David A. Clarke

class of 1961


David A. Clarke - 1975

He dedicated himself to home rule
and to fighting social injustice of all kinds

David Allen Clarke died in 1997 at the age of 53 of a form of brain cancer, cutting short a life that, from its beginning, was devoted to improving the life of the people of Washington, D.C., and particularly of those left behind or oppressed in our society. His death came while he was still the Chairman of the D.C. City Council, after some 23 years of dedicated service that began with his initial election to the first elected City Council in 1974 and that included two periods as Chairman of the Council. He was a leader responsible for a number of fundamental improvements in the city’s governance, and one who never lost the loyalty and confidence of his constituents.

 Dave Clarke was born in Baltimore on October 13, 1943, but grew up in Southwest DC with his widowed mother, Ophia Carroll Clarke, who came to work in government. His father, Allen Joseph Clarke, had died when David was an infant. His mother died when he was 16, and he went to live with an aunt at 12th &  M Sts., N.W. at the age of 16 and entered Western High – Class of 1961. His life priorities were already set. He said often that, when he found at the age of 12 that he could not be a Congressional page because the District had no one in Congress to serve as a sponsor, he dedicated himself to home rule and to fighting social injustice of all kinds --- “… the injustice the civil rights movement was fighting was the same injustice that was denying my city and me home rule”.

 Clarke’s first inclination was to become a minister but after enrolling in Crozier Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, he managed to be assigned back to Washington where he went to work for Rev. Walter Fauntroy’s D.C. Coalition of Conscience. He enrolled at Howard University Law School, graduating in 1969, and began working as a legal aide for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He soon had a reputation as a lawyer who would help any needy person. Clarke headed the SCLC’s Washington office for two years before entering private practice in 1970.

 In 1974 he ran as a long shot candidate from Ward 1 for the D.C. City Council, and won, beginning his career as a hard-working, dedicated advocate for progressive legislation and for the people of his city. In 1982 he was elected Chairman of the City Council and was re-elected until 1990 when he ran for Mayor but lost. He was again elected Chair of the Council in the special election caused by the suicide death of John A. Wilson in 1993.

 Dave Clarke’s accomplishments as a liberal legislator were many. He was proud of the work he undertook to revamp the city’s criminal code and re-codify the city’s code of law, a tiresome exercise in detail that was characteristic of his deep commitment. Along the way, he led the passage of DC legislation outlawing unregistered handguns, giving tax relief to private homes over businesses, the Rental Housing Conversion & Sale Act protecting tenants’ rights, and “right to shelter” legislation for the homeless.

 As Chairman, he fought the still powerful Congressional forces that demanded reductions in the D.C. government workforce, called for repeal of the prohibition against a commuter tax and for an increase in the Federal payment and for help with the unfounded liabilities  passed on the District under the Home Rule Charter.

 His fatal illness began in 1996. He entered GWU Hospital in December 1996, but for months his condition defied diagnosis. He was transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in February 1997 and died there on March 28, 1997.

 Dave is survived by his wife, Carole Leavitt, and a son, Jeffrey Clarke.

 [Source: Washington Post, March 29, 1977, article by J.Y. Smith.]


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Updated November 20, 2003 04:23 PM