had more seniority. In three years she was running for mayor against Barry, a race she lost badly.
Since that 1982 loss she has concentrated on using her committee to launch some of the council's most significant legislative initiatives. She took the lead on interstate banking and rent control legislation, and she set up the Economic Development Finance Corp., designed to create a pool of investment funds for new businesses.
Jarvis' council style is a combination of hard-nosed negotiation and quickness to seize political opportunities.
A controversy over the budget for D.C. public schools this year showed her political technique at its best. She announced that she was cutting the budgets of the agencies under her committee's review to give more money to the schools, and she publicly challenged her colleagues to do the same. Put on the spot, all but one council member came up with suggestions for trims, and Jarvis was able to claim partial credit for satisfying the teachers and parents who had been demonstrating on the District Building steps.
She has been particularly quick to capitalize on chances to challenge Barry, who once tried to signal a truce by sending Jarvis six red roses. Dissatisfied with the Housing Finance Agency's approach to providing financing for developers of rental housing, Jarvis last year persuaded the council to take over the agency's authority to approve projects by selling the measure as an opportunity to broaden the council's terrority. When Barry vetoed the bill, she led the council in an override.
Council member Frank Smith (D-Ward 1) and others have shared an experience in dealing with Jarvis: To get a little, you are asked to give a lot.
When Smith wanted her to move his urban homesteading bill out of her committee last year, Jarvis required that he support her Housing Finance Agency proposal. Then, according to Smith, she kept implicitly upping the ante, holding on to his bill and calling for his support on the committee's budget and other bills for more than a year after the deal was first struck.
"Everything is politics with her," said Smith, whose bill finally emerged last month. "Everything has to be orchestrated and power-brokered to get out. She's a very political animal."
Flaxie Pinkett, an old-line businesswoman who served as Jarvis' first campaign treasurer and has known Jarvis since she was a child, came to the same conclusion over lunch with her at the Capital Hilton four years ago.
Pinkett said she remembers Jarvis discussing running for council chairman against then-chairman Dixon, whose support was key to Jarvis' first council victory.
"She made it clear to me that she would do it if she decided that was what she wanted and that there was nothing in her relationship with Arrington or anybody else that would stop her from running for anything she wanted," Pinkett said. In a recent interview, Jarvis denied that she considered such a challenge, saying that loyalty would have prevented her from running against Dixon.
Not all of Jarvis' tactics have gone over well, such as her failure to give her committee members copies of reports and bills until just before calling for a vote. Using that tactic, committee members said, Jarvis last year put through a committee budget with unprecedented perquisites, including $65,000 for overseas travel. Furious, council members moved to take out the money at a later meeting.
Still, because of Jarvis' reputation for holding grudges, "You don't fight her unless you are prepared to go all the way," said one council member. For example, she has not met with Bernard Demczuk, a legislative aide for the American Federation of Government Employees, since his union backed Jarvis' opponent in her 1984 reelection campaign.
"I find it easier to work with people who know how to recognize a friend," Jarvis said.
Jarvis learned that approach partly from Boggs. "His favorite expression is, 'You've got to wheel and deal,' " said one political activist who dealt with Boggs on a number of occasions.
Boggs, 41, a Louisville native who runs a political consulting firm here, met Jarvis when he was a volunteer worker in Tucker's 1978 mayoral campaign.
Almost as soon as she came to the council, Jarvis tapped Boggs as a political adviser. She hired him on two brief occasions in 1982 and 1983 as a consultant to her committee, but for most of the time he has served as a kind of ex officio staff member.
"It was never made clear what his qualifications were," said Kevin Moore, a former Jarvis aide -- only that Jarvis was making "a special effort to get Woody involved and perpetuate his legitimacy."
Jarvis does not describe Boggs or anyone else as a political mentor. "I'm so entirely independent that to say I have a mentor is sort of a foreign concept," she said. She has referred to him as a "good politician," while calling herself "essentially an academician."
Her friendship with Boggs, according to close friends, was cemented in 1980 following her divorce after 20 years of marriage. "He was really, really good to Charlene," said Cooper, Jarvis' former executive assistant. "He's been very, very supportive of Charlene across the board, including [during] personal crises."
To some council observers, Jarvis seemed almost afraid to make a move without Boggs' advice, especially during her early years on the council.
"Every time I wanted to talk with Charlene about where she wanted to go on an issue, she would say, 'Take that to Woody,' " said one political activist who knows Jarvis well. "You could almost see the panic in her eyes."
Bankers, economic development leaders, labor officials, even other council members said they have been referred to Boggs on legislative issues by Jarvis or her staff members -- although, according to Cooper, Jarvis called the shots.
Cooper recalled that during one office meeting, Jarvis yelled at Boggs for making a commitment on a legislative matter without her. "It was something to the effect of, 'You don't make the decisions, I make the decisions,' " Cooper said.
The fact that Boggs had business arrangements with groups lobbying the council at the same time that Jarvis was promoting him as her representative on legislative matters troubled other council members.
But Jarvis defended Boggs as being no different than any other political adviser. She "was like a parent whose kid is in trouble -- 'Not my child,' " said one former staff member.
The impact of Jarvis' current troubles on her political career is uncertain. D.C. Democratic State Committee Chairman James M. Christian said, "It raises doubts to some as to the strength of her character." A Barry administration official who asked not to be identified said Jarvis was "hurt but not mortally wounded."
She is named less often as a potential challenger to council Chairman David A. Clarke or Barry this year, and some council members predict an attempt to unseat her from her committee chairmanship when assignments are handed out in December.
Jarvis, who lives in a split-level on Sycamore Street NW with her two sons, conceded that she is undergoing "tough times" but added that she has suffered no political damage "that I can't survive." She described her current situation as "sort of the expected hurdles in a political arena."
"As a scientist, you are seen as working for the common good and your motives are seldom questioned," Jarvis said. "As a politician, your motives are always questioned and you are seldom thought to be working for the common good."