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On Nov. 30, the day the D.C. Council gave preliminary approval to financing a new baseball stadium, Mayor Anthony A. Williams was happy because two things that had “eluded” him were finally within his grasp. The first, of course, was returning baseball to the nation’s capital. “And the other thing…I think I have the best working relationship with the council since I’ve been mayor,” remarked Williams to the local press corps.
The mayor went on to praise the council’s leader, Chairman Linda W. Cropp. “Like everyone in this city, I love Chairman Cropp and I respect Linda Cropp deeply,” Williams swooned. “I gotta say, she does a brilliant job with the council.”
By very late Tuesday evening, Williams wasn’t happy at all. The two things that he thought were within his grasp now seemed more out of reach than ever. As the ballpark-financing package neared a final vote that night, Cropp declared that her support for baseball was contingent on 50 percent of stadium construction costs’ being financed with private dollars. Her announcement put the mayor’s deal with Major League Baseball in jeopardy. In essence, Cropp delivered Williams an ultimatum: Find $142 million or so in private money or you don’t get your prized legacy.
And she convinced nine of her colleagues to support her demand.
If this is Williams’ idea of a great working relationship, then the mayor might want to familiarize himself with the self-help section at Olsson’s.
The mayor’s lack of people skills are a given at this point. He’s aloof not only to the public but to people he works most closely with. Still, Williams and his advisers say that Cropp’s private-financing ultimatum came out of the blue. City Administrator Robert Bobb said Tuesday night that he learned of Cropp’s proposal when she said it on the dais. “Based on our discussions, we felt we met all of the concerns that she had raised,” Bobb told LL shortly after Cropp’s announcement.
In the past two months, Cropp has repeated her mantra that she supports baseball but not at any cost. Cropp says she has reiterated her concerns to the mayor again and again. Given Williams’ interpersonal shortcomings, it’s easy to think he’s been oblivious. Yet Cropp’s bombshell-dropping, last-minute, surprise-attack approach to crafting public policy might point to some communications issues of her own:
•On Nov. 5, Cropp held a surprise press conference announcing her support for moving the ballpark to a site near RFK Memorial Stadium. She hadn’t even informed some of her colleagues of the idea before she went to the press. “I don’t think the executive branch took the concerns I raised seriously,” Cropp said that day.
•On Nov. 9, Cropp delayed a vote on baseball to consider an undeveloped private financing scheme. That evening, Cropp told the local press corps that the mayor hadn’t been hearing the public outcry about the stadium. “The mayor wasn’t in town, probably,” Cropp told reporters.
•On Dec. 14, in literally the 11th hour of debate on the ballpark-financing package, Cropp announced that she would support building a stadium only if 50 percent of construction costs came from private dollars. “I think this encourages the mayor more than anything else to seek private financing,” Cropp declared on the dais, as the mayor sat in the audience.
Cropp’s fly-by-night baseball proposals haven’t been too successful so far. But given baseball’s importance to the mayor and his legacy, Williams might want to review Getting to Yes anyway.
SHELTER IN PLACE
Last Friday afternoon, LL rode an elevator at the John A. Wilson Building with Adrian Madsen and a few friends. A uniformed security officer chaperoned the grunge-chic crowd, pressing the button for the fourth floor, which happened to be LL’s destination. When the doors opened, Madsen informed the officer that he actually wanted to visit Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian M. Fenty’s office, which is one floor higher.
Had Madsen come to complain about the ubiquity of his namesake on local TV?
The security officer informed Madsen and his friends that their trip had ended and that he would escort the posse to Room 412. The group quarreled a bit and then proceeded to exit the elevator and walk to the hearing room.
Madsen et al. and LL were visiting city hall for the same reason: to observe the people’s business, as it would be conducted that day by the D.C. Council’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, Latino Affairs, and Property Management, which is chaired by Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham. The subcommittee had only one item on its agenda: the declaration of the Randall School as a surplus property. The legislative approval was necessary for the Anthony A. Williams administration to sell the building to the Corcoran Museum of Art, which had agreed to a $6.2 million sale price last year. The school building in Southwest had previously housed an arts center as well as a city-funded homeless shelter, which the executive branch shut down last month.
LL plopped down about 10 feet from Madsen and his friend David Benzaquen, who are both members of a homeless-advocacy group called Mayday DC, and waited for the proceedings to begin.
As it turned out, Madsen and Benzaquen sat in the hearing room’s ejector seats: Protective Services officers approached the duo moments after Graham entered the room, insisted that the two had been issued a “barring notice” prohibiting them from being in our city hall, and physically removed them from the public chamber. Madsen and Benzaquen ended up in the D.C. Council’s holding cell, otherwise known as the fourth-floor lunchroom, with four security officers standing watch outside the door. Reporters from Channel 4 and the Washington Post as well as many other local media outlets followed the scene out into the hallway.
Television cameras usually don’t show up to record the bureaucratic minutiae of declaring a former D.C. public school a surplus property. The Randall School declaration, however, turned into political theater worthy of Aaron Spelling: lots and lots of drama with no substance and a very predictable ending.
