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Leroy “The Dancing Bear” Barron gets a 30-minute break each day at his job. Time enough for one tall boy. “That’s all I need,” bellows the Bear. Until quitting time, that is. On a recent weekday evening, he’s just entered Decatur Liquors, looking more than satisfied, a neat row of Buds and Millers lined up before him. The Bear is here for Round Two, another dance with the single can.
That’s all it takes. “’Cause I be rolling,” the Bear says. “The two-step.” The Bear then demonstrates a kung-fu-fighting variation on the robot before scrambling down 14th Street NW. As the Bear demonstrates, singles are the city’s other Supercans—the ones that wear mini brown bags and end up as lawn ornaments: 211 Steel Reserve’s “High Gravity Lager,” Bud Ice, Miller Ice—anything branded with the word “Ice.”
Across town, at 6th and S Streets NW, at 9:30 p.m., Derrick Daniels leans against a friend’s dark-blue truck, Steel Reserve in hand. In the truck bed, a haggard man in a FUBU jersey leans in behind a woman and gropes at her thick midsection. She just squirms and giggles as he pinches her gut. They both have tall boys. Two other pals start up a riff on the price of the renovated red-brick house next door: $633,500. “This Beauty has all the Bells and Whistles,” boasts the brochure.
They all used to live here before the bells and whistles. Now, they just come back for curbside reunions. “It’s kind of poetic,” Daniels says. “It’s you and your beer.”
Fenty does not see poetry in such things. He sees only crime blotters filled with beer-fueled mischief: public urination, open containers, disorderly conduct, noise violations, simple assaults. And he sees a lot of NIMBYs who vote. Ever since his first term as councilmember, he’s wanted to bring a temperance movement to his ward, particularly along the Georgia Avenue corridor. In 2001, he made his first attempt to outlaw single cans of beer and malt liquor—an initiative that failed.
Undaunted, Fenty made the issue into a crusade, which also included fighting liquor licenses before the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board. Fenty staffer Doug Payton was regularly dispatched to attend hearings for Ward 4 liquor establishments. Payton refused comment for this story.
Paul L. Pascal, president and general counsel of the District of Columbia Association of Beverage Alcohol Wholesalers, recalls seeing a Fenty aide at hearings. “Whenever the renewals would come up, there would be mass protests in his ward,” Pascal says. “One of Mr. Fenty’s staff would be at the hearings to assist the neighbors….He assisted in any fashion he could. It was also a message to [the neighbors] that Fenty was supporting them.”
Even a vendor who didn’t sell to the public got targeted. Howard Rosenberg, owner of House of Wines Inc., a wholesale outlet that had been in business since 1940, says Fenty’s minions challenged the renewal of his license a few years ago. He had been in business, he says, since before many of the area’s houses were built.
“They protested it because they claimed that our trucks went through their neighborhood,” says Rosenberg, 78, whose business was located on Chillum Place until its recent bankruptcy. “We had four trucks….The people next door to us was the post office. They had over 300 trucks….There were people who really thought we were a liquor store. They didn’t understand we were a wholesaler. They are going to fight any license that’s posted.”
Rosenberg blames Fenty for the opposition. “I heard that anything that has to deal with liquor, he fights,” Rosenberg explains. The wholesaler eventually got his license renewed. City officials say they have no record of a formal protest against House of Wines Inc.
In April 2004, Fenty renewed his campaign for a single-sales ban. This time, it encountered boisterous opposition from several on the council dais, including NIMBY champion and Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose. A month later, Fenty came back with a “targeted” four-year moratorium on single sales in his ward. This legislation finally passed but never went into effect.
Two liquor sellers promptly filed suit in federal court. In mid-June 2005, District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer struck down Fenty’s single-sales ban. The judge argued that the ban had passed without the required public notice. In her ruling, she noted that the councilmember’s targeted ban was “veiled gerrymandering” and that “if the public had been given the opportunity to participate in this legislative debate and if the Councilmembers had been afforded the requisite thirteen days to consider the changes, the result may have been different.”
