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Eric W. Price, D.C.’s deputy mayor for planning and economic development, exudes cool. At press conferences, Price maintains a calm, upbeat tone even under fire. At ribbon-cuttings, his suave looks and smooth talking fit right in with the econ-development crowd. And at community meetings, Price’s savoir-faire usually wins over even the most provincial neighborhood activist.
Yet the Denzel Washington of D.C. government supposedly became unhinged during a phone conversation early last week with D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Lang.
LL boils down Price’s alleged outburst to one sentiment: Don’t fuck with me.
LL doesn’t invoke the cuss word gratuitously. According to Chamber of Commerce sources who say they have spoken with Lang about the phone call, Price cursed up a blue streak worthy of Richard Pryor. In the end, the government official allegedly informed Lang, he planned to punish the organization and board members who have contracts and zoning matters before the city. And, according to these sources, Price named names: Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president of George Washington University and the chamber’s new board chair; Dennis Horn, an attorney with Holland & Knight and a member of the chamber’s governing board; and Albert “Butch” Hopkins, a member of both the Anacostia Economic Development Corp. and the chamber, among others.
“That’s absolutely false,” Price told LL this week. “Barbara and I are friends….There was no cursing at all involved in the conversation—and certainly not directed toward Barbara.”
Price did admit to disputing certain issues with Lang.
Lang has no comment on the chat, chamber spokesperson Brian Boyer told LL last Friday.
So what prompted Price to dial up Lang?
The chamber’s apparent resistance to one of the administration’s most cherished programs: the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative. On Feb. 2, chamber board members decided to challenge a key component of the Anacostia Waterfront Act of 2004, which is currently under consideration by the D.C. Council. The legislation would set up a corporate entity, the Anacostia Waterfront Corp., separate and independent from D.C. government, to orchestrate the massive redevelopment project planned for the Anacostia River and its surrounding neighborhoods.
The project spans an enormous clump of D.C. real estate, from the National Arboretum all the way down to the Washington Channel area in Southwest.
By the end of the meeting, the chamber had voted to get behind the mayor’s initiative only if the National Capital Revitalization Corp. (NCRC) maintains redevelopment control of the Southwest waterfront.
And that position gives Price and his Williams administration colleagues some heartburn, dammit!
“Our conversation centered around our partnership,” Price calmly told LL. “We talked about the chamber’s support for some of the things the mayor’s trying to do.”
Price had hoped to iron out any differences between the administration and the city’s business community on the bill before the D.C. Council’s Feb. 11 Committee on Economic Development hearing.
At the hearing, Lang raised questions about “checks and balances” to the proposed corporation. “Many of my members have questioned the impact of this corporation on NCRC,” testified Lang.
The Anacostia Waterfront Initiative is a top priority for Mayor Anthony A. Williams. “He’s passionate about it,” says D.C. Office of Planning Director Andy Altman. And with baseball still only a dream and schools governance now a nightmare, Mayor Williams clings to the revitalization of the Anacostia as his chance for a mayoral legacy.
Over the next five to seven years, Williams hopes, D.C.’s depressing and largely inaccessible waterfront will be transformed into a sparkling model of urban design with 4,600 units of housing, 613,000 square feet of retail, 3.6 million square feet of commercial space, and 300,000 square feet of so-called cultural amenities. Plus, when the mayor canoes down the Anacostia River, he’ll see a multicultural mix of Washingtonians strolling along a 20-mile riverwalk.
Who’s got a problem with that?
Well, for starters, the owner of some of that Southwest waterfront property: the NCRC and, specifically, its president and CEO, Ted Carter. The quasi-public NCRC’s mission is to hasten the District’s economic renaissance by brokering deals to bring housing and commercial development to unattractive pieces of public land. Along with other parts of its portfolio in Shaw and Columbia Heights, the NCRC owns a good chunk of the Southwest waterfront, including the Gangplank Marina and its neighbors.
The NCRC draws a third of its operating revenue from its Southwest waterfront properties, according to Carter’s testimony before the D.C. Council last September. If the administration’s plan prevailed, those properties would likely fall out of the NCRC’s holdings and onto the new authority’s ledger, “in order to ensure a comprehensive and coordinated approach to the entire waterfront…” according to a mayoral document. The Williams econ-development team remains hazy on how such a land transfer might occur.
Carter doesn’t want to be the guy to lose the NCRC’s development jewels. And he has two heavies in his corner: Southeastern University President Charlene Drew Jarvis and Hogan & Hartson attorney Karen Hardwick.
Jarvis and Hardwick aren’t pitching a fit because they want to preserve the happy hour at Zanzibar on the Waterfront. The problem they have is one of jurisdiction. See, Jarvis and Hardwick have an investment in the NCRC: While serving as chair of the council’s Committee on Economic Development, Jarvis authored the legislation that created the public-private entity in 1998. Hardwick currently serves as chair of the organization.
At the Feb. 2 Chamber of Commerce meeting, Jarvis and Hardwick told Lang and others that the NCRC was a perfect vehicle for developing the entire waterfront colossus. And they urged the chamber members to speak out against the mayor’s legislation unless he keeps the NCRC in the development team.
Price insists that the administration will find some way to make the NCRC whole. Yet he and Altman say they will not cave on creating a separate corporate entity to govern the waterfront project. “We are 100 percent committed that this will be a separate, single-focused entity that’s not a subsidiary [of the NCRC],” says Altman.
