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Newly re-elected councilmembers on Jan. 2 followed a set routine after they recited the oath of office during inaugural festivities: They hugged and kissed family and friends, delivered remarks, and then shook the hand of Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent B. Orange Sr. offered the mayor a firm handshake. So did At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson and Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham.
When Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson headed back to her seat, she blew right by Williams without even a nod.
The snub proved that four years is plenty of time to destroy a political relationship. During Williams’ 1998 mayoral bid, Patterson was the sole councilmember to support the former chief financial officer in the Democratic primary. The move took some guts, because three of Patterson’s colleagues were vying for the job. But the Ward 3 councilmember thought she had found a reform soulmate in Williams, who spoke of balanced budgets and a government open to public scrutiny.
The pre-election hand-holding, however, yielded to a series of public disagreements once Williams took office. Each spat seemed to produce an upgrade in nastiness.
Which leads us to the two pols’ latest public display of disaffection: a recent council action on the police budget. Last Thursday, Patterson’s Committee on the Judiciary voted 3 to 2 to reduce the mayor’s funding request for fiscal year 2004. Chair Patterson, along with Ward 2’s Jack Evans and Ward 7’s Kevin P. Chavous, voted to fund 3,700 police officers; the mayor had requested money for 3,800a proposal backed by Judiciary Committee members Sharon Ambrose and Harold Brazil.
In the ensuing week, the Williams administration has framed the budget debate for maximum simplicity: Residents want a more visible police presence. We’re for putting more officers out on the street. Who’s against that?
“This is really outrageous,” responded Williams in a press release issued a few hours after the vote. “I am confident that a majority of the full council will reverse the irresponsible and reckless position taken by the committee.”
“Am I reckless and irresponsible?” asks Patterson. “I’d disagree with that.”
Instead of bandying adjectives, Patterson points to numbers from the council archives. In the past five years, the council has gladly supported police appropriations for 3,800 officers. Yet every year, the force fails to hit the target, due to departmental overspending as well as the fact that Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey can’t recruit enough new officers to outpace attrition. In fact, out of a force of about 3,600, only 3,258 officers are available right now for active duty.
“It’s intellectually dishonest to think that they are telling the public 3,800. They have had the opportunity to do that for five years, and they’ve never done it,” explains Evans.
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Ever the policy wonk, Patterson dwells on the chief’s deployment of department manpower. The District has 631 Metropolitan Police Department officers per 100,000 residentsthe highest ratio of any state or large city in the country. It’s just that too many of them are sitting behind desks or are somehow on the disabled list. “The Committee believes that the deployment of officers, and the quality of their training and investigative work, deserve more attention than the number of officers, and points out that increases in the number of sworn officers have not resulted in more officers on patrol…” reads the Judiciary Committee report.
Williams has made policing levels his Rubicon, in part to dispel opinions expressed in the Washington Post and elsewhere that he’s bored with his work. His recent posturing reflects a desperation over the prospect that runaway crime will undermine everything he considers an accomplishment, such as budget-balancing, the real-estate boom, and the accompanying boosts in civic pride.
The mayor took his Patterson offensive on the road Monday night. At a Ward 4 community meeting, Williams repeated to the crowd that “now is not the time to be cutting police….We don’t want to retreat on public safety.” The small crowd largely rallied behind the mayor and Ramsey. “I’m very upset about Councilmember Patterson,” one resident told the mayor.
The Williams-Patterson strife has some history. The parting of ways started soon after the mayor took office. Some Williams loyalists say that Patterson wanted “most-favored councilmember status” for abandoning her colleagues in the 1998 race and casting her lot with the new guy. They believe that Patterson expected to be Williams’ D.C.-government consigliere and the first person the mayor called on for advice and counsel.
Patterson notes that the two did have monthly tête-à-têtes about policy matters until last year. “Does it mean he always took my advice?” she asks. “No.”
Patterson’s disenchantment started with Williams’ first ethics fumble, in which the mayor failed to disclose that he held lucrative consulting contracts during the campaign with vendors that do business with the city. Then came the first budget season, when the former CFO issued a sloppy budget proposal that councilmembers delighted in attacking with red pens.
The Williams administration fell out of love with Patterson, too. Toward the end of a farewell party for former Williams Chief of Staff Abdusalam Omer, his administration colleagues showed a video that featured a montage of scowls from the Ward 3 councilmember while on the dais. The small band of Williams loyalists hooted with laughter.
Patterson has been a trailblazer on the council when it comes to oversight. As chair of the Committee on Government Operations, she worked to reform basic municipal functions such as contracting and procurement. Now, as chair of the Judiciary Committee, Patterson has hounded the corrections, fire, and police departments with requests for information to evaluate performance.
