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On Monday, with the war in Iraq a near certainty, both national and local media outlets sought out D.C. politicos for their take on homeland security and emergency preparedness. NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw interviewed Mayor Anthony A. Williams. WTTG Fox 5 talked with At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz.
As usual, though, no one sought out At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil as a talking head on the news of the day. So Brazil took his punditry straight to the people. The vehicle for his views was his weekly e-mail newsletter, the Brazil Bulletin, which occasionally features a column titled “Bonehead of the Week.”
This week’s recipient? “Saddam Hussein, the madman who gassed his own countrymen, for not having the decency to exile himself and save American and Iraqi lives!”
With this flourish, Brazil advances the level of commentary on Hussein. Pundits often refer to Hussein as a butcher and an evil man, but Brazil appears to own the “bonehead” designation. Previous boneheads have included Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos and boxer Mike Tyson.
WILLIAMS AT BAT
If Mayor Williams left office today, he would be remembered for many things. For one, he does a kickass cannonball dive at city pool openings. He doesn’t read résumés. And he believes firmly in delegating authority.
And these days, Williams is no doubt contemplating the shallowness of the legacy he’s built over five years in office. After all, there’s only so much credit you can take for clearing the Thomas Circle underpass and exiling the control board.
So history’s judgment may explain the mayor’s current obsession with baseball. Sure, Williams may believe that baseball would spur economic development. That it would lure suburbanites into the city. That this major-league sport would give the city a civic boost. But baseball would also solve Williams’ legacy crisis.
Try as he might, Williams has failed to make his mark out of the big-ticket items that continue to dog city policymakers:
Education. Like other mayoral hopefuls, Williams campaigned back in 1998 on a pledge to turn around the city’s beleaguered school system. Toward that end, Williams in 2000 championed a major change to the composition of the D.C. Board of Education. The new hybrid structure gave the mayor the power to appoint half the board and exert his influence over the school system’s governing body.
Sometime between then and now, D.C.’s self-proclaimed education mayor seems to have lost interest in the three R’s: In February, mayoral appointees Roger Wilkins and Charles Lawrence resigned when their school-board terms ended, expressing frustration with their lack of communication with the mayor. Williams has yet to fill the appointments.
Health care. Williams also vowed to change the delivery of health care as we know it. He created the D.C. Healthcare Alliance, which emphasized primary care administered through Greater Southeast Community Hospital. Greater Southeast declared bankruptcy last fall, putting the health-care plan and health-care access for those residents who live east of the Anacostia river in great jeopardy.
Public safety. Each year, Williams puts public safety and justice at the top of his agenda. And each year, the mayor considers restructuring the anchor of his community policing efforts: the patrol service areas, or PSAs.
The legacy quest came into sharp focus last summer, just before Williams’ summertime re-election campaign. With $1.2 million in the campaign war chest and no real opposition in sight, Williams supporters spoke of creating a charitable foundation with all the surplus cash left over after the cakewalk. Williams, it appeared, would forge a legacy in the mold of Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz.
Then the mayor handed in nominating petitions with nearly 8,000 bogus signatures and spent over $2 million to stay on the ballot and win the race.
“The way to establish a legacy is through social-progress change or radically changing basic service delivery,” says Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian M. Fenty.
Sure, Williams has balanced the budget and collected the trash. Everywhere else those are normal functions of city government, not the stuff of biographies and building-namings.
So Williams has made bringing back baseball his crusade. In fact, Williams’ Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development has been working almost nonstop on baseball planning and financing over the past few months. Public meetings on baseball held last week outlined the site proposals and the potential benefits of bringing the sport to the city. But they failed to detail the estimated $300 million in public financing needed to build a ballpark.
The baseball rollout has coincided with the District’s annual budget review. On Monday, the mayor presented his budget-gap-closing proposal for fiscal year 2003 and his budget for fiscal year 2004. Under current revenue projections, the city faces a $134 million budget shortfall for 2003. He proposes balancing the 2004 budget with an increase in taxes, mostly on parking and residents who earn more than $100,000.
Williams and his economic team say that the ballpark would not take away money from other government services. They propose to use taxes on stadium food, parking, and ballplayers, along with a gross-receipts tax on businesses, to fund the project. Still, his legislative colleagues remain wary. “I’d like to see baseball come backbut at what price?” asks Schwartz.
“I share a difference of opinion in that I’m prepared to walk [away],” says Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans. “Frankly, I think you have be prepared to walk away. We just can’t afford to do this.”
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And what happens if a revenue stream dries up, as in a baseball players’ strike? “Who covers the bond payments?” asks Evans.
The Williams squad has yet to answer those questions. Consensus among councilmembers, though, is that mayoral aides will keep working the numbers until they justify an enormous public investment in a baseball stadium. The result may well endanger the legacy that vaulted Williams into the mayor’s office to begin with: balanced budgets.
WATCHING THE DETECTIVES
It goes without saying that the D.C. Office of the Inspector General is a magnet for the city’s conspiracy theorists. Every day, investigators in the independent agency receive tips on District-government employees acting in cahoots to abuse the public trust.
