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Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham knows that he’s not a favored dinner companion of Mayor Anthony A. Williams right now. “I think things are strained,” admits Graham.
When the two pols met at an Adams Morgan restaurant last month, only one of them broke bread: “I ate and he didn’t, but it was still formally a dinner,” says Graham. LL’s no psychologist, but strained relations might be expected to develop after you’ve spent 44-plus hours pounding away at your dining companion and his underlings. And that’s precisely what Graham, as chair of the D.C. Council’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, Latino Affairs, and Property Management, has done in connection with the Williams administration’s latest fiasco in the Office of Property Management (OPM). Graham’s latest installment was a 12-hour session in the council chamber, which ended a little before 10 p.m. last Thursday.
A 30-year D.C. bar veteran and former law clerk to Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, Graham has been an unlikely prosecutor of the Williams administration. For the first four years of Williams’ reign, Graham held lengthy snoozefests on the city’s disposition of surplus properties and the complianceor lack thereofof D.C. agencies with a mandate to communicate in Spanish. He always seemed willing to applaud the mayor’s latest efforts in economic development and management reform, no matter what the setting. “I don’t think I was slavish,” says Graham. “The mayor is the mayorand his success is the city’s success.”
That’s a mildly sycophantic statement by Graham’s old standards. In a tense hearing back in spring 2002, the mayor appeared before the council to testify about a nonprofit fundraising scandal. While his colleagues ripped into the mayor, liberally using such words as “fraud” and “obstruction of justice,” Graham remained an apologist. “Mr. Mayor, you’re a great leader and your work is deeply appreciated,” remarked Graham.
Graham says he tried to huddle with the great leader when he first spotted problems with the proposed purchase of a vehicle-impoundment lot in Prince George’s County. After At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz questioned the deal, Graham rang up OPM Deputy Director Michael Lorusso. Graham’s inquiries didn’t yield a satisfactory answer, and so he headed straight up to the John A. Wilson Building’s sixth floor. “As somebody who has faith in the mayor, I went directly to the mayor,” explains Graham.
The mayor wasn’t in but was reached by phone. Williams listened as Graham explained that he suspected a “cooked” appraisal. The mayor dispatched Deputy Mayor Eric W. Price to address Graham’s concerns later that day.
Yet the more dirt Graham turned up, the less interested the mayor’s staff appeared. “It was always a response of ‘Jim, chill out: We’re referring this to the [inspector general]. Jim, chill out: We’re referring this to the U.S. attorney,’” explains Graham with a sigh. “Had we chilled out and not done anything, where would we be today? I’m very proud of the fact that we didn’t chill out.”
Graham has gotten chillier to the mayor every hearing: “I hope the mayor of the District of Columbia is listening to this, because I think this hearing is going to show we have a big-time problem,” ranted Graham on June 6. “Other than referring this to the inspector general, which some of us think is like dropping a nickel into a deep well, what I’m missing is the passion…about getting to the bottom of this!”
The second-term rep is certainly impressed with his own passion on the property investigation. “[The mayor] might want to say that he appreciates Councilmember Graham, and Councilmember Schwartz, and the other members of the council that have put their shoulder to this wheel,” Graham told the audience at one point.
With Graham joining the ranks of critics, Williams has few allies left downstairs in the Wilson Building. Here are the crib notes on his naysaying colleagues:
•Kathy Patterson: Councilmembers treasure nothing so much as an easy summer re-election campaign. Yet in 2002, former Williams-administration staffer Erik Gaull challenged Patterson in the primary, forcing her to pound the pavement of Chain Bridge Road NW. Patterson blamed Williams for injecting competition into Ward 3 politics.
•Vincent B. Orange Sr.: Orange loves his Home Depot, but he hates the administration’s inspector general, Charles C. Maddox, and the fact that Williams won’t fire him. The Ward 5 councilmember has tried to boot Maddox through legislation that amends the requirements for the post. A D.C. Superior Court judge is now reviewing the legality of Orange’s power play.
•Jack Evans: Although gracious in losing the mayor’s race to Williams in 1998, the Ward 2 councilmember has tangled with Williams over issues too numerous to recount in one installment of this column. The most recent clash arose from the city’s master business license program: Evans wants to scrap it, while Williams wants to save it. “Mr. Mayor, why are you talking to one of my votes!” cried Evans as he barged in on a meeting between Williams and swing vote Orange. In other words, don’t fuck with the Committee on Finance and Revenue chair when you might need his help on, say, baseball financing.
Williams didn’t get the message: On Tuesday, he vetoed Evans’ anti-business-license bill.
The grudges other councilmembers hold need less explanation:
•Adrian M. Fenty: “The mayor stole my hairstyle.”
