Television newsman Tom Sherwood has seen it all during his more than three decades covering D.C. So when it came time for Southeastern University President Charlene Drew Jarvis to pick a host for an Oct. 18 benefit roast of Mayor Anthony A. Williams, the often-irreverent Sherwood was an obvious choice.
The NBC-4 veteran puts his razor-edged wit out front at nearly every press conference. Give him an excuse—such as a roast—to dish, and he can be downright wicked.
Just ask former D.C. Councilmember Harold Brazil. He’s so pissed about a Sherwood remark that he’s written the reporter a letter about it.
Here’s the context for Brazil’s complaint: When it came time for Sherwood to introduce Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans at the roast, he launched into the most obvious and clichéd dig on the D.C. council’s designated Caucasian.
“Jack Evans has a good heart,” Sherwood said sincerely. “But have you ever seen anyone as white as Jack Evans? I’m telling you.”
After the chuckles subsided, Sherwood continued, “You know some people don’t like this joke. But I’m telling it anyway,” he warned. “Back in 1998 when [Williams] was elected mayor…Jack Evans was running. He had all the developer money in his campaign. Harold Brazil was running. Some friends of mine wanted me to run,” the MC deadpanned. “And I had the perfect slogan: Vote for Tom Sherwood. He’s not as white as Jack Evans, and he’s blacker than Harold Brazil.”
And with that, Sherwood handed over the stage to an unfortunate Evans, who was forced to follow one of the best punch lines of the night.
Brazil’s letter informed Sherwood that his clever turn on the race issue wasn’t so amusing to the former councilmember, who despite having been thrown out of office two years ago still serves as the butt of John A. Wilson Building jokes. The details of the letter were not available, but Brazil apparently thought Sherwood—who is white—had crossed the oh-so-hazy line between funny and improper. Brazil did not attend the roast, but sources report that his wife, D.C. Office of Motion Picture Development Director Crystal Palmer, and at least one former Brazil staffer were on hand for Sherwood’s show-stopping gibe. The roast was also posted on the WTOP-Radio Web site.
Brazil did not return calls seeking comment. Neither did Evans, upon whom LL was counting to put the racially charged yarn in the proper humorous context.
It takes balls, and the earned respect of the black community, to be able to take a chance like Sherwood did. He’s probably the only white man in town who could be greeted by Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry Jr. with “Hey, Uncle Tom,” as happened in 2002, when then private citizen Barry endorsed the Rev. Willie Wilson for mayor. After Sherwood laughed, Barry added, “At least I didn’t call you ‘Peckerwood.’” The two sons of the South found the whole scene hilarious.
Sherwood refuses to discuss the content of the letter. The matter is now in the hands of WRC-TV lawyers, who have put the clamps on the usually loquacious reporter. He offered only the most general comment: “I never intend to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
FENTY’S ELDER STATESMAN
Mayor-elect Adrian Fenty’s pick to be his legal counsel is dispelling the notion that he should be considered the elder statesmen for a decidedly youthful administration.
At first glance, Peter Nickles, 68, seems ancient standing next to his 35-year-old boss. On the day he was appointed the mayor’s lawyer, he was joined by Fenty’s nominee to lead the D.C. Office of Attorney General, Linda Singer, 40, and his city administrator-to-be, Dan Tangherlini, 39. At 68, Nickles is twice as old as Fenty’s chief-of-staff, Tené Dolphin.
Leave it to Fenty to select an elder statesmen certain to keep up with the kids.
Nickles may be unmatched in stamina—even by his new, much younger triathalete boss. Nickles isn’t just an ironman, he’s an ultraman.
Just last year, he traveled to Hawaii to participate in one of the most grueling endurance tests on the planet: the Ultraman triathalon. Day One consists of 6.2 miles of open ocean swimming, followed by 90 miles of cycling. The next day, participants jump on the bike for a 171-mile ride. Day Three: a 52-mile run. OK, Nickles did not finish the run—he stopped after just 20 miles. According to the race Web site, he’s the oldest person to have ever competed in the race. “It would be folly to think I don’t have the energy and drive of a younger person,” says Nickles.
