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Developer H.R. Crawford showed a touch of marketing savvy when he was trying to sell houses in Phase 2 of Ward 8’s Walter E. Washington Estates about five years ago. The former councilmember understood that if he wanted to attract more residents to this east-of-the-river complex, he’d need a celebrity buyer.
Crawford landed a good one. In 2002, WOL-AM talk-show host Joe “The Black Eagle” Madison bought a place in the 141-town-house development. For several years, Madison reveled in his role as the loudest booster of Walter E. Washington Estates. He talked up his new place on his radio program and all over town.
Madison hasn’t stopped yakking about the Washington Estates. But nowadays, he’s using the airwaves to trash Crawford.
Madison’s beef with Crawford is all about cash—specifically, about $900,000 that Madison and the community’s homeowners association wants Crawford to pay back. The funds, says Madison, were intended for maintenance of the complex but went straight to Crawford’s management company, Crawford Edgewood Management Inc. (CEMI).
Crawford denies he’s done anything wrong and points out that the funds were properly spent to support the development. He says Madison’s decision to talk about the dispute on his radio show amounts to extortion.
The starting point for the Crawford–Madison throwdown was a giant honey pot. Crawford is a former high-ranking official of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and understands how to use the agency’s resources to redevelop struggling neighborhoods. He secured $24 million in HUD money to demolish the Ridgecrest apartment complex and develop the Washington Estates in a joint private–public venture.
In negotiations with HUD, Crawford also secured a $1.9 million trust fund “to assist the Homeowners Association in the operation of the redevelopment project for the first ten years,” according to the HUD grant contract. The fund, which Crawford claims he insisted on, was generated by home sales. The homeowners association claims it was supposed to control the fund. Instead, CEMI managed the account.
The $1.9 million subsidized what had to be some of the sweetest upkeep monthlies in the region. Washington Estates residents for several years paid only $50 per month to their homeowners association to cover all maintenance costs. That brought in a little more than $7,000 per month in the rare instance that every resident paid the dues on time. “That wouldn’t even cover the electric bill,” says Crawford. The fees were eventually raised to $100 per month in 2005, but Crawford says the rate hike didn’t come close to covering costs.
CEMI managed both the $1.9 million as well as homeowners’ monthly payments from 1999 to 2005, when Crawford & Co. quit or were terminated as property managers. The way Crawford tells the story, CEMI pulled out because homeowners were unrealistic about how much it costs to operate a clubhouse, a pool, and the complex’s other facilities. The community is private, so paying the bills for streetlights, repairs, and snow removal all fall on the homeowners association. Residents, on the other hand, say they fired Crawford. The facility is currently self-managed.
After Crawford was shown the door or walked out, Madison and other members of the homeowners association paid the accounting firm Parente-Randolph $12,000 for a forensic audit of CEMI’s spending habits. Forensic audits are used in cases where a party is likely to pursue a settlement, in this case with Crawford’s liability insurance company. According to the audit, CEMI dipped into the trust fund to pay CEMI employees who had nothing to do running the complex. The audit claims that the company billed at least $899,368 in “unwarranted charges” to the homeowners association since 1999. Crawford disputes the audit.
Once the forensic audit was conducted, Crawford initially agreed to discuss a possible settlement but then balked at sitting down for negotiations, according to homeowners association President Greg Kendall.
After Walter E. Washington residents had waited six months for Crawford to come to the table, Madison lost his patience. He decided March was the perfect time to produce a segment on homeowners associations and forensic audits for his loyal radio audience. And he had a solid example of problems between a property manager and a homeowners association: Walter E. Washington Estates. “We attempted as a homeowners association to work with him, even going to great expense to pay for this audit,” says Madison.
A few weeks after the show ran, says Madison, Crawford sent in his lawyers to begin settlement talks. However, the seasoned developer-cum-politico didn’t do a lot of media prep for the discussions. Crawford was reportedly furious when he heard from associates that his former pal Madison was blabbing about the forensic audit over the airwaves and opening up the phone lines to let listeners vent about their adventures with CEMI, which manages several other properties.
So Crawford called Madison’s boss, Radio One Chair Cathy Hughes. Hughes, in turn, called in the Black Eagle. “She wanted to find out more, and I shared with her the forensic audit,” says Madison. “That’s where it ended.”
But not for Crawford.
“I think you can’t use the media to extort money from folks,” says Crawford. “If you make a mistake, it’s one thing. If it hinges on extortion, it’s another thing.” The baron of Ward 8 has no plans to go quietly, despite his repeated statements that he won’t join the public battle with the Black Eagle. “There’s something called the FCC,” Crawford says, calling Madison’s on-air comments “most inappropriate.” He claims the radio program did damage to his reputation by spreading “false allegations.”
The feud over maintenance fees marks a long fall for these two players. After all, Crawford gave Madison a generous gift when he closed on his place at Walter E. Washington Estates. At least Madison considered it a gift. He says Crawford offered cash as a token of appreciation for Madison’s strong and vocal support for the project. Madison and his wife, Sherry, can’t recall the exact amount of the check, but they guess it was less than $2,000.
Madison was living in Montgomery County when he and his wife decided to consider moving into D.C. Walter E. Washington Estates made the list because of Madison’s oft-stated desire on the radio to commit to the community he so often highlighted on his show.
Crawford seized the opportunity. “He said, ‘I will make you an attractive offer,’” says Madison, recounting the sales pitch made by the developer. Crawford, says Madison, told him that “I think it will help the development if we can say you live here. It would encourage other people to move to Walter E. Washington.”
It worked. By the end of 2002, the estates were filled with homeowners, and they remain so today. In Crawford’s view, they all got great deals—a dynamic that explains the current dispute, says Crawford. The homeowners, he argues, “thought they were going to become fat cats off of H.R. Crawford.”
•The real star of the April 15 Ward 8 Democrats’ D.C. Council chair candidate forum wasn’t a politico looking for votes. As usual, the host, Councilmember Marion S. Barry Jr., interjected himself into the proceedings. Though many in the audience thought Barry would use the event to announce his endorsement of east-of-the-river colleague and Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray, Barry held back, saying that voters “are fortunate to have two excellent candidates for chair.” (Barry told the crowd he did not know the third candidate, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Robert Brannum). Barry claimed he hadn’t made up his mind about whom he’ll support. “I am leaning towards one candidate,” Barry said. “But I haven’t made a final decision.” At several recent Ward 8 meetings, Barry has indicated he was endorsing Gray. Maybe Barry wavered because chair candidate and Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson followed the proper script at the forum. When Barry walked up the middle aisle of the Washington Highlands Library community room a few minutes after the program began, Patterson abruptly stopped in the middle of her well-rehearsed opening statement to recognize him.
•Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent Orange almost looked mayoral at the April 17 D.C. Emancipation Day parade. Near the front of the parade, Mayor Anthony A. Williams rolled by in a fancy white horse-drawn carriage. Right next to him sat Orange, the sponsor of the D.C. Emancipation Day legislation. LL figured Orange got the place of honor for his role in making Emancipation Day a city holiday, but the carriage did not include a sign identifying the mayoral hopeful. When LL asked where the Orange sign was, Orange replied that he’d had his own horse and carriage lined up, but things just didn’t work out. “The horse got scared, and they had to take my carriage out,” he yelled. —James Jones
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