D.C.’s short history of quasi self-government hasn’t produced many towering political names worthy of attaching to government buildings and roads. Sure, there’s the John A. Wilson Building and the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, which carry the names of D.C. Council chairs that died before their time.
Posthumous dedications, though, do nothing for the egos of the living. That’s where the Marion S. Barry Jr. Professional Learning Community comes in. Last week, officials at Ballou Senior High School slapped that title on what was formerly known as the Ward 8 Learning Community, an education facility housed in the school.
The renaming came complete with the de rigueur ceremony, followed by remarks from Barry, who represents Ward 8 on the council. “This is a very nice name for an education center,” said the former four-term mayor after basking in a standing ovation and posing for pictures with the gold sign that will be mounted at the Ballou library doorway. The forum for the Barry-monument ceremony was the May 25 graduation of the first class of certified nurse assistants from a venture involving the University of the District of Columbia and Ballou. The program’s classes take place in the newly christened Barry space.
This wasn’t some gimme, the kind of honor bestowed upon a fading legend simply for surviving political and personal struggles. By all accounts, he was personally involved in getting the certificate program off the ground. In his address to the graduates, Barry recounted how he had presented the learning-center idea in the office of Federal City Council President Terry Golden. He had also convinced UDC President William Pollard to reach out across the Anacostia.
But a plaque in the hallway of a crumbling and troubled high school may well end up as the only tribute to the man who dominated the city for more than half of the 31 years of D.C.’s limited self-rule. After all, what up-and-coming politico is going to sponsor legislation to name future public-works projects after a drug user and tax scofflaw?
The crowd on hand to watch Barry join the band of memorialized immortals was decidedly parochial. In addition to the graduates, Barry was joined by his council staff; his minister, Temple of Praise Bishop Glen Staples; and longtime Barry pal, Ward 8 Business Council President Robert James. Barry’s girlfriend, Chenille Spencer, stood up when Barry asked those assembled to recognize his staff.
Barry didn’t speak to LL after the ceremony, repeating his often-stated ban on addressing the Washington City Paper.
BOLDEN CAN’T HELP HIMSELF
Most politicians try to beat their opponents in the race for campaign cash by going out and raising funds—not by draining their opponents’ accounts.
Then there’s at-large D.C. Council candidate A. Scott Bolden.
Both the local Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Hotel and Restaurant Employees (HRE) Union Local 25 have contributed $1,000 to the campaign of incumbent At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, Bolden’s quarry.
The contributions, says Bolden, are improper. Not because they violate campaign-finance limits. No, Bolden has another objection. In a May 22 letter to the HRE, Bolden argues that the union can’t cough up campaign cash before making an official endorsement.
Bolden, who is never shy about letting people know what a smart guy he is, somehow figured he possesses an inner knowledge of the union workings that actual union members lack.
“To the best of my knowledge HRE 25 has yet to endorse a candidate in the DC Council At-Large race,” Bolden wrote in a letter to HRE Executive Secretary John Boardman. “This monetary support prior to an official union endorsement troubles me….I am also concerned that rank and file union members have not been consulted prior to the HRE 25 funds being distributed.”
Given these obviously damaging facts, Bolden feels the union has no choice but to “seek a refund of the aforementioned campaign contribution,” from Mendelson’s re-election committee.
Bolden’s letter to SEIU Maryland/D.C. state council President Bob Moore took a similar tack. And just to hit the trifecta on absurd requests, Bolden wrote to Mendelson asking him to refund both of the unions’ contributions.
In the undated letter to Mendelson, Bolden cites the SEIU candidate questionnaire and information booklet, which states that a vote of two-thirds of the union membership is needed for an endorsement. “Given that this has not yet occurred, I am concerned that [the union’s] support has been granted prior to due process,” he wrote. “[M]onetary support prior to the official union endorsement troubles me and should trouble you as well,” he wrote to the same guy he relentlessly trashes on the campaign circuit.
Bolden apparently hasn’t spent enough time around the union guys. Labor bosses don’t usually take kindly to business-friendly politicians who tell them how to run their shop. It is the kind of unnecessary in-your-face attack that Bolden has been famous for over the years.
