Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin P. Chavous has a new buddy in Mayor Anthony A. Williams. The two pols have been spotted by LL and others amiably chatting at events around town.
Why would the fiercely independent Chavous link up with the mayor? LL can only guess:
•He needs advice in setting up a few nonprofit organizations to benefit charities and advance his political career.
•Chavous is researching rent control and values the mayor’s perspective as a longtime renter.
•It’s getting close to petition time!
Actually, that third motive isn’t probably far from the truth: Chavous is latching on to Williams because his own political career is adrift. How else can you possibly explain the political leap the councilmember is taking?
Think about it. For the past five years, the Ward 7 councilmember has defined himself as the anti-Williams. He has charisma; Williams doesn’t. He supports a public hospital; Williams doesn’t. He’s got game; Williams doesn’t. And there’s yet one other defining difference between the politicos. Chavous has trouble getting re-elected; Williams doesn’t.
In 2000, Chavous faced a stiff challenge in the Democratic primary from a pack of nobodies. The incumbent barely received a majority, winning with only 53 percent of Ward 7 votes.
In 2004, Chavous might have an even tougher time against Vincent Gray, executive director of Covenant House, a nonprofit organization providing services to underprivileged youth. Earlier this year, Gray beat a Chavous-backed slate of candidates in the race to head the Ward 7 Democrats. Since taking over the ward leadership, Gray has boosted attendance at meetings and taken a highly visible role in Democratic party politics.
Facing that kind of challenge, you might think, Chavous should be busy fundraising. His council colleagues up for re-election next year have raised quite a bit of money for their campaign coffers. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans has raised $143,000 in an effort to scare off potential challengers. Ward 4’s Adrian M. Fenty has raised $121,000 for his war chest.
As of July 31, Chavous had raised a puny $17,340 for his 2004 re-election efforts. What, has he joined the Green Party?
Chavous partisans may argue that his lightweight piggy bank reflects political puritynamely, that the councilmember hasn’t sold out to all those downtown business types who support other council candidates.
If so, how do you explain that many of the $500 maximum contributions came from the city’s parking industry: Atlantic Garage Inc., Monument Parking Co., Parking Management Inc., Doggett Enterprises and MarcParc Parking.
Is that contract at the Penn Branch Shopping Center up for grabs?
In fact, the most plausible explanation for Chavous’ indigent campaign is that he has virtually no identity anymore as a politician. If he’s not flip-flopping on critical policy issues, he’s failing to tend to his oversight duties as chair of the council’s Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation to reform the school system.
Let’s start with the flip-flop. When Chavous announced his support for school vouchers this spring, the renegade position seemed daring for the Ward 7 Democrat. It was. In a piece that appeared in the Washington Post a year before, Chavous declared that D.C. public schools already had choice. “I am not confident that throwing vouchers into the ‘choice pot’ will preserve the synergy that exists between D.C. Public Schools and the charter schools,” wrote Chavous. “We are accomplishing the same goals that vouchers would accomplish through the charter school movement.”
“This is all evolutionary. I started out as chair of the eduction committee thinking [that] giving schools more money, they would reform,” Chavous explained to LL. He says his alignment with the mayor on vouchers is based on principle, not political expediency. “It’s no secret that a large majority of folks in my ward are against vouchers….I’m completely motivated by what I feel is right.”
While Chavous has spent this summer and fall hobnobbing with the Republican leadership on the Hill about school vouchers, he has left much of the work of his committee to his colleagues. In his three council terms, Chavous has gotten a reputation for big talk and little follow-through.
Just how ineffectual has Chavous become on schools? When Board of Education members met with city officials to discuss a proposed memorandum of understanding on schools budgeting last week, the board’s rep for Wards 5 and 6, Tommy Wells, noted that only one councilmember had bothered to show up, and he wasn’t surprised to see who it was: Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson.
That was quite a dis for Chavous. “Kathy has been terrific,” says Wells.
Patterson has been hammering out a way for the school system to pay its teachers and keep its budget balanced. When the education-committee member got word this summer that the school board might not fund the teachers’ union’s 9 percent pay raise, Patterson showed up at school-board headquarters and presented a plan. She urged board members to immediately enter into negotiations with the union. “I want to express my grave concern that we are headed for a train wreck of major proportions…” she told the members in a public forum on the D.C. Public Schools fiscal-year 2004 budget. “This time, though, it is likely not to be fire-code violations, but rather budget and staffing issues that impact the fall term, disrupting the lives of children and parents all across this city.”
