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Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry Jr. picked an unusual target to attack during last week’s debate over Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ crime-emergency package.
He wasn’t all over an administration that hasn’t put enough cops on the street. The champion of the downtrodden didn’t criticize the local media, which manages to overlook the murders that take place east of the Anacostia River. When Barry got his chance to address the failures of the city on public safety, he questioned the crime-fighting credentials of Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson.
Barry kicked off his harangue by announcing with great disgust that “people are being murdered on the streets of Washington!” He should know something about murders. When the police chief reported to Mayor Barry, the District’s annual homicide tally topped 440 for four years running. (In 2005, the city recorded 196 murders).
Then Barry began to zero in on his mark: “Some of our colleagues are soft on handguns,” he bellowed. “Soft! On! Handguns!” Barry then held up a D.C. map and gave a quick tour of where handguns have been seized. At the end he noted that seizures were “very few in Ward 3.”
“Yet we sit around and are nice and gentle about guns,” Barry said. “Mrs. Patterson, I know you care, but you don’t care enough.”
Barry is apparently miffed at Patterson’s unwillingness to support his bill, which would force judges to impose a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence upon those convicted of handgun possession. Patterson is no fan of the mandatory minimum. “The research shows mandatory minimums do not serve to deter crime and do not serve to rehabilitate,” she says. “[Mandatory minimums] tend to send lots of young African-American men to prison.” She backs an approach that gives judges more leeway in dealing with first-time offenders, including the option to lock up convicted gun toters for 10 years. That’s not tough enough for Barry.
“I’m gonna start naming names on this council,” Barry shouted, “and let the public know you are soft on guns.” He also rattled off a list of members who share his views, including Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray, Patterson’s only opponent in the Democratic primary race for council chair.
Patterson took full advantage of the D.C. Council rule that gives any member a chance to respond to an ad hominem attack. “As the member from Ward 8 may not be aware, before he returned to public service, this council passed legislation that put 200 officers back on the street,” she said. Patterson reminded Barry that it was her leadership that helped cut down on the number of officers behind desks for extended sick leave and that pressed Chief Charles Ramsey for greater deployments. “I take a back seat to no one on this dais in working to address crime in this District,” she said.
Patterson has never tried to buddy up to Barry. When he took office in 2005, most councilmembers had nothing but praise for the man who had driven the city to the brink of bankruptcy. Patterson was silent.
That’s perhaps why Barry has been so vocal about the upper Northwest councilmember. In recent public meetings, Barry has stated that Gray will be a close ally after he defeats Patterson in the election.
Such talk sounds a lot like an endorsement. But then, who wants an endorsement from Barry? Gray runs strong in the parts of the city where the Barry magic might still hold sway. Elsewhere, though, Patterson is the one who stands to benefit from a Barry–Gray alliance.
When Gray was asked whether he had the former mayor’s nod, he instructed LL to “ask Mr. Barry.”
Gray hasn’t been lobbying Barry for his support, but he’s certainly not too picky about his endorsers. At a July 24 event, Gray basked in the approbation of such old-school greats as former council chairmen Sterling Tucker and Arrington Dixon and former councilmembers Frank Smith, Sandy Allen, Nadine Winter, and Jerry Moore.
Maybe Gray is saving the Barry nod for a future event unveiling his east-of-the-river coalition. At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown attended the endorsement bash and said he will be backing a chair candidate soon.
Patterson’s take: “We all know who Mr. Barry is supporting.”
CRIME EMERGENCY REPORT CARD
Last Wednesday, the council passed the crime bill in an emergency session. Ward 4 councilmember and mayoral front-runner Adrian Fenty cast the lone vote against a bill that set an earlier youth curfew, put four surveillance cameras on the street, and gave the police easier access to juvenile-offender records. Here are LL’s marks on the big crime debate:
Linda Cropp: F
The chairman’s support for the emergency session and the bill shows the politics of appearances will be safe in a Cropp administration. Crime wave hits the city; public officials express concern; mayor and council work together on incremental public-safety reforms. Everyone celebrates.
Cropp has taken the safe approach in her pursuit of the executive suite. She embraces her role as Williams’ natural successor, constantly reminding voters that more of the same is on the way. As she piles up endorsements from the city’s power elite, she loses more voters looking for a new direction.
Cropp waited several days before personally bashing Fenty after a Washington Post poll revealed she was down nine points to her young rival.