That same kind of over-to-top compulsive behavior means you won’t find Nickles in some back room issuing legal opinions for the mayor. “He’s expecting me to be involved in everything,” says Nickles of his new boss.
Count on Nickles to provide some much needed grounding for all the whiz kids. He’s a longtime friend of Fenty’s parents, Phil Fenty and Jan Fenty, and has known the mayor-elect since he was 5. He’s acted as the family attorney and was consulted when mayoral candidate Fenty ran into trouble over his failure to protect the assets of an elderly man. According to Nickles, it wasn’t the first time the rising politician sought his advice.
Nickles not only provides some necessary seasoning but also may become the administration hammer. Residents can feel safe knowing Fenty’s senior adviser has no problem rolling out the guillotine for poor performers. “There’s just a general reluctance to take action against folks who are supposed to be committed to helping people,” says Nickles.
Nickles has sued the city over deplorable conditions at St. Elizabeths and at the Oak Hill Youth Corrections facility. In both cases, lax performance by city employees had disastrous results for people the District is charged with protecting.
He comes off as exactly the kind of accept-no-excuses-guy who should scare the bejesus out of your midlevel D.C. government slacker. “I may be unrealistic because I haven’t worked in the government,” he says. “I know in the private sector that wouldn’t work.”
NO FEAR OF FENTY
Every potential candidate eyeing the soon-to-be-open Ward 4 D.C. Council seat knows that Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Muriel Bowser has been anointed by mayor-elect Fenty to replace him on the council. That makes her the presumed frontrunner. That is, if you believe the Fenty faithful and conventional wisdom that, in what is expected to be a crowded field, the Ward 4 golden boy’s pick will cruise to victory.
Fenty’s endorsement was supposed to clear the field and prevent a Ward 4 donnybrook that could involve as many as a dozen candidates. After all, who wants to take on a candidate backed by a guy who carried every city precinct and garnered 69 percent of the Ward 4 vote in the primary? About a week after his primary-election victory, Fenty told the Washington Post that his campaign volunteer Bowser would make an “excellent candidate.” He’s been seen introducing her at a few block parties. “I will welcome his endorsement when it comes,” Bowser says.
But at this point, no one exploring the race is intimidated by Bowser. Candidate-to-be and consultant Douglass Sloan says his conversations with activists about Bowser reveal a common theme: “Most people in the ward have never heard of her,” he says. “She’s only been active around here for a couple of years.” Bowser moved to the ward in 2000.
Renée Bowser, a Statehood/Green party member, union lawyer and an advisory neighborhood commissioner, has the same take on the blessed candidate. Last week, at an exploratory campaign announcement attended by a couple dozen supporters, Renée Bowser received the backing of Grandmother to the World and former At-Large Councilmember Hilda Mason. She also took the first shot at Muriel Bowser. “[Fenty] is Goliath, but she’s not Goliath,” she says. “She just doesn’t have a record of accomplishments that I do. Quite frankly, there really is no comparison.”
Renee Bowser has raised $12,000 for her exploratory committee, according to campaign treasurer John Gloster.
Other candidates figure the Bowser name confusion augurs that a vigorous Fenty campaign effort will at best mean a split vote for the Bowsers. Perpetual candidate Dwight Singleton, who had tied his decision to run to Fenty’s actions, is circling. So are Charles Gaither and businessman/activist T.A. Uqdah, who kicked off his own exploratory effort last week.
Former mayoral candidate Michael A. Brown has already opened an exploratory office. After dropping out of the mayor’s race and endorsing Fenty’s chief opponent, D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp, don’t expect the Muriel Bowser–Fenty axis to hamper his unapologetic political ambitions. —James Jones
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