•Phil Mendelson: “Williams has his own security detail. He doesn’t need 911 like us!”
•Carol Schwartz: “I’m responsible for the trash trucks, honey!”
•Sharon Ambrose: “Williams leaves town more than I leave Ward 6.”
•David A. Catania: “[Insert scandal]. This goes straight to the mayor!”
•Kevin P. Chavous: “When can I trade in my Mercedes for the mayoral Navigator?”
•Sandy Allen: “Williams is no Willie F. Wilson!”
•Linda W. Cropp: “Listen up. I’m the most boring figure in D.C. politics.”
That leaves Williams with only one council go-to guy: At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil, the member of the council most known for ducking tough questions and avoiding accountability. And even he’s not all that reliable: On the burning public-policy issue of Klingle Road, Brazil once sided with Williams about keeping the road closed to traffic. In the end, he switched his vote and went against the mayor.
At least Williams won’t have to sit through any tough hearings before Brazil’s Committee on Economic Development.
I WANT MY SPECIAL-ED MONEY
Has MTV’s Ashton Kutcher been in town without LL’s knowledge? Because Mayor Williams sure got Punk’d big-time this week.
The mayor didn’t get duped into believing his belongings were being repossessed for owing $900,000 in back taxes, as did Justin Timberlake. Nor did he think twice about being told the Lincoln Navigator and Town Cars that make up the mayoral motorcade were hot property, à la singer Pink. Nope, D.C.’s chief executive got punk’d by Republicans who said school vouchers would benefit the District’s public schools.
Here’s how it happened: After several meetings this spring with Education Secretary Rod Paige, Williams announced his support for an experimental voucher program, which would appropriate federal dollars to send a few thousand D.C. students to private or parochial schools. Bushies were short on the appropriation details, speaking nebulously about a $75 million program targeting seven or eight cities to start.
Williams signed D.C. up. He explained to the Washington Post that he couldn’t sit idly by as District youngsters received a “crappy” public education and said his support for the controversial initiative came as a package deal: In exchange for vouchers, Williams said, he was negotiating with the feds for $100 million or so toward the city’s unwieldy special-ed costs.
Republicans got what they wanted: support for vouchers from the black, Democratic mayor of a majority-black city.
Williams got screwed: This week, Rep. Thomas M. Davis (R-Va.), who has oversight over the District as chair of the House Government Reform Committee, introduced legislation that creates a $15 million voucher program in the Districtwith no other federal monies attached so far. “Anthony Williams is not a complete idiot. But this makes him look him look like a complete idiot,” says school-board member Tommy Wells, who represents Wards 5 and 6. “I have to believe there must have been something on the table, something substantial.”
The idiot brigade has a couple of other foot soldiers: Ward 7 Councilmember Chavous and Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz. LL recalls a Palisades Citizens’ Association meeting on the D.C. public-schools budget earlier this spring, at which Chavous explained to anti-voucher Ward 3ers that he couldn’t walk away from $100 million in federal cash. Cafritz nodded her head in agreement.
So what happened to the big money?
Williams says vouchers are part of a “three-tiered” approach, which includes public and charter schools. “I’m not holding out for $100 million per se,” says the mayor, who backs away from any specific dollar amounts for the other two “tiers.”
LL won’t gloat. Instead we’ll let public officials who spoke against vouchers have their glory: About two months ago, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Fenty held a rally in opposition to the Williams-backed voucher plan. Norton told the crowd that the mayor had no deal on vouchers. And at a committee hearing last month, Education Undersecretary Eugene Hickok told Norton there was no deal as well.
“Could you not see this one coming a million miles away?” says Ward 4’s Fenty, who has been the local official most vocal against vouchers. “When have we gotten into a relationship with the Republican federal government and come out a winner?”
•D.C. Council Committee on Government Operations Chair Orange has made the case many times that Inspector General Maddox needs to vacate his job. First Orange questioned Maddox’s credentials and investigative techniques. Then Orange and his colleagues ganged up on Maddox and passed a law making the inspector general ineligible for his own post.
Maddox’s boss, Mayor Williams, told him to keep reporting for work. So the council sued Williams to enforce the law, and it’s currently in the hands of the Superior Court.
Now, Orange claims that Maddox is a legal liability: In a letter to Williams, Orange asked that the mayor put the inspector general on administrative leave without pay until the court case is settled. “This request should be adhered to immediately to protect the integrity of the operations of the D.C. Office of the Inspector General,” wrote Orange. “There are many complex investigations (OPM, credit card fraud, steering of contracts, Hatch Act violations, executive office fundraising issues, Washington Teachers’ Union, etc.) being conducted that can be ruled tainted and/or invalid due to the participation of Charles C. Maddox.” CP
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