The District has since appealed Judge Collyer’s decision. If the city loses its appeal, you can expect Fenty to continue his effort to slap the beer from the working man’s hand. That means bringing another round of legislation banning single brews.
“There’s very little I can do,” says Pascal, who represented the liquor stores in the federal-court case. “If he becomes mayor, I’ll pick up the phone and call him and say he ran a very good campaign. How soon our industry will become a target, I don’t know.”
Security Detail Drivers
Throughout his six years in the public eye, Fenty has tried to cast himself as a populist—a posture that could have some unfortunate repercussions for at least some working-class types in D.C.: chauffeurs.
During the campaign, Fenty was constantly behind the wheel of his well-worn Ford Expedition. Meanwhile, his chief rival, D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp, got ferried around town in a Crown Victoria.
Fenty’s insistence on driving stems in part from his feeling that he knows the city better than anyone else. Another factor is his dedication to ditching the trappings of the Royal D.C. Council.
And since Fenty is one of those guys who dispenses with the distinctions between campaigning and governing, what’s to stop him from piloting the behemoth mayoral Lincoln Navigator come January? After all, the mayor’s ride is just a secure line to the White House and a few hundred pounds removed from Fenty’s humble Expedition. The drivers who now serve Mayor Anthony A. Williams might have to cozy up to some of those new congressional reps who prevail in the midterms.
The almost mayor-elect would not comment on the details of his driving plans. Mayor Williams’ press office provides only scant information about the current arrangement. “The mayor sat down with police chief Charles H. Ramsey when he took office. He did follow the recommendations of the chief,” says spokesperson Sharon Gang. “But we don’t discuss security precautions.”
A former Williams administration official says there is no law that bars the mayor from taking control of the Navigator. Members of the mayor’s palace guard, however, may have something on the young mayor-to-be: They are professional drivers trained in counteracting a vehicular assault. “They’ll give him the Greyhound pitch,” this source says. “‘Leave the driving to us.’”
The qualities that make a powerhouse D.C. councilmember have morphed over the years. In the ’70s, the council was packed with civil rights vets who valued winning shouting matches as much as serving their constituents. In the ’80s, working on the council was a high-profile second job. Things started to change in the mid-to-late ’90s, when operating as a legislator dedicated to ending D.C.’s history of incompetence was viewed as the ticket to the mayoral suite.
The Fenty victory ushers in a new era: the age of political hustle.
Linda Cropp’s John A. Wilson Building–centered campaign strategy fell flat for city voters, who didn’t seem to care that she was in her office finessing bills while Fenty was on the streets. So what’s the point in racking up an impressive legislative record when just about every candidate in every citywide political contest is selling exactly the same thing?
That means ambitious pols will veer away from the tedious work of lawmaking as a ticket to electoral success. Therefore, the following council vets must be considered losers in a Fenty political kingdom:
•Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans
The council’s real nuts-and-bolts budget-and-tax man has consistently hammered the BlackBerry prowess of the next mayor-to-be. Evans must have been boiling when he saw Fenty’s television advertisement painting the buzzing, hand-held device in a positive light. With the District’s financial outlook again looking a bit wobbly, Evans will invariably be forced to make the tough choices about how to keep the government in the black. His payoff? Nothing.
“Adrian tapped into a part of the District government where people are quite frustrated,” Evans says of his colleague’s laserlike focus on constituent services. He blames the elevation of Fenty as government-service hero on a gullible press corps: “Don’t fault Adrian. He played you guys, and you bought it.” He rips press reports claiming Fenty’s office is somehow special in the way it serves city residents. “To say that Adrian has the best-run council office is absurd,” says Evans. “I do.”
•Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson
Fenty’s win rubs salt in the wounds of Patterson’s defeat in the chair’s race at the hands of a colleague who has served 20 months. Patterson is the quintessential legislator who is willing to put in the hours. She’s no Fenty-basher, but she now occupies a firm place in the legislative-skills-are-overrated hall of fame.
