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Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ recent junket to Rome kicked up a tired old D.C. saw: The mayor spends too much time out of town. Air Tony, they like to call him. “They,” in this case, consists of D.C. councilmembers who carp every time the mayor gets past Greenbelt, as well as WRC-TV reporter Tom Sherwood.
Writing in the Northwest Current, Sherwood argues that the mayor’s been out of town 20 percent of the time since his second inauguration. For evidence, Sherwood points to this travel schedule: Since January, Williams has jetted off to a National League of Cities Conference in Miami and a “State of Our Cities” debate in Chicago. Recently, he’s gone to a shopping-center convention in Las Vegas and the Glocalization Conference in Rome. The itinerary also included a day trip to talk to bond-rating firms in Manhattan. And those bond raters always throw AAA parties.
That’s only half the mayor’s out-of-town destinations this year. The stay-at-homers say 10 trips in five months is way too much. “The Notebook used to love looking for Waldo in those brightly colored cartoons,” notes Sherwood, giving an unusually revealing personal detail in his weekly column. “Now we look for the mayor.”
LL thinks he’s pretty easy to find: In a crowd, he’s the guy in the Brooks Brothers suit and bow tie who largely keeps to himself. The security detail’s usually a giveaway, too.
The sniping at Williams comes straight out of the District’s provincial handbook. Sticking close to home has become a badge of distinction and endurance: If you can take the high income taxes, the potholes, and the political disenfranchisement, you’re a bona fide Washingtonianand you can then thumb your nose at commuters and elected officials who dare spend more than a few days in places where citizens actually have voting representation in Congress.
We complain that too few people beyond the Beltway know of our plight. Then, when the mayor goes out into the hinterlandsor to South Beachto spread the word about our voting-rights struggle, we tell him to get back to the ranch pronto. Williams even chose to spend his 10th wedding anniversary in Puerto Rico, until he turned around for the snowstorm. That would be the colony-to-colony commute.
And just where is the crisis at home? It’s not as if the municipal boss leaves town and the Department of Public Works decides to hell with picking up trash. Or that the Department of Human Services goes to banker’s hours and the school system sends kids home until he gets back.
The mayor’s absence, to be sure, has delayed action on the contract renewal of police Chief Charles H. Ramsey. In the absence of a quick resolution, a prolonged civic debate has taken place on the value of the police chief and the future of public safety in the District.
What a disaster!
Williams naysayers comment that the mayor seems bored, tired, despondent. Yet when he takes a few days off to recharge or skips off to a funny-sounding conference, they criticize that, too. It’s not as if the mayor doesn’t have an array of people to deputize. In fact, the mayor has four deputy mayorsfive if you count City Administrator John Koskinen.
He also has a spokesperson who does a better job of countering critics than the mayor himself. “It’s not 20 percent,” Williams spokesperson Tony Bullock argued on WTOP’s Politics Program two Fridays ago. “Tom Sherwood is a skilled reporter, but he’s a lousy mathematician….The mayor’s trips out of town have primarily been for business purposes.”
THEATER OF THE ABSURD
For the 2004 Helen Hayes Awards, in the category of Outstanding Lead Actor in a Resident Production, LL nominates Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham. The D.C. Council thespian has delivered commanding performances in one of the city’s hottest melodramas: the examination of contracts between the city’s Office of Property Management (OPM) and Douglas Jemal’s Douglas Development Corp.
Graham rehearsed his municipal soliloquies a few times over in an eight-hour May 19 dramafest. “I’m sorry, Mr. Jemal,” intoned Graham, as he looked directly into the Channel 13 cameras. “We’re not going to be able to send you another $12 million.”
Jemal wasn’t in the audience.
The council later issued subpoenas to compel Jemal and his associates to appear. They’re expected to attend the next Graham hearing, which takes place this Friday.
Graham’s an actor in an intriguing storyline: Last fall, councilmembers began asking why the city was shelling out $12.5 million for a Jemal-owned property in Prince George’s County to use as an impoundment lot, when the local developer had purchased the undeveloped plot for $1.5 million only a few years back. “Why is this government so determined to buy these 34 acres?” asked Graham in the May 19 hearing, arms outstretched over the dais. “Why? Why?”
Graham’s council hearings this spring have exposed tangled relationships among OPM, Jemal, and the property’s appraisers. The councilmember has extended his scrutiny to contracts between the city and Jemal at another Douglas Development property77 P St. NE, where the city ponies up a little more than $11 million per year for offices, including almost $1 million for a space that remains vacant.
