The last time a black politician told white Washingtonians to “get over it,” he at least had the benefit of knowing he had won the election. At an April 1 candidate forum at Eastern Senior High School, the Rev. George Augustus Stallings Jr. tells audience members who have a problem with his candidacy to “get over it”almost a full month before the April 29 special election for the Ward 6 D.C. Council seat.
What may seem like rhetorical recklessness is part of the planStallings knows exactly what he is doing. As a black man who took on the Roman Catholic Church in 1989 over its racial dynamics and claims to have won, the 49-year-old Anacostia cleric is happy to become a lightning rod on race. Stallings spends most of his time at the Ward 6 forum talking about blacks, whites, and the color of politics in Washingtondoing his damnedest to make it the loudest issue in the campaign.
“There is a great racial divide in Washington, D.C.,” Stallings proclaims, draped in a purple Nehru suit with a kente stripe, his voice drumming along in an intense preacher’s cadence. “We need to learn how to live together as brothers and sisters, or perish together as fools. We have to level the playing field. That’s the only way we can achieve this. We cannot have this disparity in Ward 6. We need to come together to talk about race.”
For most of the night, his message falls flat. The forum’s poor setup is partly to blame: The crowd scattered around the large school auditorium can barely see the candidates, who are literally in the dark at a table in front of the stage. The awkward eye-level arrangement requires the 11 candidates to stand so that the crowd can see who is responding to the canned questions.
The dim setting should especially frustrate Stallings. As archbishop and preacher extraordinaire for his lively Capitol Hill congregation, Imani Temple, Stallings is used to hearing roars of “Amen!” and “Yes, Lord!” punctuating his every well-chosen word. The lack of reaction by the Eastern High crowd, however, doesn’t deter Stallings. Instead, he pours on the gas and the volume, and drops the pitch for harmony. He really gets things going in his closing statement, with a charge that other candidates want to derail his campaign because he is black.
“Exactly four weeks from tonight, this election will have been over for 55 minutes, and I will be happy to announce that I will be your next councilmember,” he crows. “Now there has been this ‘Stop Stallings’ movement that has been going with candidates here. You know it and I know it. That’s why we have to deal with the race issue. A lot of you are not going to vote for me not because you disagree with my politics but because you disagree with my race.”
Stallings’ tirade suddenly ignites an audience that had been lulled by the other candidates’
predictable closing remarks. Stallings hears the hisses and boosand sees they are coming from white members of the audience. The dialogue has been joined.
“Let’s be honest about it,” he hollers, gesturing militantly as the heckling grows louder, his face bursting with passion. “You don’t know me, but you have preconceived notions about who I am and what I stand for….I hope you can get over it when I’m your councilmember so that we can work together to make this a better ward. If you want the racial divide to continue, let it continue. I’m going to be your ward councilmember whether you like it or notget used to it. I’m telling you that beforehand.”
The hall still simmers even after the forum ends. Stallings is unapologetic as one audience member confronts him with the accusation that he was race-baiting. Stallings fires back that it is he who is being baited.
Either way, Stallings knows how to mix it up. Each step he has taken in the last 25 years has had its own dimension of controversy. And every time he reaches a goal, he remains restless, stoked by a deep-seated impatience for the next one. For now, he is intent on representing Ward 6, a stitching of mostly white middle-class enclaves on Capitol Hill, mostly black hardscrabble neighborhoods in Anacostia, and integrated, semigentrified pockets in Northeast Washington. The schizophrenic ward serves as the city’s laboratory for race and class friction and never more so than during the current scramble to replace Councilmember Harold Brazil, who won an at-large council seat last November.
Stallingsa first-timer among political prosconfronts big odds, but that’s his natural state. He has won a seemingly impossible battle to establish his African-American Catholic Congregation (AACC)the result of his high-profile split with Romeas a viable religious faction. In doing so, he overcame pedophilia charges involving former altar boys that were leveled against him in a series of Washington Post articles in 1989 and 1990. The incredibly damning allegations could have demolished his name and his fledgling movement, but Stallings refused at the time to respond. History has proved that being on the wrong end of Post coverage is not necessarily fatal to black politicians in the District, and after neither the daily paper nor local prosecutors followed up, Stallings emerged with a firm grasp on his church and his future. Given his appetite for territory and challenges, the Ward 6 race could be the start of a lot of things.
