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Unofficial mayoral hopeful A. Scott Bolden is a Northwest sort of fellow. He lives in tony Penn Quarter digs in the heart of Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ new downtown. He works at a K Street law firm and wears snappy suits. For two years, he served as chair of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.
Given those qualifications, you might expect Bolden to sell himself as a can-do insider, the guy who knows the right people to get the job done.
Nope. In a political incarnation dating roughly to the formation of his mayoral exploratory committee, Bolden fashions himself a champion of east-of-the-river folks. The guy who once carried the business agenda to the John A. Wilson Building now abhors the prosperity of the Williams years. “There is a disconnect, frankly, with what is happening downtown,” says Bolden. Government, he says, must address the needs of “the least, the lost, and the left out.”
The last time LL heard that sort of rhetoric was last summer, when Marion S. Barry Jr. was occasionally hitting the hustings during his successful quest for the Ward 8 council seat. Barry’s bluster about how the boom had bypassed residents of the city’s poorest ward worked well—he defeated incumbent Sandy Allen by 33 points in the Democratic primary.
Now Bolden will beta-test the message on a citywide audience—an interesting gambit. After all, in the last meaningful Democratic mayoral primary, 1998, the east-of-the-river wards accounted for only 18 percent of the turnout. “I think my ideas about two Americas, right here in our city, and the opportunity we have to create one community will be welcomed in every ward,” Bolden says.
It’s a bold campaign message—in other words, just what a candidate like Bolden needs to steer the public dialogue away from topics that could embarrass him. In November, Democrats voted Bolden out as chair of the D.C. Democratic State Committee (DSC)—a job that Williams helped him secure. Any middling politico should be able to hold on to the DSC post.
But instead of lying low, Bolden took his defeat as an sign that voters might think he’d do a better job running the whole city. Nobody ever said the guy lacked confidence.
The healthy self-image serves Bolden well as he pontificates from a different chair these days. He hosts a weekly radio show on WOL-AM, the first station ever bought by Radio One CEO Karen Hughes. For those unfamiliar with AM radio: WOL is home base for Joe “the Black Eagle” Madison, a nationally syndicated talker who rants five days a week on the challenges facing black America. Madison lives in Ward 8, and he served as MC for Councilmember Barry’s 2004 campaign kickoff.
Working as a radio host brings the kind of credibility that Bolden or any other potential candidate should treasure. And listeners know that the success of Radio One attracts top talent. Bolden must be good. Otherwise, why would the station let him on the air?
Well, perhaps because he pays for it. Bolden gives WOL $400 per week out of his own pocket to host the humbly titled What Matters Most. He claims to have commitments from sponsors. WOL program director Ron Thompson says the slot is “open to any responsible voice in the community.”
The promotional clip for the Jan. 26, premier show, “The Social and Economic Divide of Gentrification,” gives a hint of Bolden’s focus: “There almost seems to be an unspoken effort, or a plan, to rid the District of Columbia of its poor, working-class residents,” Bolden stated. On another show, about neighborhood organizations, Bolden tapped into a racially loaded conspiracy theory that colonists are scheming to take over black neighborhoods. “I would think that Hillcrest would be a perfect target,” he said, “prime for people to move in and have the money to move here.” Promotional materials for the first three shows went out under the banner of Bolden’s exploratory committee.
Bolden the attorney is working the crowd that often trades in such theories. He’s defending Christopher Barry, the councilmember’s son, against charges that the younger Barry assaulted a police officer on Feb. 18. The cops say Christopher Barry, 24, attacked an officer responding to a report of a “possible domestic dispute,” according to court documents. Barry was alone when the officers arrived at his apartment and, like one of the arresting officers, ended up bruised and scraped.
Bolden plans to file a complaint with the police department’s Civilian Complaint Review Board on Barry’s behalf. That means more press for Bolden.
Conversations with several east-of-the-river community activists reveal that the words most commonly associated with Bolden are “egotistical” and “arrogant.” “That’s fair,” Bolden says, arguing that his “passion for improving organizations like the Democratic State Committee and the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and lifting up the powerless could be mistaken for arrogance.”
In what is expected to be a closely contested election, Bolden will have plenty of competition at coining the most blistering condemnations of downtown supremacy. For the past year, lobbyist and D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commissioner Michael Brown has been speaking to any group east of the river that will have him. Raised in Shepherd Park and now living in American University Park, Brown is working hard to dispel the notion that a guy from Northwest can’t be the next big thing across the Anacostia. Highlands Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Absalom Jordan says of Brown, “He’s been to so many Ward 8 Democrat meetings that I thought he’d moved over here….And, hey, he’s Ron Brown’s son. Everybody wants to see what he has to say.”
