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When Dion Jordan began work in May as manager for former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr.’s D.C. Council Ward 8 campaign, he faced a serious staffing challenge. He needed to find a capable person to fill the critical position of treasurer. Qualified candidates weren’t exactly flooding Jordan’s voice mail.
So Jordan talked his mom, Laura Goggans, into filling the position. Jordan says that his mother had worked for many years paying bills for the D.C. government, but she didn’t last long in the Barry campaign. According to Jordan, in a meeting earlier this month, Barry requested that Goggans sign checks without filling out a payee. “He was saying that at some point we might need checks right on hand,” recalls Jordan. “‘I need your mom to sign some checks’—basically blank checks.”
Barry, of course, is a self-proclaimed financial wizard and has experience in bond markets, too. Yet Jordan nixed the former four-term mayor’s creative accounting strategy. “I said, ‘My mom is not signing blank checks for nobody,’” recalls Jordan. Barry has a different recollection of the matter: He suggested having a blank check on hand after Jordan couldn’t round up the cash to pay for a print job.
Jordan left the campaign on Tuesday.
Goggans removed her name from the campaign’s SunTrust bank account on June 25, leaving campaign Chair Robert James as the only signatory. The campaign now lacks a treasurer, says Jordan.
Jordan says he resigned from the Barry campaign over other money issues. Barry, Jordan says, had agreed to pay him $700 a week beginning on May 12. As of June 29, Jordan says, he had received two $500 checks for his approximately seven weeks of work. When Jordan tried to confront Barry about the money on Tuesday afternoon, Barry told him to resign or he’d fire him.
Barry says he just fired him. On Wednesday, when LL reached the former mayor, he said he had dismissed Jordan for poor job performance. In fact, Barry produced a letter spelling out his side of the story, giving an effective firing date of noon Tuesday.
Jordan suggests that Barry’s account represents a desperate attempt at damage control. “He didn’t fire me—I resigned,” counters Jordan, “and he never articulated he had a problem with mismanagement or whatever he’s claiming.”
Barry’s squabble with his campaign manager marks a dramatic comedown from the campaigns of his ’80s glory years and his volunteer-abundant, energized comebacks in the ’90s. By Jordan’s account, the new-millennium Barry campaign lacks funds, volunteers, and even basic organization. “As you see, there haven’t been any big names around—none of the past supporters,” says Jordan. “Even with all of that great media [attention], the volunteers are not there.” At its height so far, the 2004 Barry machine consisted of basically six or seven people. The Marion Barry for Ward 8 Council war chest totaled $151 as of Monday, claims Jordan.
Those numbers don’t bode well for the voter-registration and get-out-the-vote efforts Barry needs to face incumbent Sandy Allen and the gang of other hopefuls. And classic Election Day strategies such as busing senior citizens and others to the polls require not just staff but a chunk of cash, which is also in short supply for Barry right now.
Barry’s cavalier approach to bill payment came up more than once in the nascent campaign, says Jordan. Jordan helped coordinate the lease for Barry’s campaign office, on the 2900 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. The ground-floor retail space has rodents, cracked glass, and other structural issues, according to Jordan. Jordan says Barry said he didn’t plan to pay rent on the space if the issues weren’t addressed to his satisfaction. Barry also allegedly bragged about not paying rent on his previous campaign offices.
“He bragged about that and joked about it,” recounts Jordan. “I felt, quite frankly, that he might do the same thing to me.”
According to Jordan, Barry spoke of the council seat as a lucrative part-time job. “I think he needs the money,” says Jordan.
Jordan, 34, says that Barry recruited him to be his campaign manager. In 1998, he served as the Ward 8 coordinator for Anthony A. Williams’ mayoral campaign.
Jordan says that as campaign manager he checked in with Barry at least once a day, often chauffeuring him around the ward in Jordan’s Jaguar, even driving the candidate to the grocery store and to churches on Sunday, because Barry has no car. Jordan says that the Barry campaign staff met formally once a week, and Barry used a lot of the time to recount past glories.
Jordan toyed with mounting his own run for the Ward 8 seat this year but insists that he’ll sit it out. He ran in 2000 and received 6 percent of the vote.
Jordan was hoping to learn a few political tricks from a legendary pol who has seduced voters and played chicken with the press. Instead, he’s the target of a long letter from Barry spelling out his alleged shortcomings as a campaign manager. The missive slams Jordan for everything from failing to order campaign banners to fouling up the Barry campaign’s nominating-petition drive. “On June 14th, you promised you would have 2,000 names by Monday, June 21st,” says Barry in the letter to Jordan. “I knew it was almost impossible but I didn’t want to rain on our parade.” Barry says he still doesn’t have the petitions.
Other Barry allegations hint at the sort of pageantry that D.C.’s most media-obsessed politician demands at his campaign events. “You promised to plan a motorcade on June 12 with 30–40 cars. On Friday, June 11th, after you failed to produce more than 4 or 5 names with cars participating, I canceled the motorcade.”