Stallings says his Umoja party candidacy to finish Brazil’s unexpired Ward 6 term will establish a new political bloc in the city built on the interests of the have-little and have-not black residents of Washington. His attempt to organize the disenfranchised may not be so far-fetchedImani Temple is a testament to his ability to mine the concerns of black Washington. But while he will tell you that he’s all about racial healing, he can’t help knowing that his rhetoric threatens to further polarize a ward that is already in separate camps.
For a novice, Stallings seems mighty comfortable in the role of candidate. Being a tireless campaigner doesn’t hurt, though even in noncampaign mode he appears overly wound up. In a seemingly calm moment at the back-room desk in his H Street NE campaign office, he manages to overwhelm his AACC deputy, the Rev. August Griffin, with a to-do list that grows by the minute.
“And why don’t you call about the liberation vestments,” Stallings says in a tone drenched in concentration. “I don’t think we have any yet for Bishop Rowe.”
Stallings practically interrupts himself while he talks as Griffin tries to keep up with the oh-and-one-last-thing delivery. Stallings finally concludes his business with Griffin and returns to his candidacy before the reporter realizes the interview is under way.
“There is no [more] effective campaigner in the city of Washington than George Stallings because my whole life has been geared toward interacting and interfacing with people,” he says. His third-person assessment has meritStallings is likable, listenable, and funny. He’s a human bustle in any setting, but especially grabbing one-on-one: He’ll clamp you by the shoulder, stomp his feet in laughter, jump, trot, shuffleand eventually finish his sentence.
“I can make anyone feel at home,” he says, “whether it’s the poorest of the poor or the richest of the rich, whether it be one with an education or no education, whether it’s someone who is black or white…straight or gay, bisexual or transgender.”
While his slogan”One Ward, One People, One Choice”posits that he is the only candidate who can bridge the perspectives of the ward’s diverse mix of residents, his strategy clearly focuses on energizing the black voters from the poorer neighborhoods of the ward. Stallings proudly announces at candidate forums that his house, which he has dubbed “Augustus Manor,” is in Anacostia, where he is banking on winning the majority of votes.
His spacious, three-floor Victorian is not exactly typical for the neighborhoodnor is his special decorative taste, which mixes antiques and colonial furniture with African artbut his claims to represent the views of his neighbors seem to have traction. People whom Stallings approaches at bus stops in the less affluent areas of the ward not only recognize him with little trouble, they even pretend to be enthusiastic about his campaign.
Even when he is not around, he gets the bus-stop vote. Waiting to catch a bus into town this past Monday on Good Hope Road SE, several Anacostia residents say they will happily vote for Stallings, including Janice Mason.
“Jobs,” Mason says, enumerating her pet issues. “Better conditions and fixing up Anacostia and giving the people here more voice. That’s why I would vote for him.”
Pundits question whether that base will really give it up for Stallings the way it did for Marion Barry in 1994, in part because of Stallings’ political affiliation with the nationalist-oriented Umoja Party. Though it has fielded candidates for several council races, Umoja’s stated mission of empowering black Washingtonians and promoting Afrocentric cultural values has failed to translate into any electoral victories in the party’s three-year history.
But even doubters say the special circumstances of a special election help Stallings’ chances. “The only chance he ever has of winning something…is in a special election where the votes [among Democratic candidates] are split,” says Phil Pannell, a longtime Anacostia political activist. “In a regular election, if we go through a primary and there’s a Democratic candidate, he gets wiped out.”
Stallings speaks confidently about weaning black Washingtonians off their Democratic habit and onto Umoja, of which he is a founding member. He also scolds white voters who aren’t turned on by Afrocentric politics, saying they “shouldn’t have any more problem with me being an Umoja Party candidate…than they have any problem buying Diana Ross or Michael Jackson CDs. Don’t let the color get in the way of appreciating the music. Don’t let my party get in the way of me serving you.”
Whether Umoja marginalizes him or not, his competitors treat Stallings as the real deal, with many political operatives claiming that the Ward 6 race is between their candidate and Stallings. John Capozzi, a hardy perennial with lots of experience in handicapping campaigns, has gone so far as to publish two polls showing the crowded 12-candidate race to be a dogfight between him and Stallings.