Adrian Fenty: D
Fenty’s bold move had him all over the papers, on television, and even on National Public Radio. Too bad Fenty’s signature lack of interest in matters related to council legislation dampened the boost he might get from being the only member to shun the political no-brainer.
During the session, Fenty could have served up his own crime plan. But Fenty took the easy way out. He offered no amendments during a public exercise that was big on show and short on substance. His only response to the emergency package was to say that none of the measures would force the police to do a better job.
Before the vote, LL asked Fenty if he might be able to round up four of his colleagues to kill the emergency bill. “I have no idea,” he replied. When asked whether he had even spoken to any of his fellow councilmembers about their positions prior to the vote, Fenty simply said, “No.”
Vincent Orange: D
The Ward 5 councilmember’s attempts to reiterate that he was the first guy to come up with an amendment to add 400 officers to the police department were lost in Fenty–Cropp dust-up. With only 4 percent support in the Post poll, Orange is now officially an also-ran.
Jack Evans: B+
for dramatic flair
The Ward 2 councilmember’s constituents, from the usually safe Georgetown to more unsettled Shaw, are pissed. Their rep reached red-in-the-face fury within seconds of seizing the floor. The two highest-profile murders of recent weeks occurred in his ward, and Evans was sure as hell going to let his constituents know that he was pissed off too.
He also summed up the real purpose of the crime-emergency bill for those few people watching on cable who thought the goal was reducing crime. “There are nine people on this dais running for an election in 57 days,” he said.
Claims of midnight sign-nabbing by thugs from rival camps are so common in the District that most serious politicos ignore them. And so most people wrote off the disappearance of signs for Ward 3 council candidates Paul Strauss and Eric Goulet from Connecticut and Wisconsin Avenues.
In this case, though, the disappearing sign mystery turned out to be not so difficult to solve. Both Strauss and Goulet were told that the signs were yanked from signal lights by the D.C. Department of Transportation. City officials told them the removal was a mistake and that the signs would be returned.
OK, so just some overzealous enforcement by city employees? Perhaps. But consider that one of the leading candidates in the Ward 3 race—in this case Bill Rice—left a high-profile job at DDOT.
“It does seem a bit peculiar that DDOT admitted to taking down the signs, and we have a candidate in the race that used to work at the agency,” says Strauss. “Not that I’m making any kind of accusation, of course.”
Rice was chagrined over being linked to any action by DDOT. “I know absolutely nothing about this,” he says. “I quit my DDOT job.” Rice says he has never spoken to anyone at DDOT about campaign signs.
Turns out some bureaucrats felt the signs created a distraction, according to Department of Public Works spokesperson Mary Myers, who says the placards ended up with DPW.
DDOT spokesperson Karyn LeBlanc says the whole episode began when “someone called” the city’s main call center claiming the signs were obstructing traffic signals. That’s when the crack inspectors and field staff at DDOT sprung into action. “Those signs were removed,” says LeBlanc.
The Strauss camp says the obstruction must have been much more widespread than they ever noticed. A DPW staffer dropped off 42 signs at Strauss campaign headquarters on Tuesday. Goulet says he hasn’t been able to hook up with the city to get his back.
“I asked them if they were going to put them back up for me, but they said no,” says Goulet, who tapped into a meager campaign treasury to have the signs posted. “They suggested I file a claim for the loss.”—James Jones
On the Spot
For political consultants in town, Fenty’s vote presents a golden opportunity. What media-savvy campaign Svengali isn’t pitching a radio spot for the rival campaign of council Chairman Linda Cropp? LL figures he’ll save them all some time and give the citizenry an idea of what we have to look forward to on the airwaves. This ready-for-drive-time ditty is offered at no charge to the Cropp faithful:
(Music: dramatic, throbbing, intense)
Voiceover: During the first two weeks of July, a crime wave sweeps across the District of Columbia.
Fourteen killings in 12 days.
Armed robberies across the city.
D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp takes action. Cropp calls an emergency session and passes legislation to keep violent criminals off the streets and make our neighborhoods safer.
Every councilmember but one followed Cropp’s lead to get tough on crime.
The councilmember who voted against it?
Adrian Fenty, who called Cropp’s crime-fighting package a political stunt.
And what did he propose as an alternative?
Fenty offered nothing.
When the mayor met with the council before the vote, Fenty left early to go out and campaign to be mayor.
Is this the kind of leadership you need in the mayor’s office?
(Music: friendly, buoyant, triumphant)
On Sept. 12, vote to keep D.C. moving forward. Vote Linda Cropp.
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