“That is more than insulting,” says Boardman, who notes that endorsements and disbursements are completely different matters. “I’ve shared this with some of my board members and they are outraged,” he says. “The idea that somebody who is running for office would dictate how a union would make a decision on spending money is beyond ridiculous….It is almost implied in [the letter] that we did not follow the proper fiduciary procedures.”
In a May 24 reply, Boardman slapped back: “I guess my initial response…would be to ask when you became an elected officer of Local 25,” he wrote. “I thought I had seen arrogance in the political world but yours takes the cake.”
If Bolden didn’t dig an unbridgeable chasm between his campaign and the unions, Boardman completed the process. “Really Scott, your ignorance of this Local Union, its legal and fiduciary processes and the labor movement in general is stunning,” he wrote. “Your written demonstration of that ignorance is an insult to the elected rank & file leadership of local 25.”
Mendelson chose not to respond to Bolden’s letter, and his campaign staff reports that the incumbent is not rushing over to the union offices with a refund check.
Nobody begrudges candidates for putting a bunch of people in a van, shipping them across town, and having them vote in a straw poll. The tradition of packing a room with supporters, promising them good food, and taking them home is as old as elections in the District.
Mayoral hopeful Marie Johns has employed that tactic twice in a protracted straw poll conducted by the D.C. Latino political action committee (PAC). Johns’ strategy was on display during the PAC’s first round in Columbia Heights on April 27. For this event, PAC leaders decided to open up membership to anyone who showed up and paid a modest $10 fee. Johns’ backers were bused in and signed up in droves. But no candidate won a majority of the votes that night, and the group scheduled a runoff between Johns and Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian Fenty for May 25.
Before the runoff vote at the Butler Center in Ward 1, LL noticed a trickle of people getting out of a gray van parked around the corner from the polling site. They walked to the center in evenly spaced pairs. Several emerged later with D.C. Latino PAC stickers, which were presented to everyone who had cast a vote. Most of the sticker-carrying PAC members returning to the van refused to comment when asked if they voted. One responded, “What vote?” Another said he had “voted for that lady” but was shushed by a cohort.
When the dozen or so participants started boarding the van, LL approached the driver to inquire whether he worked for the Johns for Mayor Committee. He responded by ordering all of his charges into the vehicle. When LL started asking his passengers about the straw poll, the driver pulled out without a word and quickly drove away.
After the vote, LL got in touch with a few Latino PAC members. Most of them hung up as soon as they realized they were speaking to a reporter, but a few said they were part of the crew that had arrived in the gray van.
Robert Williams, who lives on Alabama Avenue SE and says he’s unemployed, confirmed that he did come out and cast his vote for Johns. When LL inquired why he supported Johns enough to ride across the city and cast a vote, he offered up a strange endorsement of his candidate. “I’d rather not explain that, because they told us not to explain that.” Who told him not to explain it? “They did,” he replied.
Alexander Tillman, also of Alabama Avenue SE, had a slightly more legitimate-sounding explanation. “They just sent us a paper in the mail,” he says, indicating that “he received no payment at all” for his duties. Tillman admits he never met Johns before the night of the straw poll runoff.
The Johns campaign refers to the vanload of Latino PAC members as loyal volunteers who joined the group and registered their votes completely within the rules of the D.C. Latino PAC.
The mystery van occupants weren’t enough to put Johns over the top. The final straw poll tally was Fenty 50, Johns 27.
•Developer Douglas Jemal is proving to be the go-to landlord for political candidates this year. D.C. Council chair hopeful and Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray is the latest to make a Jemal property his campaign HQ. Maybe Jemal, who was indicted for bribing a D.C. government official and will go on trial in September, just has a corner on all the high-profile storefronts.
Gray opened an office in what at one time was a fast-food joint at the corner of Florida and Georgia Avenues NW. City records show that Jemal bought the property on Feb. 14, 2006, for $2,481,000.
Gray joins mayoral hopefuls Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent Orange and lobbyist Michael Brown as Jemal tenants. Orange is paying a bargain-basement rate of $3,000 per month on his Chinatown storefront behemoth. Brown has the old 2002 reelection HQ of Mayor Anthony A. Williams at 7th and New York Avenue NW, just across from the Washington Convention Center. His prime-visibility space is also a steal at $3,000 per month. —James Jones
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