Clarke Was Guided by His Christian Beliefs

By Washington, Adrienne T. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 1, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Clarke Was Guided by His Christian Beliefs

Washington, Adrienne T., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)

To tell the truth, I dreaded interviewing D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke.

Intense is the word that first comes to mind whenever I think about the sometimes erratic and irate Mr. Clarke, 53, who died last week of brain cancer.

Rarely, could you ask Mr. Clarke a simple question. Never would he accommodate your need for a quick quote or sound bite about any topic without first giving a lecture on the shortcomings of the local media. The local press corps could never get it right, was always on the wrong track, to let him tell it, particularly in its meager or cursory coverage of whatever social cause consumed him at that moment.

Over the years, I learned why Mr. Clarke was so intense.

He cared so deeply about the underdog. He was so frustrated by others who didn't. And he would not easily suffer those who did not share his compassion.

Although it is not fashionable or even politically correct to note, I somehow came to believe that his trademark intensity grew out of his devotion to Christ and Christianity and therefore to his fellow man.

Once, in an interview during his earlier tenure as council chairman, I asked about a poster of Jesus Christ that is still prominently displayed in Mr. Clarke's office. The poster tells how "the one solitary life" of Jesus changed the world.

I was struck by the change Mr. Clarke made before my very eyes. He went from intense politician to a pensive priest as he talked about his religious beliefs. Although he was a politician, Mr. Clarke was a crusader for the downtrodden. He lived a simple life and he lived by a simple commandment: Love thy neighbor as you love God and Christ.

Mr. Clarke graduated from George Washington University with a degree in religion and briefly attended the Crozier Seminary and the Upland Institute for Social Change and Conflict Management in Chester, Pa., where Martin Luther King also studied. His spokesman, Bob Hainey, said Mr. Clarke "wanted to be a preacher like Dr. King," whose picture also graces the walls of the chairman's chamber.

Much is made of Mr. Clarke's acceptance by the District's black community. It is true that he was not considered your Average White Boy because he was neither condescending nor patronizing. He didn't pretend to be the Great White Hope, either.

Mr. Clarke simply conducted himself in a manner that demonstrated that he felt he was no greater and no less than his fellow man or woman. He walked as an equal among equals.

"He was real, he was willing to extend himself" said James D. Berry, a District resident.


And it was Mr. Clarke's unusual ability to go into the churches in any corner of the District, the stately and the storefront, and speak the soulful language that old Baptist sermons are made of that so endeared him to those in the city's black communities, where religion is such an integral part of life that it's just as important to give your church and pastor's name before your own on introduction.

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