“That is my fear; that fear is why I’m here,” Patterson added.
Chavous’ fear factor kicked in later. “I was here all August,” responds Chavous. “As soon as the board voted to abrogate the pay raises, I dashed off a letter and said, ‘We’re not going to accept these actions.’”
One of Chavous’ central roles on his committee is as a watchdog for the city’s State Education Office. But in overseeing the agency, Chavous seems to sit second chair to another of his committee members, At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson.
In oversight hearings on the agency’s abysmal performance executing the city’s summer feeding program for kids, Mendelson has been chief interrogator of agency Director C. Vannessa Spinner. In hearings last spring, Mendelson questioned whether Spinner was presenting an accurate picture of the agency.
Last week, Spinner acknowledged that she has exaggerated projections of how many children the program would feed. The District agency also violated federal regulations by paying for other nutrition programs with the wrong funds, losing documents, and making other programmatic errors. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report found that the agency used funds from 2003 to pay for meals served in 2002, that it charged salaries of employees to different accounts and could not verify salaries, and that it could not reconcile meal counts.
While Mendelson spent the summer requesting information, compiling statistics, and visiting feeding sites, Chavous apparently had better things to do.
That to-do list didn’t include preserving the lone hospital east of the river. Over two years ago, Chavous and at-large colleague David A. Catania led the fight to keep open D.C. General Hospital, the city’s lone public hospital and a provider of health care to many residents of his ward. Chavous and Catania even sued to preserve the public hospital. Along the way, Chavous made public health care his most passionate rhetorical talking point, providing inflammatory quotes to any media rep within earshot. “The closure of D.C. General Hospital was the worst public-policy decision in the history of home rule,” he ranted to LL this week, for example.
Chavous, however, has more recently opted out of the yeoman’s work of health-care reform. When Greater Southeast Community Hospital faced closure this past summer, the councilmember didn’t even attend the press conference announcing a life-support plan.
Yet Chavous is always available to demagogue his way into the headlines. Last week, he blasted George Washington University Hospital for not admitting a Ward 7 patient to its emergency room. Chavous framed the case as an indictment of the Williams administration’s privatized D.C. Healthcare Alliance.
Earlier that day, the education-committee chair had offered a primer on oversight for a group of students from the Maret School and Archbishop Carroll High School.
•Retired four-star general Wesley K. Clark has enlisted many prominent Clintonites in his presidential bid, including campaign chair and former Americorps Director Eli Segal and former Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor.
The former NATO supreme allied commander has also attracted the attention of a prominent local Democrat: Former D.C. Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. Barry stopped by a Clark fundraiser sponsored by Mora Segal, daughter of Clark’s campaign chair, according to the Hill newspaper.
Presidential hopeful Clark did not attend the D.C. shindig.
D.C.’s Jan. 13 presidential primary hasn’t garnered too much interest from the nine Democratic contenders. Part of the reason might be that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has locked up endorsements from most of the city’s elected leadership. Mayor Williams will likely support Connecticut pal Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman.
Clark’s been branded a political neophyte, the best chance to beat President George W. Bush, and a stalking horse for a last-minute run by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y).
•.Mayor Williams convened a special press briefing on his Citizen Summit III for community newspapers last week. When D.C. Watch Executive Director Dorothy Brizill asked whether citizens would actually get anything out of the hi-tech gathering, Williams declared Brizill “unbelievably negative.” He accused the dogged D.C.-government observer of “hijacking” his weekly press briefings.
“I essentially was his straight man, but he didn’t take it that way,” says Brizill. “He took it as an attack.”
•At this year’s Kennedys-King Dinner, the largest annual event for the D.C. Democratic Party, the organization will honor former D.C. Mayor Walter Washington, Sen. Clinton, and lobbyist David Wilmot.
Wilmot will receive the Local Democrat of the Year award.
Did Wilmot get the top local honor for his defense of Scott Bishop Sr., the mastermind behind the mayor’s nominating-petition effort?
Or for his lobbying on behalf of PEPCO or Anheuser-Busch?
“As a leading lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, Mr. Wilmot’s clients or his representation thereof, had nothing to do with the decision to recognize his political efforts as a Democrat in the District of Columbia…,” writes D.C. Democratic Party Chair A. Scott Bolden. Elissa Silverman
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