Stallings has kept pace in the fund-raising game as well, joining Democrats Capozzi, Howard Croft, and Rob Robinson in a clique that had raised more than $15,000 by March 10. Far ahead in the money grab is another Democrat, Sharon Ambrose, who has raised more than $28,000.
Ambrose, a longtime top staffer for former councilmembers John Ray and Betty Ann Kane, is widely considered the front-runner. Joining her are Capozzi, who ran unsuccessfully for last year’s at-large council seat, Robinson, who is trying to build on his connections as a former staffer for Brazil and Barry, and Croft, a former University of the District of Columbia (UDC) professor hoping to cash in on his work on labor issues and ward politics. Other candidates jockeying for position include former school board member Bernard Gray, tough-on-crime crusader Henry “Sandy” McCall, focus-on-kids champion Tom Hamilton, and the “all these other guys are liars” candidate, Charles Day.
The campaign features five black and seven white contenders, with Croft and Stallings viewed as the black candidates with the most support. But Stallings is the only candidate who emphasizes his race during the forums. Even as he tries to smooth the racial edges of his candidacy in the close confines of an interview, his responses etch them more sharply.
“White folks have to stop being so sensitive to any challenge that is presented to them by a strong, black, male figure,” he says matter-of-factly. “When I got up there and stated that some of you will not vote for me because it’s an issue of race, obviously I could not have been talking about it just being a black issue, because there are other black candidates [in the campaign]who are going to get white votes….What I did not say that I should have said instead of saying ‘race,’ is, ‘You have difficulty with me as a strong, black, intelligent, self-possessed, and powerful black man.’ That’s what I should have said.”
The nub, he says, is that whites fear an empowered black underclass in Washingtonan inflammatory notion in a majority-black, minority-white city.
“There will be a sizable number of people who won’t vote for me just because of who I am, because I remind them of their worst nightmare,” Stallings says with conviction. “This whole idea that a black man is going to liberate black people and tell them that they need to take ownership and control over their own destiny. That’s what they’re afraid of.”
It’s an edgy, take-it-or-leave-it posture that could easily backfire. But Stallings has gotten where he is today precisely because he pushes buttons, which in turn opens doors.
Stallings’ sense of himself took hold when he was quite small. Growing up as the eldest of six siblings in segregated New Bern, N.C., Stallings knew he was going to be somebody besides one of the guys on the corner.
“I wanted to be a priest when I was living in poverty, when I was living in the projects,” he says, recalling how he was impressed with priests working in his community. “I thought this way when I was a kid. I said I want to use my life to help people.”
His clericaland now, politicaldevelopment started with a jump when he was attending Baptist services with his grandparents as a 3-year-old and hearing a preacher who cut through all the trappings and got to his listeners.
“I was so mesmerized by how this preacher, with such power and conviction, could proclaim the Word in such a way that people would be moved almost to ecstasy,” says Stallings, who remembers the man’s voice but not his name. The child was hooked, and by the time Stallings was 16 he was already in the seminary.
He ascended the ecclesiastical ladder quickly, becoming only the third black student to matriculate at the North American College in Rome, earning two graduate degrees in theological studies and being assigned to Our Lady Queen of Peace parish in D.C. even before his July 1974 ordination as a priesta rare occurrence. Even rarer was the September 1976 announcement by Archbishop William W. Baum that Stallings would be the new pastor of St. Teresa of Avila in Anacostia, bucking a tradition that priests serve at least a dozen years as assistants before they got their own flocks.
Stallings says the assignment was no accident. In the spring of 1976, still green but with gumption, he had made an uninvited pitch to Baum in his office, telling the elder cleric, “If we’re serious about black people, and we want to get them into this Roman Catholic Church, we’re going to have to appoint a black priest as pastor.” In July, Baum elevated another black priest (who became the first black pastor of a church in the Washington archdiocese in many years), following up two months later with Stallings’ appointment.
Stallings was not content with his new home and immediately began redecorating it in ways to make it more amenable to the black flock he was trying to reach. The changes he made in the Anacostia church’s liturgy and look stirred interest in black Catholics but discomfort in the archdiocese. He installed a crucifix with a black Christ, a baptismal font, and a gospel choir, and added Afrocentric touches to what became a three-hour mass, according to Aurelia Corbett King, who began attending St. Teresa’s in 1980 even though she lived across town.