Graham loves to create and star in D.C. political melodramas. And with the Randall School controversy, the Ward 1 drama queen had some very enthusiastic supporting actors. His subcommittee first considered the Randall surplus declaration on Nov. 29, a few days after members of Mayday DC squatted and “reopened” the shuttered Randall school building.
In an unusual move, Graham allowed members of the public to speak at that session. Speakers included a few members of Mayday DC, as well as more established homeless advocates. “Removing Randall from the inventory increases the possibility of people dying on the street this winter,” said Mary Ann Luby, an advocate with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.
When the proceedings began, Graham’s remarks indicated he’d vote to declare Randall surplus. But by the time the speakers finished that day, Graham expressed doubts. The three-member subcommittee ended up tabling the legislation for two weeks, so Graham could perform “due diligence” and go on a “fact-finding” mission about the Randall issue.
Less than two weeks later, on Dec. 9, Graham abruptly adjourned another legislative markup, after Mayday DC activists took over the microphone. Graham announced that he was “unable to conduct the meeting” and adjourned without taking a vote.
Soon after, two women affiliated with Mayday DC perched themselves for more than five hours on a fifth-floor ledge that overlooks the Wilson Building atrium, to protest the shutting down of Randall as a shelter. They unfurled a two-story banner that read “Randall Is Shelter Not Surplus.” D.C. police and firefighters responded.
The next afternoon, as Graham’s subcommittee again convened, approximately a dozen security officers patrolled the Wilson Building’s fourth and fifth floors.
Before the hearing even started, LL and the rest of the Fourth Estate ended up camped out outside the lunchroom, in a standoff with security guards as Madsen and Benzaquen were held inside.
“Go back and attend the meeting,” an officer with the name tag J. Strickland instructed LL as well as Washington Post reporter Yolanda Woodlee.
“I’m going to stand here where the news is,” announced Woodlee, after requesting to enter the lunchroom to “get a drink of water.” “I’m a reporter.”
While the TV cameras retreated to the hearing room, LL and Woodlee tried to peer through the glass door. “What are they being retained for?” Woodlee asked. Strickland, as well as “Pistol Expert” C. Cox, N.F. Gasser, and R.I. Webb, identified by their name tags, gave Woodlee and LL the silent treatment.
Woodlee eventually returned to the hearing room to record the subcommittee’s business. Phyllis Jones, secretary to the Council, had arrived to monitor the situation. LL questioned Jones about the removal of Madsen and Benzaquen. “That was their decision,” explained Jones, referring to the Protective Services officers. “If there is no barring notice, [Madsen and Benzaquen] are free to go back in.”
“Shouldn’t that be determined before removal?” LL asked.
At that point, Strickland made his own declaration of surplus property: that the hallway outside the lunchroom needed to be closed to public access. “You are in the way,” Strickland told LL. He and another officer then grabbed LL’s arms and physically removed LL from that part of the hallway and placed LL on the other side of a door about 10 yards away as Jones looked on.
“It’s his call,” Jones informed LL. “You’re in the way.”
Earlier that week, the D.C. Council had engaged in a debate about a bill that would regulate how the Metropolitan Police Department responded to free-speech demonstrations. Pushed by Committee on the Judiciary Chair Kathy Patterson, the bill sets up procedures for how the police respond to protests in city streets and parks. The bill came in response to the September 2002 Pershing Park arrests, in which police pre-emptively encircled and arrested people gathered in the Pennsylvania Avenue park during the World Bank protests.
On second reading, Patterson might want to extend First Amendment protections to those who attend D.C. Council hearings and craft some regulations regarding Protective Services.
After some investigation, security officers determined that Madsen and Benzaquen had no barring notice against them. Other protesters were quarantined in the lunchroom after actually being disruptive during the hearing.
Madsen and Benzaquen eventually returned to the council chamber to find Graham et al. on the verge of declaring Randall a surplus property. The vote ended up 2-to-1, with Graham voting yes.
“I think we have had a process here that I’m proud of,” Graham told the audience after the bill had been approved.
•On Dec. 9, outgoing At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil highlighted his valuable leadership skills. At a hearing on mayoral nominees to the National Capital Revitalization Corp.’s board, Brazil instructed colleague Graham on the fine art of management, urging him to expedite the proceedings. “Just trying to facilitate here,” Brazil gently chided.
“Yes, you’re a good facilitator, Mr. Chairman,” laughed Graham.
“Thank you, I’ll teach you sometime,” Brazil responded.
LL offers the next 30 seconds of the transcript verbatim:
Graham: “Yes, I want to follow in your footsteps.”
Brazil: “You should.”
Graham: “Yeah, out the door!”
Brazil: “Grow up! Now wait a minute.”
Graham: “Could I have my question answered, Mr. Brazil?”
Brazil: “I am the chairman of this committee. I don’t particularly like that you insulted me.”
Graham: “You interrupted my line of questioning.”
Brazil: “You insulted the chairman!”
Brazil: “If you want to get into this, it’s four years of this coming from you, you know. I’m not going to sit here and be insulted by you. Do you have that right?”
Graham: “Mr. Brazil.”
Brazil: “Do you have that right? Don’t insult me again.”
Graham: “Mr. Brazil.”
Brazil: “Do you understand me? Don’t do it again.” —Elissa Silverman
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