•At-Large Councilmember David Catania
The council’s most vicious and skilled attack dog has delivered results. Sure, his commitment, smarts, and skills—and status as an independent—mean he’ll win election to another four years. But he can also look forward to dealing with a mayor whose approach to killing the baseball stadium consisted of spouting some rhetoric in front of the cameras. Catania, by contrast, tried to take down the sports moguls by painstakingly compiling a case against the ballpark. It sucks for Catania, but he’s smart enough to find room to agree with Fenty—particularly if it involves smacking around a few unresponsive government bureaucrats. “The qualifications to be a political rock star and the qualifications required to get things done in the trenches are two different skills,” says Catania. “I’m committed to a fresh start with the executive.”
Virginia Hayes Williams
The mayor’s mother has clearly been one of the public stars of a charisma-challenged Williams administration. Virginia Williams, 80, burst onto the D.C. music scene in 1999 when she sang “The Lord’s Prayer” at her son’s inauguration. After the press learned she once sang backup on a Ray Charles record, Williams was in demand at churches and senior events across town.
Mother Williams also reveled in the role of de facto first lady of the city, largely because the mayor’s wife, Diane Simmons Williams, spurned the spotlight.
Fenty’s ascendancy cratered any hopes that Virginia Williams will remain a fixture on a glad-handing circuit that included such showcases as senior lunches, city ceremonies, and church picnics. The mayoral mum was a very public backer of Linda Cropp long before her son Tony was.
When contacted by a reporter, Williams said she was “not interested” in talking about her future role in either the city’s political or music scenes.
Correctional Officers for the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services
The union for correctional officers at the city’s Oak Hill Youth Detention Center laid out a two-stage blueprint for offending a dynamic and crusading new mayor.
First, call for the resignation of acclaimed Fenty hero—Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) Director Vincent Schiraldi. Vinny is the prototype agency leader Fenty will hire as mayor. His youth-corrections reform effort sounds like a Fenty campaign speech: It relies on best practices borrowed from other jurisdictions.
Second, endorse Michael Brown. Not only did Brown drop out a week after the guards jumped on his sinking ship, but Brown immediately backed Cropp and began trashing Fenty. Brown’s first volley included the suggestion Fenty lacked the courage to be mayor.
The DYRS guards, who have legitimate concerns about their own safety and the safety of the troubled children they supervise, are the prime example of a group of D.C. employees refusing to let go of the old ways. They have resisted Schiraldi’s efforts to remake the youth-corrections agency. Schiraldi has adopted the so-called Missouri model, named after that state’s successful youth-rehab program. The new approach focuses on counseling, rehabilitation, and alternatives to incarceration. The guards are upset, in part, because Schiraldi ordered that they scale back on some time-honored punishments for kids detained at Oak Hill.
No doubt the Fenty faithful will remember the Brown for Mayor press release quoting Glenn Adams, who chairs the DYRS guards’ Labor Committee. “Fenty has not been responsive,” the statement reads. “When we needed someone to listen and try to address our problems, Michael Brown stepped up to the plate.”
The guards can count on Fenty being responsive after he’s sworn in next year: He’ll be siding with Schiraldi. Adams and his fellow guards should go ahead and dump that boot-camp training manual.
During one mayoral forum before a group of ministers, all of the candidates were asked to state their church affiliation before delivering opening statements. The soon-to-be mayor-elect didn’t flinch. Fenty knew better than to try to put something over on a bunch of preachers. He reported that he is not a member of any church.
D.C.’s once-powerful churches weren’t very high on the list of Fenty drop-bys during the campaign. He hit a couple congregations just before the election but refrained from delivering any sermons of his own, despite seizing the title of champion to the last, the least, and the lost.
Fenty knows where the votes are. The parking lots around most of D.C.’s megachurches are filled with cars carrying Maryland tags. While other D.C. politicians pay a lot of lip service to the religious community, Fenty merely shows a necessary respect for the clergy and their Prince George’s County–heavy flocks.