“I loved it when I went to his church,” says King, who later joined the choir and became parish secretary, watching the congregation grow from a few dozen families into the hundreds. “It got so that it was always crowdedstanding-room only.”
Stallings’ reputation swelled along with his flock. He became a popular guest speaker at black Catholic churches nationwide thanks to his fiery style and the revolutionary changes he was making. He was also recognized within the churcheven getting a personal audience in 1985 with Pope John Paul II, who invited the St. Teresa’s choir to sing in the Sistine Chapel.
Nevertheless, Stallings began to outgrow his own creation, and it became evident that the Catholic church would have trouble containing his ambition and ego.
“I guess he had gone about as high as he could go,” says King, who followed Stallings to Imani Temple but has since left that church as well. “In order to be a bishop you have to be submissive. But he was kind of a free spirittoo independent….I think they didn’t think they could control him.”
In 1985, Stallings flouted the authority of then-Archbishop James A. Hickey, who has since been made a cardinal, by secretly buying a private home in Anacostia in violation of an archdiocese rule requiring priests to live in the rectory. Stallings also clashed openly with the archdiocese over funding for renovations he said were needed at St. Teresa’s. Even as the strains increased, Stallings agreed to leave St. Teresa’s for a position in the archdiocese office in 1988. But he soon concluded that his only choice was to break from the churcha decision he says was torturous for him because his relationship with Hickey stretched back to when Stallings was a student in Rome and Hickey was the college rector.
“This man was like a father figure to me,” says Stallings. “So you can see why it was so difficult for me in the spring of 1989 to approach him the way I did, to say to him, ultimately, I was going to leave the Roman Catholic Church….I didn’t think that the [church] could respond to the profound spiritual and, now, cultural needs of blacks….I could no longer give myself to a church that was not willing to give us access, inclusion, and ownership of our own destiny.”
After months of wrangling and negotiating, Hickey’s attempts to get Stallings to reconsider failed. Stallings announced his break in June 1989, and on July 2 convened what would become the African-American Catholic Congregation for a service at Howard University Law School attended by thousands of followers.
Few places in Washington rock the way Imani Temple does. It’s even hopping during the recent Saturday-morning service in which Stallings anoints a prominent black Roman Catholic clergyman, Cyprian Lamar Rowe, the newest bishop of AACC. The service features African dancers, rousing spirituals, and many other elements of Imani’s Afrocentric cultural niche.
But the foot-stomping, hand-clapping figure at the center of the occasion isn’t Rowe. Holding forth at the microphone of AACC’s cathedral, Stallings sings, praises, dances, and preaches. He tells the congregation that Rowe has “come home” because God was calling, much as God called him to form the AACC eight years earlier.
“I wish he’d a-chosen somebody else instead of disturbing my life!” Stallings howls comically. “But God had to use somebody.”
His faithful respond lustily, which isn’t unusual. When he’s on, Stallings could start a conga line at a funeral. But the celebration not only recognizes the arrival of a new bishop, it marks a significant defection from the Roman Catholic Church. The AACC movement now has 7,200 members nationwide in 11 congregations, which include churches in Philadelphia, Louisiana, and Los Angeles, and Stallings says the only thing preventing it from growing faster is the need for more priests. He has several now in the four-year process leading to ordination, an incoming class that includes womenonly one of several areas where AACC diverges from Catholic principle. Others include permitting contraception, welcoming gays and lesbians without denouncing their sex lives, and not requiring celibacy for
At one point during the service for Rowe, Stallings reminds his followers of the core reason they parted ways with Romethe need to break with a “white, male, racist, sexist, and hierarchical institution.”
The “racist” tag has long upset many white Catholics and reportedly infuriated Hickey and other church leaders. But Stallings makes no bones about itthere are hard feelings. The break from the Roman Catholic Church got nasty, in his view, with a September 1989 Post article that he contends was published to rip his then-young church from its moorings. Citing the unnamed victim, the Post wrote that Stallings had been involved in a sexual affair with a former altar boy during the late 1970s. Church officials say it was their demand that he seek counselingat a time when Stallings sought a new assignment as pastorthat created the final rift in June 1989. Stallings confirms that the counseling demand convinced him to leave, but says his superiors did not confront him with the pedophilia charges.