Perhaps Altman & Co. are wary of the NCRC’s spotty record, including a false start on the redevelopment of the National Wax Museum site as well as slow progress on various high-profile Columbia Heights parcels.
The brouhaha over the Anacostia Waterfront Corp. has made for some fun political intrigue down at the John A. Wilson Building.
Start with Jarvis: Back in 2000, Mayor Williams stumped for the incumbent as she unsuccessfully fended off a challenge from upstart Adrian M. Fenty. Since then, Jarvis has been a key ally for Williams, especially in economic development. Yet the business-community powerhouse has been sparring with the mayor’s people over the Anacostia Waterfront Corp. for months now.
Back on Nov. 18, Jarvis wrote a prickly letter to Altman expressing her displeasure at the creation of a corporation separate from the NCRC. She accused the administration of trying to circumvent D.C. Council authority.
“I was somewhat surprised at the sudden and dramatic change in your position,” Altman replied in a letter dated Nov. 25. “This is troubling given the numerous private conversations we have had, as well as your public comments, most recently articulated at the Chamber of Commerce meeting on October 15, where you strongly endorsed the establishment of a focused and distinct waterfront development corporation.”
So what accounts for Jarvis’ change of mind?
Here’s one theory: On Nov. 6, Mayor Williams and Price held a press conference at the old Washington Convention Center announcing the city’s newly chosen redevelopment partner for the site: Hines/Smith/Georgetown. The runner-up? The Forest City/Jarvis Co. team—as in nephew Bill Jarvis.
One of the other losing bidders, The Related Companies, is currently pressing a lawsuit against the city over the bid process.
Jarvis did not return calls for comment.
Carter is another Williams-ally-turned-thorn-in-the-side on this issue. Two years ago, Mayor Williams turned to Carter to head up his write-in campaign after thousands of invalid petition signatures disqualified Williams from the Democratic primary ballot. Given Carter’s lack of real-estate experience, many saw Carter’s appointment to the NCRC as a thank-you from the mayor.
Yet Carter’s been wearing out his shoe leather walking the Wilson Building corridors trying to make councilmembers wary of the proposed Anacostia Waterfront Corp. The NCRC head makes one critical point: Why the need for a separate corporation?
The city needs a single entity that wakes up every morning thinking about the Anacostia waterfront and its neighborhood, the mayor and other administration officials maintain ad nauseam.
Besides, they say, cities such as New York, Baltimore, and Richmond have set up similar entities to build their waterfronts, with results along the lines of Charm City’s famed Inner Harbor. “This is not about personalities,” says Altman, who points to the redevelopment corporation in charge of Battery Park City in New York as a prime example. “That is about a corporation that lived through ups and downs of New York City’s political life. People need to get out of ‘It’s for this one, not for that one.’”
Anacostia Waterfront Corp. opponents say Altman’s the one who’s really getting something out of the legislation. They believe that the mayor has already agreed to have Altman head the new entity. “This is a done deal,” insists At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania, who currently opposes the mayor’s legislation. “It’s his golden parachute when the mayor bids us adieu.”
“What this is about—plain and simple—is that Andy Altman does not want to work for Ted Carter,” adds Catania.
Not according to Altman. “This is not about Ted Carter. This is not about Andy Altman. This is about the waterfront. The waterfront demands its own focus,” he responds.
Price says there’s no golden parachute—but that it might not be such a bad idea. “There’s no conversation that I know of between the mayor and Andy Altman about running the corporation,” says Price. “People have said that to me sometimes—and I’m not acknowledging this is the case—but personally, if it was Andy Altman, the government would be lucky.”
Chatterbox D.C. councilmembers are forever dishing on bumbling colleague At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil. The tips generally concern the 14-year veteran’s classic foibles—such as when he flip-flops on key votes or makes nonsensical extemporaneous remarks.
Of course, Brazil’s peers have always preferred to keep their criticisms off the record.
On Thursday afternoon, Feb. 12, Graham was scheduled to announce an exploratory effort to examine a challenge to Brazil in the Democratic primary. “Harold and I have different philosophies,” Graham told LL on Monday.
Yeah. Graham considers the council a full-time job.
Brazil considers it a $93,000 salary.
Graham cautioned LL that it’s only an exploratory effort right now. “One of the things we’re going to do is a vote analysis,” explained Graham. “It’s going to show that my advocacy for the homeless, against slumlords, for affordable housing puts me in a different philosophy than Harold.”
That’s correct. Graham wants to house the homeless, slam slumlords, and build affordable housing. Brazil wants to know if there’s a majority of his colleagues already in favor of those issues.
Graham needs to figure out how to convince Ward 1 voters that their parochial, pothole-fixing councilmember might better serve them at large. Given who’s stepped up in the past, they might want to keep Graham right where he is. “I haven’t heard that reaction yet,” says the councilmember.
Brazil has no comment on the possible challenge, Brazil spokesperson Shana Heilbron told LL.
Since the Brazil people don’t want to talk, allow campaign consultant LL to fill in the councilmember’s selection of platitudes, mixed metaphors, and babble on the Graham challenge.
•“Competition makes the world go ’round.”
•“All politics is local, and I live in the District.”
•“May the best man win—and hey, that could well be me.” —Elissa Silverman
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