The Rev. Ronald Braxton of Metropolitan AME Church, pastor to mayoral candidates Vincent Orange and Marie Johns, is confident that Fenty’s political antennae will draw him back into the church. “I think that any mayor with any sense would understand, ‘If I am to be successful, I don’t just need the preachers in the pulpit but the people in the pews,’” says Braxton, who clearly understands how to reach a committed populist.
With no church home-base, Fenty may be the hottest free-agent soul in the city right now. Braxton suspects he’ll have plenty of open pulpits around town. “I’m sure [Fenty] will be invited to come to churches throughout the city to state his case. Hopefully, he can state it in such a way that the church can support [him] and [his] administration.”
And just in case the mayor-to-be might be uncomfortable with too much mainstream Christian verbiage, Braxton has some supreme-being-flexible advice: “I would hope that any person seeking public office and holding public office would have a connection with, and a sense of, a higher power driving humanity.”
As the de facto Dashiell Hammett of D.C., George Pelecanos has set his gritty tales of murder and mayhem in neighborhoods across the city. But there’s no area Pelecanos has shown himself to be more fond of than the middle-class Northwest neighborhoods east of the park. Places like Brightwood, Park View, Petworth, Manor Park—it’s in these spots, up and down Georgia Avenue NW, that Pelecanos’ D.C. is most real, a place with tight families and tidy houses alongside dingy bars and the occasional pit-bull fight.
It’s home to decent yet flawed characters like Derek Strange, the black, Ennio Morricone–lovin’, one-time cop who grew up in Petworth and stayed there, opening a private-eye business on 9th between Kansas and Upshur. He coaches his stepson’s pee-wee football team on the field behind Roosevelt Senior High, and he’s not above the occasional trip to a neighborhood massage parlor for a happy ending. In Pelecanos’ latest, The Night Gardener, upstanding homicide detective Gus Ramone makes his home in a yellow colonial on Rittenhouse Street NW. He does his best to raise his son right, though he makes sure young Diego’s well-versed in the code of the streets, growing up half-white in tough Manor Park.
Pelecanos’ fictional turf is also where Adrian Fenty built his political career, in no small part by promising to rid Georgia Avenue of its liquor stores, massage parlors, and all the other gritty details Pelecanos so treasures. And, yes, the novelist has noticed—as one junkie informant muses in The Night Gardener, “Now you had politicians, like that ambitious light-skinned dude, councilman for that area up top of Georgia, trying to make laws about loitering and stopping cats from buying single cans of beer….The light-skinned dude, he didn’t really care about folks hanging out, and he didn’t care if a man wanted to enjoy himself one beer on a summer night. But he was running for mayor, so there it was.”
And now he will be mayor, so there it is. You can bet Fenty will make redeveloping Georgia Avenue one of the cornerstones of his mayoral legacy. Condos are already going up next to the Petworth Metro, complete with a Mocha Hut below. It’s only a matter of time before Ward 4 goes the Starbucks-infested way of “Silver Sprung,” a development Silver Spring resident Pelecanos has long hated. And once that happens, it won’t be too long before the Ennio Morricone–lovin’ private dicks get priced right out of the neighborhood.
Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry
A week before the decisive Democratic primary, Barry issued his endorsement of Fenty. The show of support followed the Washington Post’s Fenty endorsement and polls showing him comfortably ahead of Cropp in the mayoral contest. The tardy attempt to play kingmaker came so late that it was clear to everyone that Barry just wanted to be in the winner’s circle.
Two days after the endorsement, Barry and Fenty were both on hand for the city’s annual Elder Day event. Fenty worked the crowd on one side of Freedom Plaza, while Barry held court on the other. It was perhaps the only place Fenty could have safely bet on drawing some benefit from a public Barry hug. The former mayor is still a rock star among seniors.
Even so, Fenty kept his distance.
