The Oct. 19 issue describes an encounter between Mayor Fenty and Dwight Bowman, 14th District vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). This took place on Oct. 3, after the mayor gave a keynote at the National Press Club.
According to the article, Mr. Bowman planned to say something positive to the mayor. Instead, Mr. Bowman told the mayor that mayoral relations with AFGE had been rocky. When the mayor asked for examples, Mr. Bowman referred to the 2006 mayoral candidate forum in which candidate Fenty arrived late. Mr. Bowman also said that after the mayoral election, the mayor refused to meet with Mr. Bowman. At the Press Club, according to Mr. Bowman, the mayor “just looked at me, turned away, and went to another person.”
Author Mike DeBonis commented that a cornerstone of the Fenty image is that the mayor is willing to show up at any gathering or meet any group that he can make time for. The Bowman position is inconsistent with this.
I serve as president of AFGE Local 476, which represents employees at HUD. We are the second-largest federal local in the District. I have frequently conversed with Mayor Fenty. He has always been cordial and interested. In fact, on Oct. 13, 10 days after the encounter with Bowman, the mayor attended the National Italian American Foundation dinner, as did his parents. My wife, seeing another African-American (Mayor Fenty’s father) at the table next to ours, immediately went over. We all had a long, pleasant conversation, which included AFGE topics.
Mr. Bowman repeated on the AFGE weekly radio program broadcast on Oct. 19 that the 2006 mayoral candidate forum is his prime example of evidence that Mayor Fenty is hostile to AFGE. Mr. Bowman had controlled the format and decided that all candidates would participate equally. He could have set the forum up as a debate between the two leading candidates, Mr. Fenty and Ms. Cropp. There was a disappointing turnout of AFGE members at the mayoral forum. But there were many volunteers from the various mayoral campaigns, especially Ms. Cropp’s. At the time, candidate Fenty, clearly leading in the polls, was very much in demand around D.C. Nevertheless, he wanted to attend. Although Mr. Fenty arrived late, he did participate. Ms. Cropp was given the prime position on the dais, and candidate Fenty was squeezed in between the two other shaven-headed males. I am sure that Mr. Fenty was uncomfortable. The forum format did not lend itself to much debate on the issues. Candidate Fenty had numerous other events scheduled and apologized that he had to leave. Nevertheless, after he left the room, Mr. Fenty stayed around to answer pointed questions from many AFGE leaders. Mayor Fenty clearly likes discussions and is open to different views.
As we approached the 2006 primary election, Mr. Bowman always walked around with this huge Cropp button. Some of us thought this was very unwise, as not only was candidate Fenty leading but many of our D.C. resident members planned to vote for Mr. Fenty. Among those in my local, the majority saw Mr. Fenty as the candidate who would bring about much-needed change. I also thought it odd that Mr. Bowman did not wear anything supporting city council candidate Gray. In the other AFGE forum, much better organized, Mr. Gray proved to be the overwhelming favorite over Kathy Patterson.
In the City Paper article, Mr. Bowman is quoted as saying that there is “a desire on the part of the administration not to deal with those who have a different view.” Interestingly, Mr. Bowman did not raise any substantive disagreements with the mayor. In fact, had he been more astute, he would have started with the one substantive issue mentioned in the article, a proposal the mayor had floated to bring WASA back under city control, which Mr. Bowman stated AFGE supports. Had Mr. Bowman started in this manner, there probably would have been no incident and no article. Instead, Mr. Bowman began negative, and the mayor responded defensively. That Mr. Bowman repeated the campaign forum issue on the Oct. 19 radio show after this incident shows that he still does not understand.
In other words, Mayor Fenty is not anti-AFGE, nor do I think he is anti-union. But he may very well have issues with Mr. Bowman. Sadly, as to political lobbying, AFGE D.C. locals will have to fend for themselves or depend on Council Chairman Gray and other pro-AFGE Council members until Mr. Bowman is replaced.
President, AFGE Local 476 (HUD)
It is surprising that the author of your cover story on the current state of the Corcoran, “Paint by Blunders” (10/19), made no effort to contact me during its preparation, despite dealing in considerable detail with the events of my 14-year tenure as the Corcoran’s president and director. It is not surprising, therefore, that the piece contains serious errors, weakening its suggestion that our city has lost an important work of architecture while the Corcoran’s current administration and board have precipitated yet another life-threatening crisis in the institution’s 138-year history.
Most egregious of these errors is the complete mischaracterization of the $30 million gift made by Bob and Veronique Pittman and by Barry and Tracy Schuler toward the renovation of the Corcoran’s historic building and the construction of its new wing by Frank Gehry. You state in a bright red, 24-point pull quote, that fulfillment of this gift was somehow tied to the price of technology stock and that it “amounted to pretty much blip” after the high tech bust. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Although donations of this magnitude are generally pledged as a series of payments over five to 10 years, the Pittmans took the unusual and very generous step of paying their pledge in full and up front—well before tech stock prices plummeted in the early years of this decade. Furthermore, they committed to making up a relatively small discrepancy between the price of their stock (which was sold immediately upon receipt by the Corcoran) and their $15 million share of the gift, assuming that the building campaign hit the finish line.
The Schuler gift was more conventionally structured. It began with a $2 million payment, made immediately and in full, and then stretched the remaining $13 million balance over a number of years. It did, however, contain the caveat that future payments would be contingent on construction going forward. When it became clear that this was not to be the case, payments were, quite naturally, suspended.
There are other errors. Corcoran Director Paul Greenhalgh is described as the former director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, where he was actually head of research. This “promotion” is sure to raise some eyebrows in South Kensington. You state that the current board has only nine members although 18 are permitted. In fact, the limit is 30. More important, the $165 million cost of the Corcoran’s building renovation and Gehry wing (of which $110 million, not $60 million, had already been raised) is mistakenly represented as $200 million. The correct calculus strongly suggests that the Gehry building campaign was more than viable and could have gone forward, had there not been a failure of will. There is more, but you get the drift…Though your article is interesting and provocative, your conscious decision not to seek information from me, despite your knowledge that I was the key player in the Corcoran’s history from 1991 until 2005, is hard to understand. At such a challenging moment in its history, the Corcoran deserves reporting and analysis based on the most accurate and complete information available. It is unfortunate that this opportunity has been missed.
David C. Levy
Kriston Capps responds:
I called the company that presently employs Mr. Levy on two occasions and was told that a message would be relayed to him. I also wrote an e-mail to a contact address provided on the company’s Web site but received no response.
Regarding the board structure, the limit of 18 active trustees is provided by the Corcoran’s bylaws, revised Dec. 11, 2006. Article II section 1(b) states, “The Board shall consist of no more than 18 voting trustees (‘the Trustees’).”
In hopes of providing the most accurate description of costs for the Corcoran’s renovation and Gehry expansion, I asked both the Corcoran and GehryPartners LLP for comment. Corcoran Director Paul Greenhalgh would not answer questions about financial matters preceding his arrival. In an e-mail, Corcoran media relations director Kristin Guiter explained that questions regarding the building estimate would need to be answered by the Corcoran’s CFO, who was out of the office; no further response was provided. Senior associates with GehryPartners LLP did not respond to telephone and e-mail inquiries about costs. In May 2005, then Corcoran board chairman Til Hazel provided $200 million to the Washington
Post as the total figure for expansion and renovation costs; this figure was corroborated by sources.