Jordan told LL on Wednesday that he had yet to receive the letter.
Admitting that his campaign is in “total chaos,” Barry told LL that hiring Jordan was a “grave mistake.” Summoning his self-perception as a champion of D.C. youth, the former mayor said, “I guess my judgment got clouded by my desire to find a young person and mentor him or her.”
Proponents of an initiative to bring 3,500 slot machines to the District of Columbia are planning to have hundreds of petition workers hit the streets beginning Thursday afternoon in a six-day effort to collect enough valid signatures for the initiative to qualify for the November ballot.
And when some of those slots advocates turn in each evening after a grueling day managing petitions, they will return to the comforts of their D.C. home: the Red Roof Inn on H Street NW in Chinatown.
Slots proponents such as initiative legal counsel and former D.C. Councilmember John Ray said they would recruit residents and local advisory neighborhood commissioners to work for their cause and that they would pay up to $6.50 per valid signature for the effort. Indeed, as of press time, an ad seeking petitioners had appeared in the Washington Post classifieds jobs section every day this week. When LL dialed the number listed in the ad, we heard an answering-machine message for the “campaign office” requesting that we leave our name and phone number.
Yet slots backers must be skeptical about the work ethic of D.C. residents: The initiative proponents also hired a whole bunch of petition pros from as far as California to bolster the effort. LL received a call early this week from one petition worker from Los Angeles staying at the Red Roof Inn, who said that he enjoyed reading LL’s last column on the slots effort (“How to Win Big at Slots!,” 6/25).
He told LL that he was in town to help collect signatures. “Hopefully, we can help the voters here get the initiative on the ballot,” he said.
That’s exactly the kind of initiative-as-the-purest-form-of-democracy language that slots proponents Ray and local businessman Pedro Alfonso have used to describe their grass-roots “citizens’” effort. They have cloaked the campaign in power-to-the-people rhetoric to get a 10-year exclusive license to operate slot machines on New York Avenue NE—an “economic-development” jewel that they say will deliver approximately $190 million to District government coffers every year and create thousands of new jobs for local residents.
The slots emporium will also deliver an estimated $575 million a year in net revenue to investors in the project, including Alfonso and Rob Newell, a gambling proponent from the U.S. Virgin Islands who’s funding much of the campaign’s sizable expenses.
Such as signature-gathering. The slots initiative needs the signatures of approximately 17,500 registered D.C. voters on petitions by July 6 to make the ballot this November. So proponents hope to gather somewhere around 40,000 signatures, knowing that such slots opponents as D.C. Watch Executive Director Dorothy Brizill will challenge the petitions. At $6.50 per John Hancock, that’s more than a quarter of a million dollars paid out just for petitions.
And it seems there are plenty of out-of-state residents eager for work.
There’s only one minor glitch: According to the D.C. Code, petition circulators—who need to witness each signature and sign at the bottom of each page—must be D.C. residents. Ray confirms that initiative proponents have hired a Santa Monica, Calif., firm, Progressive Campaigns Inc., to “manage” the petition drive. He told LL that there are “several people” from PCI in town to “certify and verify the signatures are valid” by checking the petitions against voter-registration lists from the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.
Yet when LL called PCI President Angelo Paparella, Paparella told LL that “there’s at least several dozen [workers associated with PCI] who will be circulating petitions.”
PCI has worked on initiative efforts in D.C. before, including Initiative 62, “Treatment Instead of Jail for Certain Non-Violent Drug Offenders,” in 2002. The initiative made the ballot and was approved by 78 percent of D.C. voters.
Ray insists that PCI workers will not work the streets as petition circulators. “I know what the rules are for circulating petitions. We are going to make sure that we’re doing everything right and by the book,” says the former councilmember. “We know what the rules are, and we would be idiots to put people on the streets who are not qualified to circulate petitions.”
And that will make a challenge tricky for Brizill and others, who might question PCI’s role. “If the [local] circulators are willing to come in here and say that they witnessed every signature, then any challenger will have an uphill battle,” says Ken McGhie, general counsel to the elections board.
On Tuesday afternoon, LL attempted to chat with some of the PCI contractors, many of whom are staying on the sixth and seventh floors of the Red Roof Inn.
One worker, who declined to give LL his name, said that out-of-town petition workers were housed “all over the city.” He, as well as his colleagues, declined to comment any further.
On the Red Roof Inn elevator, LL engaged a man in a Sean John sweat suit in conversation. He said he was from San Diego. When another young man got on the elevator at the sixth floor, he asked the sweat suit man whether the petition effort would hit the streets that afternoon.
“I’m waiting on the paperwork now,” said the man. “I’ve been waiting here a week.”
The elections board is supposed to make the petitions available on July 1. —Elissa Silverman
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