Fenty had the obligatory pre-election conversations with the D.C. political legend. And as the campaign wore on, Barry tried his best to convince the press that his nod was worth tons of votes, proclaiming at one point that in two years as councilmember he’d rebuilt his support base citywide.
Yet Barry apparently couldn’t even convince Fenty to appear with him for an endorsement photo op. When Barry sent an e-mail to reporters announcing he had anointed Fenty the new champion for the least, the last, and the lost, he didn’t extend the same courtesy to the Fenty team.
Barry knows all about mayoral honeymoons. You’ll certainly see him at Fenty’s side in the coming weeks—even if the mayor-to-be would rather not have him around.
Channel 4 Political Reporter Tom Sherwood
The Fenty era could be a humorless one for a press corps accustomed to a lively give-and-take with Mayor Williams at his weekly press conferences. No reporter has a better time mixing it up with Captain Bow Tie than Sherwood, who has become the local expert at eliciting the mayor’s sardonic brand of humor.
On the campaign trail, Fenty demonstrated an uncanny and maddening ability to stay on message. When asked by reporters about his well-publicized failures as a lawyer, Fenty responded, “As of right now, there has only been one case that there has ever been a problem with, and I have admitted wrongdoing about that case.” When pressed further, he hit the rewind button: “As of right now there has only been one case that there has ever been a problem, and I have admitted wrongdoing about that case.”
There’s no reason to believe that the message discipline will wane as the Democratic primary victor transitions to mayor-elect and, come January, the city’s chief executive. His mayoral campaign marked the end of Fenty as the press-friendly politician who does his own PR. Nowadays, reporters are increasingly getting the following line from Fentydom: Please e-mail your questions to the campaign’s spokesperson.
These are not great developments for the press corps. “The funny thing about his staying on message is I don’t see any humor in it yet,” says Sherwood, who thinks Fenty may decide to scrap the weekly battle with the press. “Mayor Williams has a dry sense of humor. I’m not sure what Adrian’s sense of humor is….He doesn’t joke around.”
In the long run, that makes D.C. political junkies the losers. But Sherwood figures events will force the new mayor out of canned-response mode. “Adrian, to my knowledge, has never been subjected to a sustained barrage of questions about events he doesn’t want to talk about….You can’t stay on message when things aren’t going well,” says Sherwood. “If he stays on message, he’ll be pummeled by the commentariat.”
Perhaps D.C. Cable Channel 16 devotees will be joining those city residents who jumped on the Fenty train just for the thrill of the unknown. “He has a big toothy grin,” says Sherwood. “But we don’t know what else.”
The D.C. Jail’s Mentally Ill
During a live televised debate in the mayoral primary, Fenty declared that he would push local law enforcement to institute a zero-tolerance policy for petty crimes. The declaration reflect’s Fenty’s embrace of the “broken-window” theory of urban management: If cops enforce quality-of-life crimes such as vandalism, panhandling, and petty theft, criminals will most likely not graduate to bigger crimes. Neighborhoods become safer and cleaner. Residents become more accountable.
It has been a popular theory among top cops, especially since its successful implementation in New York City in the ’90s. By the end of that decade, then–D.C. Police Chief Larry D. Soulsby imposed zero-tolerance policing on his troops as a way to stave off a high crime rate and low morale among his top commanders. While arrests skyrocketed, so did incidents of bad police work, and the initiative never fully took hold. It effectively ended when Soulsby was forced out of the department under a cloud of scandal.
If there is anybody who can repackage zero tolerance for the District’s residents, it’s Fenty. In his whirlwind campaign stops and speeches, he chants about the “best practices” that cities around the country have employed to solve common ills. In the same breath comes a line or two about zero tolerance. Since no candidate wants to be known as soft on crime, Fenty’s policing strategies have gotten a pass throughout the campaign.