On March 7, Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent B. Orange Sr. and At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania shared their own conspiracy theory with Inspector General Charles C. Maddox: that Maddox is just a toady for Mayor Williams. “The belief is that there is some quid pro quos going on,” blasted Catania at one point during the five-hour-plus oversight hearing. “The mayor doesn’t fire you, and you look the other way [on] matters regarding the executive office….It is the belief of, I dare say, every member.”
That’s pretty accurate: Last spring, the D.C. Council unanimously voted no confidence in D.C.’s top watchdog.
Orange piled on. “You on your own have never initiated an investigation into the Executive Office of the Mayor,” he charged. Orange chairs the council’s Committee on Government Operations, which has focused much of its time and energy on D.C.’s inspector general. Orange & Co. have been on Maddox’s case for all sorts of alleged collusion with Williams. For starters, say councilmembers, Maddox took more than a year investigating alleged improprieties associated with the mayor’s nonprofit fundraising. At the time, conspiracists suggested that D.C.’s top investigator was dragging his feet for Williams’ benefit.
Maddox later responded with his own analysis: “You don’t have clean hands, Mr. Orange,” he said. “You’ve got another agenda.” According to Maddox, that agenda was short: Get rid of Maddox because he’s raising questions about Orange’s campaign finances.
Intended to be independent of political influence, the inspector general can be removed only by the mayor and only for just cause. Orange figured out a way around that obstacle: On Tuesday, the council legislated that the inspector general must have graduated from an accredited law school and have been a member of the D.C. Bar for at least seven years, or have been a CPA for at least seven years. Maddox does not have these qualifications.
Maddox’s credentials deficit came to light last year, when Orange commandeered another marathon hearing: It focused on Maddox’s education, his sleeping habits, and even his favorite places to jog. Maddox splits his time between a two-bedroom condo in Logan Circle and a 17-acre estate in Upper Marlboro, where his wife resides. By law, the inspector general is required to live in the District.
Orange offered new evidence on Maddox-
Williams chumminess March 7: that Maddox ignored tips about the Williams administration’s steering of contracts to Curtis Lewis, lawyer for the scandal-plagued Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) and brother of union treasurer James O. Baxter II. In sworn testimony to the council, former D.C. Office of Human Rights employee Saundra Parrish stated that her boss, Charles Holman, said he had been “ordered to give contracts to Curtis Lewis because Curtis Lewis is connected to the mayor.”
Parrish says she brought this to the inspector general’s attention as early as July 2001, more than a year before the union’s parent organization initiated an investigation into $5 million in missing WTU funds. Maddox disputes Parrish’s testimony.
Then there’s the strange timing of an investigation into the Board of Elections and Ethics. Last August, the board was scrambling to complete a review of the mayor’s flawed nominating petitions. Staffers were maxed out on the task, laboring under strict time constraints and huge piles of paper. Maddox apparently decided that the petition crisis was just the time to drop a search warrant on the board. The purpose of the warrant was to investigate allegations of improper salary increases by board employees. But once again, Orange claimed that Maddox had an ulterior motive: to distract the board from a thorough investigation of the mayor’s campaign.
Maddox counters that Orange’s nitpicking stems not from a wholesome concern for good government but from the aforementioned personal motive. The inspector general has pressed the Office of Campaign Finance to look into Orange’s campaign-finance reporting.
The mayor reportedly will meet with Maddox in the next week. He has 10 days to sign the council’s legislationwhich would effectively push Maddox out of his postor veto itwhich the council will likely override.
* Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. celebrated his 67th birthday with Tony Norman and other rebellious Ward 1 Democrats at Cada Vez March 6. Norman chairs the group of Ward 1 Dems not recognized by the Democratic State Committee (DSC).
Partygoers paid $20 per person to hobnob with Barry. Proceeds benefit the Ward 1 party cell. “[Barry] declared we are the true representation of Ward 1 Democrats,” Norman told LL.
Competing Ward 1 Dems chair Calvin Woodland Jr. says his DSC-sanctioned group is pursuing legal action against Norman and his posse. And Woodland pointed out another illegitimacy: Cada Vez is located in Ward 2. “You would think if you were Ward 1 Dems, that you wouldn’t go to Ward 2 for an event,” says Woodland.
* Every few weeks now, LL receives a new update on Eric Holder’s whereabouts: Tipsters call when they see Holder eating lunch at Saints Paradise Cafeteria or when he attends any kind of community gathering. It’s all evidence, they claim, that the former U.S. attorney and deputy to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno has set his sights on running for mayor in 2006.
LL was surprised by our last tip: that Holder was representing the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. According to Heidi Kotzian, Holder was the attorney playing defense against Freedom of Information Act requests made by the Kingman Park Civic Association and Georgetown University’s Institute for Public Representation. The groups were interested in the contract between the commission and National Grand Prix Holdings LLC.
Earlier this month, the commission announced that the company’s 2003 Cadillac Grand Prix at RFK Stadium had been canceled.
Holder did not respond to LL’s requests for comment. CP
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