Clarke wrests power over committee heads

March 26, 1991|By Ginger Thompson

Demanding that the City Council make amends for what she viewed as a humiliation three years ago, Council President Mary Pat Clarke wrested back last night the power to appoint the heads of the council's 11 standing committees.

"My family watched me beaten on this chair, and on a night that was supposed to be one of celebration, I was humiliated," said Ms. Clarke, referring to her inauguration and first meeting three years ago when the council stripped the president of the power to appoint committee chairmen.

"The city cannot be healed until justice is restored," she said. "I'm asking you for one thing. Let me have the power."

Mrs. Clarke, the council's first female president, viewed the loss of her appointment power on the day she was inaugurated as an attempt by the male-dominated council to retain control.

But it was unclear why Mrs. Clarke chose last night's council meeting to reopen the old wound and risk plunging the council into another fractious political fight a few days after it had exhausted itself haggling over the council redistricting plan.

"It had to be tonight so everyone could see who's what and who the real leaders are," she said without further explanation.

During the bitter debate over her move, she made it clear she would tolerate no delay in settling an old score. "Power is never given," she said. "It always has to be taken."

The change in the council's operating procedures was passed on a vote of 14-5, but not before opponents of Mrs. Clarke's move vented their anger with her virtual browbeating of the council to act on the matter last night.

"It is an outrage that the body should be intimidated like this," said Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, D-3rd. "This isn't personal. This is business of the city and you're going about it the wrong way."

"In effect you're blackjacking this," added Councilman Martin E. "Mike" Curran, D-3rd. "You're forcing people to change their votes."

And change they did. After first voting to delay the matter until next week, Mrs. Clarke demanded of several council members that they reconsider their votes.

Councilwoman Vera Hall, D-5th, was one of those who succumbed to Mrs. Clarke's resolve.

"Since it's obvious we will not be able to prevail upon you to hold this matter, I'll vote yes," she said. "But I disagree with the way you're doing this."

Mrs. Clarke was adamant, however. With one more vote needed, she cut a political deal from the podium of the council chamber while the meeting was in session: Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th, was promised the chairmanship of the Budget and Appropriations Committee if he switched his vote. He did and the job was his within 10 minutes.

Two other chairmanships were also changed. Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, was replaced as chairman of the Land Use Committee by Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd. Mr. Ambridge was replaced as head of the Executive Appointments Committee by Councilman Lawrence A. Bell, D-4th.

"Last week we talked about fairness," said Mr. Bell, referring to the heated debate over the council's redistricting plan adopted Friday. "Well, we're not only talking about fairness for African-Americans but also gender fairness."

Others saw it as far from fair, though.

"I'm not one of the teacher's pets, and now the teacher's pets have inherited the council," said Mr. Cunningham. "She talks about changing things, and then she appoints two white males as committee heads."

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