In Fenty’s D.C., however, zero tolerance stands zero chance of working as it did in New York. The lesson of the Big Apple is that policing is just a small part of zero tolerance. When a small-time offender gets a ride downtown for a drunk and disorderly, other agencies must spring into action. The offender may need substance-abuse counseling and a slew of what urban-policy cognoscenti call “wraparound” services to keep him from succumbing again to his pathologies.
While Mayor Anthony A. Williams came into office promising a variation on the broken-windows theory with wraparound services and police officers as familiar with public works as with drug perps, the District currently has only the skeletal outlines of the services New York City provides its addicts, its indigent, and its mentally ill.
Lou Cannon, president of the D.C. chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, says zero tolerance would take more than just rank-and-file cooperation. “If you don’t do something about youth rehabilitation services, public works that supports the police, you are wasting your time,” he explains. “Zero tolerance works as long as you have support functions built in to facilitate it.
“I don’t think you can say [the department] is not prepared for it,” Cannon goes on to say. “I think you have to say the D.C. government is not prepared for it. I think Mr. Fenty is big on constituent services. His constituency is going to be expanded. You can easily respond to 100 requests. Multiply it a hundredfold, and you got a real problem. I don’t know if he has grasped that yet.”
The closest the District has come to replicating New York City’s model is located in Superior Court courtroom 115—its “community court.” This is where quality-of-life crimes are adjudicated. According to Dan Cipullo, director of the court’s criminal division, more than 13,000 such cases have passed through the community court so far this fiscal year.
The whole point is that most of the defendants who pass through Courtroom 115 should feel the embrace of the city’s support services, not a jail cell. The problem, court officials say, is that what they are able to provide is never enough. Most defendants are offered little more than a piece of paper listing phone numbers of treatment facilities. Papers are not as powerful as social workers, bed space at treatment centers, or other tangible options.
“The big challenge is services,” explains Superior Court Chief Judge Rufus King. He adds that he’s had good cooperation from city agencies. But cooperation only goes so far. “It’s resources. These are all very labor-intensive services.”
While not in its budget mandate, Pre-Trial Services saw need enough to allocate five beds for community-court defendants seeking drug treatment. But if the five beds are filled, court officials say, defendants have to look elsewhere for treatment. Or get their names on a waiting list.
Mentally ill defendants can count on even less. Between September 2004 and April 2006, the court tried to interview 961 community-court defendants, and 578 agreed to be interviewed. Of those interviewed, roughly 25 percent were identified as needing mental-health services, 44 percent were identified as needing alcohol treatment, and 28 percent admitted drug-abuse problems. For mentally ill defendants, the court’s resources amount to providing quick screenings in lockup and then mostly just “voluntary referrals.” The Department of Mental Health employs only one staffer to handle community court.
King says mentally ill defendants are a “significant” issue. “It’s across the system,” he says. “We need more mental-health beds for people that need to be in the hospital and more outpatient facilities….Do we see a lot of mental illness? Yes.”
All this means is that if Fenty goes off half-cocked, mentally ill residents can look forward to spending a lot more time in the D.C. Jail, a place whose recent history is marked by overcrowded conditions and problems with releasing inmates on time.
As of Sept. 5, the jail was roughly 400 inmates below maximum capacity while the Correctional Treatment Facility was over its operating capacity by more than 100 inmates. Halfway houses were overstocked by 29 residents.
Fenty’s move may only exacerbate this existing problem. According to Department of Corrections spokesperson Beverly Young, “approximately one-third of all inmates in DOC custody” receive or have received “some form of mental-health services.”
The D.C. narrative of dysfunction is familiar to the father of the broken-windows theory. George L. Kelling, a Rutgers professor and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, developed the theory, publishing an article on it in 1982 for the Atlantic Monthly. He later helped New York City implement the strategy. He has since seen his theory get abused by other big-city mayors—politicians, he says, who have little understanding of the strategy beyond the buzzwords and lust for arrests. “It’s very frustrating at times,” Kelling says. “God save you from your disciples.”CP
Additional writing by Mike DeBonis.
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Darrow Montgomery.