Brown, 40, has focused on education and brings a familiar message to what he calls “challenged communities.” “I have a value set in me that says policies affect people in challenged parts of the city more than those who are not,” Brown says, adding that it’s time someone stood up for “those not at the table.”
In Brown’s way of thinking, the Washington Post has created an opening for him with the disenfranchised. The Post’s March 4 edition revealed that Brown and a partnership group had a $636,000 default judgment issued against them for failure to pay for an MCI Center luxury box. Brown’s employer, public-relations firm Alcalde & Fay, was ordered to withhold part of his salary. Brown says personal cash-flow problems had nothing to do with the default, adding, “I could write a check right now for what I owe.” He says he didn’t receive notice from the courts about the pending garnish order.
Brown says the contributions of the partners were based on whether they wanted the box for Capitals or Wizards games. “This is about the guys that were in for hockey,” Brown says. “They didn’t like the discount we were offered after the season was canceled.” He claims negotiations will settle the matter quickly.
Brown now places himself among an elite group of rising political stars who have ended up in the Post’s cross hairs. He argues that the situation will increase his appeal among those who see the media as too often siding with the powerful. “We hear from a lot of people that don’t trust the media,” Brown says. “Every time the Washington Post makes a mountain out of a molehill like this, it makes me more relevant, more of a threat.”
Still, Brown will have to alter his MO a bit if he wants to profile as a man of the people. Last Friday night, he held a campaign kickoff event at Ortanique, a swanky downtown restaurant. It wasn’t a great night for equal rights: Brown split the club into two sections, one for the rabble and another for VIPs. Somehow, LL and the rest of the media were left off the VIP list. LL couldn’t even get to the table where Democratic National Committeeman Arrington Dixon and Ward 8 politico Phil Pannell were having a drink. LL asked Andre Johnson, Brown’s exploratory-committee spokesperson, why they had roped off an elite preserve. Johnson said it was to protect Brown’s children. “It’s for the kids,” he said.
Without access to the upstairs VIP section, it was impossible for LL to discern exactly who had come out for Brown. But Brown’s fundraising pitch hit the mark. Johnson said the event netted “a little more than $100,000.”
EVANS IS RUNNING
Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans chose a mellow gathering of the city’s political gossipmongers to state his intention to run for mayor. He dropped the bomb March 2 at Guapo’s in Tenleytown, the site of D.C. Department of Transportation spokesperson and super gossip Bill Rice’s semi-regular “Bullpen,” an informal gathering of the city’s political geekdom.
Evans said it was time to set things straight. But instead of using the lofty rhetoric that most politicians unveil at announcements, he stuck to the procedural: “When the time comes, I will file the necessary papers to run for mayor.”
While Evans’ ultimate political ambition has never been a mystery, his definitive “I will be running for mayor” stunned many in the audience—including some on his staff. For Evans’ sake, let’s hope that explains the lack of thunderous applause that followed the delivery of his big line.
The longtime councilmember is shunning the route taken by four other potential candidates—Bolden, Brown, Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian Fenty, and Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent Orange—who have formed exploratory committees. Evans, who delights these days in shooting from the hip, told LL, “I’m just fed up with the idea that forming an exploratory committee has begun to define who is in the mix. I want to be in that mix.” He added that his declaration “was not the big announcement. I would have made sure all of the media was there. Bottom line is, these guys are already running, so I’m saying I’m running too.”
CAT’S GOT HIS TONGUE
We probably won’t see the D.C. Council’s chief inquisitor, At-Large Councilmember David Catania, grilling D.C. Department of Health officials about the now-infamous cat-care clinic at John Eaton Elementary School anytime soon.
It seems that the Committee on Health chair—one of the council’s most feared attack dogs—was among the hundreds of cat lovers who delivered a stray to the spay-and-neuter clinic conducted last month in the Eaton cafeteria. Parents of children who attend the Northwest D.C. school were outraged to learn that the city’s health department and school officials had sanctioned the event, sponsored by Alley Cat Allies.
Catania says he learned about the clinic through a flier and then struggled for days to trap a stray he had been feeding for some time. While Catania concedes that “the location was a mistake,” he says the cafeteria-turned-clinic “looked like a gym. It was not apparent it was a cafeteria.” Catania says he wasn’t overly concerned about the situation, in part because “when I went there [Health Department Director] Dr. [Gregg] Pane was there.”
Catania says the media blew the issue out of proportion. Calls for personnel action, he says, were unreasonable. “What should we do, get out the rack?” he asks.
Things didn’t work out so well for Catania’s kitty, Morty Schwartz, who is named for Catania’s favorite house guest, At-Large Republican Councilmember Carol Schwartz. It seems that Morty tested positive for feline immunodeficiency virus. Catania’s other cat is FIV-negative, so Morty needs a new home.—James Jones
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