“They really thought [Imani Temple] was going to die out in the summer,” Stallings says, shifting between whispers and shouts to detail the alleged plot to sink AACC by the Washington archdiocese and the Post. “What they ultimately realized was that this thing was not dyingit’s growing….They had to come up with some charge to try to ruin it! They just couldn’t accuse me of being sexually involved with anybody. They had to find a boy; they had to make it a pedophilia charge so that I could be grouped with all those other Roman Catholic priests who not only were accused, but charged, found guilty, and sent to prison.”
His tone is righteous, laden with an anger that’s rare even in his hottest sermons.
“They felt they had to make the story so destructive and cruel and horrid that folks would stop following me and it would crush the movement,” he says. “It wasn’t true then and it’s not true now. If it were true, why didn’t the persons go along and file charges so it could go to court and I’d be in jail like the rest of the priests?”
At the time, Stallings refused to speak with the Post, which didn’t deter the daily from publishing a major 1990 series that profiled the former priest in a decidedly negative light. The pedophilia charges were expanded to include a second former altar boy who anonymously claimed to have had a relationship with Stallings, along with long discussions about Stallings being gay, an on-the-record account from a man who said he had had a sexual relationship with Stallings while he was a priest, and a charge that Stallings had misused parish funds to renovate his Anacostia abodefueled by a $4,478 check from the St. Teresa account that the Post said had paid for a fence around the house.
The accusations, recalls King, made some Imani Temple congregants uncomfortable enough to leave the new church, but she and many others doubted the published accounts and stuck by their spiritual leader.
“I think people in the black community are astute and wise enough to know what was behind those stories,” says Stallings. “That this was an attempt to smear the name and reputation of a man who had stood up to a white institution and then basically said to Hickey, ‘Eat crow.’” He denies both pedophilia charges and challenges the accusations that he misspent funds, saying, “Show me the check.” The Washington archdiocese reportedly investigated the allegations, but it has never taken action against Stallings, making clear that his excommunication in 1990 was ecclesiastical in naturefor having renounced the authority of the Pope during a Phil Donahue taping.
Far from burying Stallings, the controversy seems to have stoked the hype around him. And Stallings never backed up, igniting new controversies as old ones died. He created a minifuror among white Christians with a 1993 rally on Good Friday where he burned images of a white Jesus Christ. He proclaimed that the demonstration at Freedom Plaza was the start of his campaign to get black churches to adopt images of a black Jesus. Stallings contended then as now that the historical Christ was an “Afro-Asiatic” black man, and that centuries of European domination of Christianity have altered the color of the man Christians consider their savior.
And just in case that didn’t get things rolling, Stallings hip-checked convention again by teaming up with Louis Farrakhan and his ultranationalist Nation of Islam.
Pannell says that in spite of the inherent conflicts between Christian and Muslim faiths, the linkage was a natural one.
“Stallings very clearly is one of the major Afrocentrists in this country,” says Pannell, who considers himself a student of the discipline as well. “You cannot deny that. He has the following. He has the intellectual basis. He has all the trappings.”
“Liberals have a real problem with him because of his associations with black nationalists who are clearly [extremist] in terms of their stances,” Pannell adds. “You cannot run with the foxes and hunt with the hounds.”
Stallings dismisses the criticism, saying the things he and Farrakhan have in common are much more important than what separates them.
“The bottom line is that I am always going to be associated or affiliated with anyone who speaks a message of empowerment for black people and who are seeking to improve the quality and equality of life for them,” Stallings says. “Let’s be for real: Who in life do we agree with on everything?”
Pannell says Stallings’ ideological flexibility is where the trouble starts. Pannell had become an active member of Imani Temple when he decided Stallings allowed too many incongruent messages to come from the pulpitincluding one speaker who denounced gays, which Pannell, who is gay, saw as the final straw.
“That’s when I left,” says Pannell. “Because he had no control over his pulpit.”