One politico’s vigilance, however, is another’s micromanagement. “I think there’s been a volume of criticism from her which seems…excessive, especially in corrections, police, and fire,” says mayoral spokesperson Tony Bullock. “I think doing oversight the way it should be done requires a balance that we’re not seeing.”
The relationship moved from strained to savage last year, when former Williams staffer Erik Gaull announced his candidacy for the Ward 3 council seat. Patterson and her supporters saw Gaull as a toady for Williams, who enjoys much support in the ward. Patterson went on the attack. So did her husband, a Democratic Party stalwart who ended up as one of the most visible supporters of Williams’ general-election opponent, Republican Carol Schwartz. “I think it’s fair to say there wouldn’t have been a [Gaull] campaign but for the administration’s participation,” asserts Patterson.
“I think you have to be an idiot to think that the mayor asked me to run,” says Gaull. “So the mayor said, ‘I’m not going to endorse you, I’m not going to give you fundraising assistance, but I’d like you to run against a two-term incumbent and chair of a powerful committee.’…I got $90,000 of my own money invested in this.”
Patterson would agree with Gaull that Williams has trouble making firm commitments. Like on police staffing, for example. Patterson says that on Jan. 7, 2002, at a breakfast with the mayor and councilmembers, Williams promised that he would have a police force of 3,800 officers. At the time, certain councilmembers were pushing legislation mandating that 60 percent of the force be on the street. “The mayor included a staffing chart that outlined 3,800 officers this fiscal year,” Patterson recalls. “I don’t know if the mayor’s aware that he made that commitment in writing.”
Chavous vowed not to swallow another of the mayor’s pledges: “I think we’ve been unwitting fools, frankly,” said the Ward 7 rep before Thursday’s vote. “There’s an inherent fallacy in the statement we’ve gotten from some who’ve supported 3,800….Even if we funded 4,800, we may not yet get 175 new officers in the neighborhood.”
Instead of allocating money for new hires who might never make it to a roll call, Patterson proposes putting that money into pay raises for officers who already show up. And she denies that tension with the mayor has fueled the biggest rhetorical battle of 2003. “I have a responsibility to work with the person who holds the job of mayor, and I will do that to the best of my ability,” says Patterson. “I think there’s a lot he could learn from the council’s oversightparticularly concerning public safety.”
“I’m not the one making it an issue,” adds Patterson. “I’m doing a routine markup.”
* In feting Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King, the board of the Pulitzer Prizes lauded commentaries that “speak to people in power with ferocity and wisdom.” In a press conference two days after the announcement, Mayor Williams congratulated King for winning the highest distinction in punditry and joked that he supplied rich material for the columnist.
Perhaps in appreciation, King’s family invited Williams to a celebratory soiree at the columnist’s house the following Sunday. That day, the Post printed a story trashing the first 100 days of Williams’ second term. When the mayor stopped by, King told Williams that he wanted to chat about it.
When the mayor’s handlers called the prize-winning columnist the next afternoon to set up a time to talk, King told them that they were a little late: He had just filed a Post editorial based on the Sunday story. “There is concern that the mayor is bored with the nitty-gritty of government and is only going through the motions when it comes to addressing the deeper, systemic issues of the D.C. government that won’t go away,” read the April 15 editorial.
“They called at the end of the day,”
Lesson: Call Mr. King first thing in
Mayoral spokesperson Bullock expressed regret that Williams’ side of the story didn’t make it into the rant. “Even the mayor’s harshest critics would agree that he’s the James Brown of District politics,” says Bullock, drawing a parallel between his boss and the hardest-working man in show business.
* In neighborhoods such as Dupont Circle and Mount Pleasant, where finding an on-street parking spot at night is like panning for gold, some residents have applauded a new program that targets parkers who live in D.C. but have their cars registered elsewhere. After being spotted three times in 30 days, out-of-state interlopers will now receive tickets for keeping their cars on primo District real estate between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
As chair of the council’s Committee on Public Works and the Environment, At-Large Councilmember Schwartz pointed out one negative aspect of the programits effect on love. “The relationship issue is an issue,” Schwartz told Department of Public Works Director Leslie Hotaling.
“We don’t want to say that you can only have a relationship with someone with a D.C. tag,” lectured Schwartz, who has been known to date a few out-of-towners herself.
“While we’re clamping down on violators, I don’t want to cramp people’s styles,” Schwartz wanted LL to know. “Our residents are entitled to personal and private livesand with nonresidents if they so choose.”
Interstate lovers can avoid the ticket by obtaining a visitor’s pass from the local police district.With inspiration from Schwartz, DPW insiders have coined a new nickname for the visitor’s parking permit: the “conjugal visit” pass. CP
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