So on Friday, instead of scouting half-price seats at Ticketplace in the Old Post Office Pavilion, LL advises D.C. residents in search of melodrama, suspense, and Shakespearian soliloquy to walk two blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue NW to Graham’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, Latino Affairs, and Property Management hearing in the council chambers. It’s free, there’s no obstructed seating, and vending machines on the Wilson Building fourth floor offer snacks for self-selected intermissions.
* Candidates vying for director of the city’s Office of Latino Affairs (OLA) need to meet some basic criteria set by the Williams administration: familiarity with the District’s rapidly expanding Spanish-speaking communities, experience organizing within D.C.’s Spanish-speaking communities, and, well, an ability to speak Spanish.
Yet among the six semifinalists identified by the city’s search committee, one doesn’t fluently habla español: Christia Alou, OLA’s current acting director.
¿Cómo puede Alou representar a los latinos de D.C. cuando sólo entiende el idioma de los gringos? That’s to say, how can Alou represent D.C. Latinos when she only understands gringo-speak? Perhaps because Alou speaks conversationally with certain members of the Williams administration: The 34-year-old attorney, born to Dominican parents, is a good friend of Joy Arnold, who serves as Williams’ deputy chief of staff for community affairs. Alou moved up from deputy director after Rosario Gutierrez resigned as OLA director last September. OLA employees had circulated a letter complaining about Gutierrez’s autocratic management style.
“It’s not that I’m not fluent,” says Alou about her Spanish language skills. “Sometimes I’m a lot more fluent than at other times.”
Alou might be better deployed to work on Williams’ top priority: baseball. After graduating law school, Alou started her own sports-management company, AC Sport, with Julio A. Castillo, who now serves as executive
director of the District’s Public Employee Relations Board.
Alou has substantial exposure to the game: Father Philipe Alou managed the Montreal Expos for 10 seasons. He now manages the San Francisco Giants, a team that featured him as well as brothers Matty and Jesus Alou during the 1963 season. Christia Alou’s half-brother Moises Alou played for his father’s Expos; now he plays left field for the Chicago Cubs.
Search committee members say the group will make a decision about a new director in the next month or so. Other candidates include Ted Loza, who works as Latino liaison for Ward 1’s Graham.
* Five D.C. councilmembers have signed a letter to D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission Chair John L. Richardson asking the board to tell Executive Director Bobby Goldwater to take a hike when his contract ends in November. The independent commission, which manages RFK Stadium and the D.C. Armory, has come under investigation by the D.C. Auditor, the city’s Office of Campaign Finance, and the Office of the Special Counsel after a series of stories in the Washington Post about its spending habits.
Goldwater makes almost twice as much per year as Mayor Williams.
“[T]he Commission has been embodied in a succession of controversies, and its financial stability has gone from healthy to tenuous,” reads the letter signed by Ward 1’s Graham, Ward 2’s Jack Evans, Ward 3’s Kathy Patterson, Ward 4’s Adrian M. Fenty, and At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson. “It is difficult to justify a $275,000 salary for this, or to justify continuation of this situation’s primary architectMr. Goldwater.”
“The Commission and Mr. Goldwater have begun the process of considering an extension of Mr. Goldwater’s relationship with the Commission as its President and Executive Director,” says Richardson in a written statement. “As we proceed, the Board will, of course, want to hear the opinions of others including members of the city council.”
* .State Education Office Director C. Vannessa Spinner and summer-food-program director Cynthia Bell testified this week that the city plans to feed 46,000 children this summer. That answer visibly surprised Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation Chair Kevin P. Chavous, who later asked how many children the city fed last year.
“I don’t have that number at the top of my head, but I can get that to you,” Spinner responded.
Well, LL knows where to find it: In March, the nonprofit Food Research and Action Center released a report stating that the city fed only 14,848 children in 2002. “Expectations were high in 2001 and leading into 2002,” reads a section of the report. “Instead participation fell dramatically in 2002.” Poor community outreach and a smaller D.C. public schools summer-school program contributed to the feeding program’s problems. This summer, D.C. public schools will offer feeding sites for only 29 out of the 49 days of the program.
After last summer’s fiasco, Spinner promised to keep councilmembers up to date with biweekly reports on the program. This week, Chavous and Mendelson again asked to see the reports every other week.
“We are excited about the prospect of feeding over 40,000 children,” Chavous told Spinner. “Let’s hope we can make it happen.” CP
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