King also left the church, saying she developed stark differences with Stallings over certain church teachings last year, though she would not elaborate on which ones. While she remains friendly with him, she notes that Stallings rebuked her in 1995 for having publicly criticized his failure to apologize for a comment at an organizing rally for the Million Man March in Washington. Stallings had been quoted at the rally questioning whether black men would rather be led by Farrakhan or by “some milquetoast sissy faggot.”
Even when Stallings isn’t looking to kick up dust, sometimes trouble finds him. In August 1996, D.C. police arrested his informally adopted son, Josea McDaniel, who the Post said was collared in Stallings’ home on charges of possessing crack cocaine and two 9mm handguns.
“They watched him bring it into the houseit wasn’t that he was using the house to sell stuff out of it,” Stallings says, noting that he wasn’t in the house at the time, before adding that the incident did not surprise him. “I took on the role as father because he was a troubled youth….This was a boy who had been in juvenile detention homes all of his adolescence.” McDaniel later pleaded guilty to the charge.
A few weeks after McDaniel’s arrest, a prematurely born infant received a full-immersion baptism at Imani Temple and immediately developed severe complications. The infant died 11 days later, and media attention began to focus on the baptism itself.
“The family well knows what the condition of that child was,” says Stallings. “And they know that we were not ultimately responsible for that situation.” The U.S. Attorney’s office reports that it found no basis to file criminal charges against the minister who performed the immersion. Stallings says immersion baptisms are still part of the spiritual menu at his church.
In a room full of hams, Stallings is the 800-pound heavyweight. He doesn’t always dress the same for the candidate forumssometimes wearing his Nehru outfits, other times the traditional priest’s collar and black suit, others a campaign T-shirt and jeansbut he always brings the pomp and circumstance. When he speaks, he manages to outprofile and outdecibel all the other candidates combined, raising the roof with even just a yes or no response.
“I’d like to respond to that! I’d like to respond to that! I’d like to respond to that!” Stallings hollers, leaping to his feet at the April 2 forum at St. Peter’s Catholic Church when he hears a question on which he wants first dibs.
At a forum at Capitol Hill’s Christ Church several weeks earlier, Stallings barely contains himselflaughing heartily, clapping loudly for other candidates, dishing audible commentary, and basically pushing the stodgy limits of forum decorum. When Hamilton, a candidate who gets his share of laughs, says that he wants to fully fund UDC so that Croft can return to his old job as professor, Stallings reacts with an effusive “Oooooh, ouch! Wow! Huh!”a peanut gallery in candidate form.
Stallings’ mien also suggests that the vows he took to become a priest didn’t include one for modesty; in recent forums he has challenged Capozzi to a footrace to prove who is more energetic, Croft to measure whose home is closer to the Anacostia River, and McCall to compare who has a smaller bank account.
When not filling notebooks for reporters hungry for color in an otherwise drab race, Stallings responds to the occasional forum question. He’s not all that impressive on direct responsethe exuberant delivery doesn’t always leave a clear message once he quits talking. His grasp of city issues comes across as generic, and suggests that his political experience doesn’t extend far past his Umoja ties.
Stallings’ campaign literature hardly bolsters his case. While he takes a few stands, such as opposing federalization of the police, his proposals serve up mostly general solutions for the obvious shortcomings of D.C. government. It’s the messenger, not so much the message, who inspires. Stallings says his status as a builder of an 11-church network leaves him exceedingly qualified for the council’s monstrous responsibility of oversight of poorly run city agenciesand the nitty-gritty of budgeting and legislating. He doesn’t distinguish between his position as the mostly unchecked CEO of a religious organization and the bruising task of overhauling a broken municipal infrastructure.
The two main gimmicks of his candidacythat he will donate his entire $80,000 salary from the part-time council position to ward nonprofit groups, and that he will open a “one-stop shop” constituency officeget a regular workout every time he is near the stump. His stock response to broader community problems is that the answer lies within.
“Why can’t we as a ward create our own recycling program?” asks Stallings, offering his solution to the city’s suspension of recycling services. “Why can we not meet with contractors?”
