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
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
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.
Post, March 29, 1977, article by J.Y. Smith.]