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Wilson Building insiders have been trying for months to sucker-punch Kelvin J. Robinson, chief of staff to Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Long ago they branded him an arrogant outsider who doesn’t have the mayor’s best interests at heart.
So Robinson detractors were delighted when his name popped up in coverage of the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) scandal. And they waited with bated schadenfreude for the coup de grâcea hit piece allegedly in the works at the Washington Post.
The story came out in last Thursday’s edition. It came as a devastating blownot to Robinson, but to his colleagues. The newspaper profiled the chief of staff as a “demanding, workaholic, perfectionist boss” whose “brash” personality and “aggressive management style” might set “too high” a standard for some. Robinson denied any wrongdoing where the WTU was concerned and vowed to keep Team Williams focused on its top priorities. Mayor Williams called his performance “superb.”
Robinson’s colleagues were outraged: The story was a puff piece!
So they immediately went to work on a media blitz: That same morning, LL received a few unattributed voice mails and two anonymous facsimilesincluding one with the city administrator’s fax number at the topoutlining the case against the chief of staff. “The entire Executive Office of the Mayor hates Kelvin Robinson and is too afraid to say it,” stated a bullet point in one fax.
LL has verified the “too afraid to say it” part, at least. Three days later, five unnamed sources squealed to the Post about ethically dubious remarks Robinson had allegedly made at a Williams campaign rally at the convention center. All five requested anonymity. The anti-Kelvinites really had to rack their brains for material: The event took place in August, days after Williams’ petition scandal forced him to run as a write-in candidate.
After failing to deliver some really damaging goods in the Post’s first story, Robinson’s opponents wanted another bite at the apple. The Post was only too happy to accommodate themeven though all the sources were off the record and the event took place six months ago.
The substance of their gripes is that Robinson allegedly violated the Hatch Act by soliciting campaign contributions from Williams appointees, asking them to get out their checkbooks. Special Counsel to the Mayor Grace Lopes attended the event and authored a flier on the do’s and don’ts of the Hatch Act, the federal law that regulates partisan activity among government employees.
But no one in the administration blabbed to the press about Robinson’s checkbook references back in August. So just where were all these great ethicists?
Most likely concerned about the prospect of Mayor Willie F. Wilson. Robinson’s detractors kept their mouths shut right after the convention-center meeting because Williams’ political future appeared in jeopardy. Another scandal might have sunk the entire administration.
Now they’ve moved on to other prioritieslike figuring out how to secure access to the mayor. It’s a problem that requires either winning the favor of Robinson or weakening him. It appears that the administration’s hangers-on have chosen the latter option.
The saga attests as much to the Post’s appetite for a Wilson Building scoop as to the hard feelings that Robinson has kicked up on the job.
Until recently, Robinson escaped culpability as the mayor’s political guru despite some high-profile missteps. Critics say he mismanaged the exit choreography of former Fire and Emergency Medical Services Chief Ronnie Few, who languished on the job for months with no support from the boss. In what became an embarrassing ritual, the press probed the mayor’s wishy-washiness each week on this key appointee.
And although Robinson never worked for the Williams campaign, he has drawn criticism for not warning his boss about the sloppy management that led to the petition crisis. Campaign sources say that Robinson communicated with the campaign before the petition flap.
The Williams aide has also taken a shot or two for clubfooted politicking. Ward 8 Democrats President Philip Pannell insists that Robinson helped engineer a $2,500 cash payment for his re-election. Robinson deines Pannell’s allegation.
Pannell also claims that Robinson expected a return on his investment. After the mayor attended a fundraiser for Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), Pannell’s ward cell took up a resolution to censure Williams for crossing party lines, which they brought to the Democratic party’s organizing body. “I can’t understand why you’re doing this,” Pannell says Robinson told him. “Didn’t we take care of you for your election?”
Then again, no one in city politics actually cares about Robinson’s record. Instead, they just bellyache about his imperial style: He’s an arrogant SOB, they complain. Exhibit A in that discussion is always his Versailles-size office. Exhibit B is the new columns being installed in the Wilson Building’s fifth-floor hallwayone of which is just outside Robinson’s office. They gossip that Robinson requested the wooden structures to separate the executive office from the council chambers and to cut down on hallway noise in his office.
Robinson did not respond to LL’s call or e-mail for comment.
And those who can’t find any legitimate reason to hammer Robinson turn to the tried-and-true favorite of District provincialists: Robinson is an outsider, who had no experience with indigenous, nonfederal Washington when he came here.
Sounds vaguely like the rap against a certain ex-chief financial officer.
19 VOTES AGAINST THE VOTE
For weeks, Democrats have been gossiping about a proposal introduced by Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans to move D.C.’s presidential primary ahead of New Hampshire’s. Optimists believe that the high-publicity gambit would broadcast to the nation the District’s unique status as a disenfranchised fiefdom of Congress.
So the city’s Democratic State Committee (DSC) scheduled a special Feb. 13 meeting to address the matter. In the great DSC tradition, however, a scheduled meeting never guarantees anything resembling a meeting.
When members showed up at Room 1030S at One Judiciary Square, the room was already occupied for the evening. So committee members milled about the ground-floor lobby until Chair Norman C. Neverson directed his fellow Democrats to the 11th floorwhich is currently under renovation and lacks chairs and carpeting in spots. “This is going to remind me of the great town-hall meetings in Massachusetts in the early days!” bellowed Neverson. More like student councilas apparatchiks sat cross-legged on the floor.
Neverson presented the evening as a bout between primary proponent Evans and the powers that be from the Democratic National Committee (DNC)a characterization immediately rejected by the guest speaker. “I don’t see this as a contest between me and the [DNC],” remarked Evans. Instead, it was a petty turf battle between Evans and party leaders, who were insulted at not being consulted on the idea first. So Evans apologized and forcefully argued his point: that the primary is a perfect opportunity to highlight the District’s plight on the national stage.
At one point, Neverson interrupted “Brother Jack” to inform his Democratic brothers and sisters that a police officer had threatened to arrest the city’s grass-roots Democratic leadership if they didn’t vacate the 11th floor.
While Evans focused on the details, D.C. Shadow Representative Ray Browne went big-picture. “We’re talking about an orchard as opposed to an apple,” Browne remarked.
While Evans dialed up his cell phone to contact Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee member Donna Brazile moralized about following party rules. Despite her statehood credentials, Brazile favors falling in line with national-party dictates. Still, she groped for the moral high ground. “There’s no price I would not pay for freedom,” she preached in her opening remarks. “The price has already been paid in blood.”
Several DNC officials at the meeting backed up Brazile, arguing that D.C. would put its delegates to the Democratic National Convention at risk with a January primary.
Two DSC members suggested a compromise: Hold the primary on Jan. 13, and then convene a delegate-selection caucus sometime in February. That way, the DNC would officially recognize the delegates at the convention. Even DNC officials couldn’t contrive an argument against that logic.
But some DSC members seemed hellbent on cementing their irrelevancy. The measure to support the first-in-the-nation primary lost 17 to 19, with two abstentions, including Neverson.
Neverson said he abstained because he was unsure what he was voting for. “At a certain point in time I didn’t know when ‘yes’ meant ‘no’ and ‘no’ meant ‘yes,’” he later explained to LL. CP
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