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When Linda Cropp kicked off her mayoral bid last year, the council chairman’s political detractors were quick to tick off a list of Cropp supporters who were linked to Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry Jr. Cropp-bashers wanted everyone to believe that her ascension to the executive suite would open the doors of the John A. Wilson Building to that old Barry crowd.
Her field director, Marshall Brown, was a Barry guy. Campaign committee chair Elijah Rogers? A Barry appointee. Her civil-rights bona fides? Supplied by Barry crusader Lawrence Guyot. Even Cropp’s husband, Dwight Cropp, was at one time a close adviser to the former mayor.
The effort to soil Cropp with the Barry brush carries an obvious political note: Any Barry influence on a mayoral team would be a turnoff to residents in more affluent parts of the city. No one wants to be linked with the bad ol’ days of governmental incompetence and national embarrassment.
Over the course of the campaign, Cropp has carried the burden of the Barry cronies, opting to welcome all comers to her campaign—regardless of their political past. And what should Cropp expect for lugging the Barry baggage?
Well, it sure doesn’t look like an endorsement.
During an Aug. 18 interview on WTWP radio, Barry handicapped the race thusly: “I think Mr. Fenty seems to have been most vigorous in the area of the least, last, and the lost,” said the councilmember. And, when it comes to Barry’s political rhetoric, sticking up for the “least, last, and the lost” is about all that matters.
Both Cropp and Fenty have met with the former mayor in recent days in the hopes of gaining his support, however double-edged. Neither campaign would discuss what Barry wants in return for his blessing. But the Cropp camp can rest assured that Barry remembers a few things about his return to the council:
•Cropp continued the council tradition of not allowing newly elected councilmembers to have a committee. Barry, as a two-time former councilmember, felt entitled, arguing that if Republican At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz had a committee, he should, too. Barry was denied.
•On several occasions, Barry was publicly chided by Cropp for proposing bills that relied on his famous budgeting gimmicks. During one 2005 meeting, when Barry “found” some extra money for a low-income housing program that would have created a shortfall in future budgets, Cropp refused to let Barry move his plan. “Why not?” Barry inquired. “Because we don’t do business like that any more,” she said.
•Cropp opposed Barry’s proposal to have the city grant a 99-year lease to the foundation that runs the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center—which was the brainchild of and continues to be run by Barry ex Cora Masters Barry. Fenty voted for it.
In the radio interview, Councilmember Barry, who has been distrustful of the media at times, couldn’t resist taking some time to crow about how the city’s political climbers are again courting him. “Every other day one of them is calling me about my endorsement,” he said. “They are looking for this Barry support.”
Judging from Barry’s own nearsighted analysis, that support is formidable. “I’m so much more popular than the media would let you think,” he said in the radio interview. “My political reach goes beyond Ward 8. I’ve rebuilt it since I’ve been on the council.”
Barry has never been shy about overstating his own political might. His public pat-on-the-back will do little to bring voters out for his chosen candidate. There is no Barry machine to get busloads of senior citizens rolling to the polls for Fenty or Cropp. The once-powerful operator has now been relegated to the role of symbolic political helper.
One of the favorite topics of the city’s political chatterboxes is Barry’s political heir—the next local pol capable of connecting with the people left out of D.C.’s revival. No one has stepped up. Despite the best efforts of the mayoral candidates, the front-runners have no other peoples’ champion to turn to but Barry—a guy who is undoubtedly leaning toward supporting Fenty, the candidate he figures will win.
And besides, Barry would seem to favor a lone-wolf mayor like Fenty who, unlike Cropp, won’t be inviting his pals on the council over for dinner on the weekend. In other words, Fenty might be the kind of isolated mayor Barry thinks he can push around.
In his elder statesman role, Barry is pledging that east-of-the-river residents won’t be forgotten by the candidate he endorses. “We have a history of false promises,” Barry said. He should know. While the champion of the downtrodden sat in the mayor’s office for four terms, Washington suffered from dismal schools, a crime epidemic, and a failure of basic city services.
Despite his Fenty leanings, when asked directly whether he’d already decided on his endorsement, Barry decided to keep the wannabes calling. “I’m close,” he said.
He pledged to unveil his selection after an Aug. 31 forum in Ward 8. None of the mayoral candidates have yet been officially informed of the event.
WHERE IS WILLIAMS?
Mayor Anthony A. Williams has mostly been missing in action when it comes to stumping for his mayoral choice, Cropp.
What has the mayor done for the chairman lately? Williams likes to emphasize his communications skills. “I’ve been on the phone,” he says. “I’ve been engaged big-time raising money for her.” So far, Williams’ role has been financing glossy mailings questioning Fenty’s record and attack pieces for radio and television.
With Williams on the Cropp team, Fenty doesn’t really need to work too hard to get his message out. When asked why he thinks Cropp is trailing in the polls, the mayor sounded like a Fenty strategist: “I always thought it would be tough,” Williams says. “This is a year of change across the country. It’s an anti-incumbent year,” he says, echoing the central Fenty message, which paints Cropp as the status quo candidate. During his Aug. 24 weekly press conference, the mayor even added some weight to Fenty’s only undisputed skill: “I don’t agree with people who say campaigning and governing are completely different.”
Still, the mayor is sitting by the phone waiting for a call for help. “I’m open to doing whatever she wants to right now where I think I can be very effective,” the mayor says.
Maybe he can start by being seen around town a bit more. Last week, he had no public events on the schedule and made no appearances on Cropp’s behalf. “It is August,” reasons mayoral spokesperson Vince Morris.
Cropp swears that the mayor, who has lost even more standing in the city because of his heavy travel schedule, will soon be going door-to-door with her in select city neighborhoods.
Privately, the Cropp faithful concede that the Williams endorsement won’t deliver the pop they had hoped for. A Washington Post poll in July showed a strong majority of voters looking for the city to move in a different direction. The mayor’s travel schedule has strengthened the notion that he’s become a disinterested leader just running out the clock on his term in office.
Two Cropp insiders describe the mayor’s campaign performance as “disappointing.”
•The Washington Post has ramped up the stakes in the hotly contested at-large D.C. Council race: Judging from the reporter assigned to the contest, the loser among the two main contestants might be written off as politically dead.
The pre-election profile of the Democratic primary contest between attorney A. Scott Bolden and incumbent Phil Mendelson was written by Joe Holley, a Metro reporter currently assigned to the Post’s obituaries desk.
“I’ve been helping him write it for the last 21 months,” Bolden jokes, about what he sees as a Mendelson political obit. “I ought to be done by 10 p.m. Sept. 12.”
Even though vanquished long-term incumbents are most often chalked up as dead if defeated by an upstart, Mendelson thinks Bolden has overlooked a few details.
“He left me to interview Scott,” Mendelson says of Holley. “That would suggest we are both dead.”
•Some candidates in the crowded Ward 3 contest might be concerned about a little-known candidate getting an unexpected boost from top D.C. business groups. But Eric Goulet’s endorsement by the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Washington Board of Trade isn’t creating much fear. He wasn’t even mentioned in the Post editorial backing law professor Mary Cheh.
Besides, everyone in the race figures Goulet’s old boss, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, had the business-group endorsement wired anyway.
But Goulet received much bigger recognition this week than the business groups could have delivered: One of the presumed leaders in the race—Paul Strauss—tried to take Goulet down a notch. “He’s a good committee clerk,” Strauss quipped about the former Committee on Finance and Revenue staffer. “If I win, I would love to hire Eric if Jack doesn’t take him back.”
Goulet is amused by the Strauss dig. “I don’t know if Paul would make my staff,” he says. “I’d have to think about it.”—James Jones
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