It’s standard economic development through empowerment, but none of the other candidates is offering better ideas to shore up the embattled ward. Unfortunately for Stallings, the kind of empowerment most of the people in the ward are talking about is the kind that allows you to leave your house after dark. Thanks to McCall, who made a “zero tolerance” crime-squashing plan his campaign mantra, Stallings and the others in the running have had to come up with something to say about curbing crime. The issue percolates most on Capitol Hill, where street crime and break-ins have the entrenched middle class in a frenzy.
When asked about stopping crime at a March 27 forum in North Lincoln Park, Stallings kitchen-sinks his response.
“Crime results when people are unemployed,” he responds. “Crime results when we do not properly train people. Crime results when we would rather stockpile them in jail and spend more money for them in jail than we would to give them a college education. The time has come for us to face up to the reality that we have to put more police on the streetsthey cannot be seated behind desks. They have to be on foot patrols, on bicycles, on motorcycles, in their squad cars, and we’ve got to ensure that we as a people start policing our own community and not just leaving [it to the] police department.”
He is ambitious enough to pander a bitalthough not very crediblyto middle-class fears about crime, and he’s not opposed to other efforts to better position his candidacy. He uses a shorter version of his name”George Stallings Jr.”to make the letters appear larger on the ballot, and his campaign literature avoids mentioning the Umoja Party so that Democrats won’t ignore him out of plain party loyalty.
Stallings has shown enough savvy and momentum to become a target. Opponents have wondered aloud whether an archbishop of AACC has time to adequately serve both his congregation and his constituents.
“Preaching and politics don’t mix,” Capozzi said at a recent forum, in a rap he has fused into his opening statement. “It’s clear that we need someone who’s going to be a full-time person and someone who’s going to stand up for us and fill our potholes and have time for that, not to lead a big nationwide church.”
Capozzi doesn’t mention that all councilmembers are allowed to have other employment, but Stallings is stung by the charge enough to say he has staffincluding the recently installed Rowewho are responsible for the day-to-day affairs of his growing church. On the other hand, he says, it’s culturally irrelevant.
“The Eurocentric mind says, ‘George Stallings, you have to either be the archbishop and founder of an independent and autonomous Catholic church that is a viable alternative to Roman Catholicism, or you have to give that up in order to be a politician,’” Stallings says. “The Afrocentric worldview says, ‘George Stallings, you can be both the head of a church…and you can be a politician because one feeds the other.’” It’s a flexible theology, which he uses to maximum effect.
And Stallings says that his work behind the altar doesn’t preclude his getting down to horse-trading if that’s what the situation requires. “I know the art of smoke-filled backroom negotiations,” he says. “A lot of what I will negotiate will be done behind closed doors.”
Like most politicians, he likes to both have and eat his cake. He can go on a tirade about the control-board putsch of District public schools, but mention that he’s happy to work with the board in the next breath.
“I want to meet this control board…and simply say to them, ‘We have to work together,’” says Stallings. “It’s like a bad marriage. We’re going to stay together. I’m not going to get in there and try to upset the apple cart.”
The Pope has his Popemobile, but Stallings has a mighty fine metallic blue Lincoln Continental for his chauffeur to constantly shuttle him around inone of the perks of being archbishop. As the car rolls toward campaign headquarters, Stallings jokes at one point about the “big campaign sign” the car passes on Maryland Avenue NEthe colorful marker for Imani Temple.
As the big blue vehicle approaches a stop sign on H Street NE, Stallings interrupts his own response to a question to horse around with some kids he knows who are crossing the street.
“Blow your horn,” he tells the chauffeur. “They didn’t hear you. Don’t you know how to get people to respond, Danny? You gotta hit it on. There you go.” As the honking resumes, Stallings jokingly yells, “Get outta the street!”
Minutes later, Stallings says jumping on the horn is part of what his candidacy about.
“Surely it was not my intention to draw up hisses and boos,” he says. “What candidate wants to be hissed at and booed at? But there is something about George Stallings that gets to the core, to the belly of that place where people harbor their deepest resentments and prejudices. I know how to get to that. I know how to touch that nerve. I know how to get a response.”
His says his ability to raise the temperature makes him the “bad” black candidate in the raceespecially compared to perceived contender Croft.
“For a lot of white folks, Howard Croft is not intimidating because he’s the so-called ‘safe’ candidate, who doesn’t rock the boat, who has not done anything nearly as radical as I have doneto walk away from an institution and then create your own and say that yours is just as good as theirs if not better,” says Stallings. “As a result of that, some white folks would be more comfortable with a Howard Croft-type of a person, who does not remind them of their responsibilities to the least of the brothers and sisters.”
