- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

One of the nation’s prominent and most vocal religious leaders has made up his mind about who he wants to win the D.C. Democratic mayoral primary in April — and you get to read it here first.

The Rev. Willie Wilson of Union Temple Baptist Church is all in for Andy Shallal.

Scheduled to make his official announcement downtown next week, the passionate Baptist preacher granted me a late-afternoon conversation, which followed his discussion with more than 30 other clergy on the very same topic.

Mr. Wilson offered a litany of reasons why Mr. Shallal, a Democrat, business owner and philanthropist, hit the No. 1 spot.

Saying he encouraged incumbent Vincent C. Gray to run for mayor in 2010, Mr. Wilson said the “One City” rhetoric espoused by Mr. Gray simply has not turned the tide for blacks, poor and underprivileged families and small businesses.

In fact, he said, “All of the elected officials who are running for mayor have added to the classism and racism going on in the city, which is widening the [education] gap between white and black youths.”

Mr. Wilson said the list of problems exacerbated during the Gray administration include:

“A 600 percent increase in commercial taxes”

A “new vacant-property tax”

A “lessening in low income and public housing”

“Churches being harassed” and pushed out because of “parking” and other property issues.

To wit, “If the churches have no people, they can have no church,” Mr. Wilson said.

And here’s a most striking comment Mr. Wilson made, one that has been made each election season but never seems to quite sit right with D.C. Democrats in particular and national Democrats in general.

“I think Andy Shallal is the person who brings the business acumen and management skills to help reduce the [human] disparities in the city,” Mr. Wilson said.

He characterized the Democratic D.C. Council lawmakers seeking the mayor’s spot — Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Vincent B. Orange and Tommy Wells — as “warmed over” politicians nearly indistinguishable from Mr. Gray.

“They’re like the farmer who uses his tools to tend to the land then puts them back in the barn when done,” he said.

Happens every election cycle in the District.

I learned about Mr. Wilson’s Shallal endorsement at a Wednesday night forum sponsored by the Lamond-Riggs Citizens Association and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Serving as a panelist, I got to ask the mayor the first question, and I have to say he appeared unsettled.

Hmm. Was it because he needed — and received — Marion Barry’s endorsement this week?

Like many aficionados, I’m not keen on warmed over grits.

As Mr. Wilson told me, “We need new and vibrant leadership.”

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com

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