Croft says Stallings is stuck in caricature as the black nationalist candidate.
“I think that there is a lot of truth to that, in that George is seen as the in-your-face candidate,” says Croft, who claims Stallings has not been visible enough on Ward 6 community issues to shake that image. “They know George by his reputation. George has been painted as a black nationalist…in the media.”
Croft says that he, meanwhile, has been unfairly tagged as the “Barry” candidate in the race because the mayor appointed him to several city commissions. Barry himself has kept mum on his favorite in Ward 6, saying he has too many old ties to too many candidatesincluding Croft, Robinson, and Stallings. But Hizzoner thinks enough of the archbishop to pay him a visit at the H Street headquarters one recent afternoon.
The 20-minute unannounced visit was a courtesy call, Barry tells me after I happen upon the mayor and Stallings exiting the campaign office. But after shuffling the mayor into a nearby restaurant to grab a bite, Stallings finds a potential Ward 6 voter at the counterand leaves Barry to fend for himself to order a plate of curry goat.
Stallings’ blacker-than-thou elbow at Croft may be run-of-the-mill posturing, but his suggestion that the Ambrose campaign has a problem with his race has found traction among other candidates. AIDS Cure Party candidate Steve Michael helped fire up the issue at the St. Peter’s forum with his contention that the Ambrose campaign has repeatedly asked him to leave the race so that the “anti-Stallings” vote can unite. But while Michael makes clear his disgust with any Stop Stallings effortwhich Ambrose’s campaign denies waginghe also says Stallings is riding the issue for all it’s worth.
“George Stallings is playing the race card,” says Michael, “but Sharon Ambrose dealt that card.”
Ambrose, meanwhile, says Stallings is exaggerating racial divisions in the ward, which she says can be healed with neighborhood-level coalition building.
“George is the one who has brought race up himself on a number of occasions,” says Ambrose, who says Michael’s charges have further jacked up the issue. “There is a really tense feeling building up, and that’s why.”
Stallings knows that black residents consider race an issue worthy of noise in the campaign.
“There’s a lot of things swept under the carpet that’s not said because people don’t like itbecause people don’t like the truth,” says Anacostia resident Mason, agreeing with Stallings’ contention that racial problems must be out in the open in the campaign. “Speak out. We’ve come a long ways, but we’ve got a ways to go.”
But John Hilsman, a North Lincoln Park resident who has attended several forums but remains undecided on who will get his vote, believes that Stallings’ approach to racial issues is unproductive.
“He’s been a rebelI respect that,” says Hilsman, who is white. “He broke from the church and started something new, something culturally significant. I think that’s greatcharting new ground. But I don’t think he’s charting new ground in politics. I think he’s trying to drum up an emotional reaction.”
Capitol Hill resident Jeanne Harrison, also white and undecided, remains open to Stallings’ candidacy because he promises to bring racial unity to the ward. She says she is committed to staying in D.C. and seeing her neighborhood’s condition improve. But she found Stallings’ performance at Eastern High disturbingespecially his quoting Barry’s “get over it” advice, intentionally or not.
“That’s what really bothers mefor someone who’s saying we need to talk about race in a positive manner,” says Harrison. “I think he can anger a lot of people. He’s maybe kind of overbearing.”
For all his racial framing of the campaign, Stallings still gets touchy when people question his willingness to represent everybody in the ward. He repeatedly invokes what he says are genuine friendships that he has formed with Michael and McCall, both white candidates whose views don’t always mirror his.
“I want to make it very clear that as the councilmember for Ward 6 I am going to represent all of the people of Ward 6black, white, or polka-dot for that matter,” he says. “I am not going to allow race to distinguish my service to this ward. What I am going to do is be a voice for the voiceless, hope for the hopeless, and help for the helpless.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Stallings says that as a candidate, he wants an act of faith.
“People are going to vote for me because they know I will not sell them down the river,” he says in a dramatic whisper. “And that’s why a man of God has established himself with credentials that clearly indicate that he doesn’t back down on his positions.”CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Darrow Montgomery.