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Right before Election Day, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams spoke to midmorning listeners of WTOP radio and delivered an offhanded scoop: This will be his last term in office.

The admission came as Williams was discussing the city’s trials for testing mayoral mettle: candidate forums. Williams believes D.C. has far too many of them. He said he hoped that in 2006, when there will be “no incumbent” in the mayor’s race, candidates won’t have to trudge to every little getting-to-know-you-gabfest in Near Northeast and Far Southwest.

The mayor’s political fatigue leaves open the question of who will be doing the candidate-forum crawl in 2006:

* Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans: As improbable as a tax-cutting, blond-haired, Georgetown-residing mayor sounds to everyone else in this town, Evans desperately wants the job.

* Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin P. Chavous: Nothing bothers Chavous so much as watching Williams stiffly perform his mayoral duties. He thinks he should be making those State of the District speeches and doing the cannonball dives into D.C. public pools.

* At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania: With Carol Schwartz now spending her summers in Rehoboth and no one else on the horizon, Catania will be the Republican hopeful for the next 20 years or so.

* Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian Fenty: The freshman councilmember was overjoyed just to beat five-term incumbent Charlene Drew Jarvis in 2000. Then everyone started drafting him for mayor. He thinks, Hell, why not?

* Eric Holder: The former U.S. attorney and No. 2 at Justice looks great, has an impressive resume, and has said little of consequence on local affairs. Sounds like a great way to keep the Williams ethos alive at the Wilson Building.

This testosterone grouping features all the most likely aspirants to the D.C. mayoralty. No one else seems interested or capable of making the cut. Not even the second-most-powerful pol in the District: D.C. Council Chair Linda W. Cropp.

How could that be? Cropp is D.C.’s longest-serving public official. She wins her elections by landslides. This year, for example, the council chair ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. In the general, Cropp clobbered Statehood Green Party candidate Debby Hanrahan, who got 11 percent of the vote.

Here’s what’s working against Cropp: Her seat has no bounce. The council chair hasn’t traditionally served as a trampoline for D.C. politicians. Instead, sadly, it has become something of a political end: John A. Wilson committed suicide while serving as D.C. council chair in the early ’90s. Successor Dave Clarke passed away while serving as council chair in 1997.

Cropp has hinted that this will be her last term in the seat.

So why not take a shot at No. 1? Cropp took over the chairmanship soon after the feds bailed out the city and took over most municipal functions, in 1997. Year by year, she kept the council chugging along even while it seemed irrelevant to the city’s day-to-day operations. She stressed oversight. She oversaw four balanced budgets in a row, which mothballed the financial control board and restored power to elected officials.

She was equally instrumental in the FY 2003 budget debate: While a post-primary Williams soaked in the Athens sun, Cropp corralled her colleagues to address a projected $323 million shortfall. The council and school board bickered over where the ax would fall, but in the end, the city managed to make the cuts without a bloodbath.

That’s pretty good management.

That said, Cropp’s leadership of the council contrasts sharply with the style of her predecessors. While Clarke championed certain issues and would wrestle votes out of his colleagues to support his causes if necessary, Cropp mostly governs by consensus.

“She holds her ground [only] when there’s seven votes,” remarks one of her colleagues.

Cropp brushes aside the criticism. “I just heard an interview with [new U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi. One of the things she said was that the chair has to be able to bring the group together to function,” Cropp told LL this week. “I had to smile.”

She dismisses the idea that she lacks vision. “Once the ideas are there, I’m not going to waste time,” Cropp further explains. “At some point after everyone has articulated their ideas, I have to be able to move us forward.”

Yet the council chair has shied away from political fights. As an 11-year member of the school board, Cropp might have been expected to defend an elected board. But when Williams pushed for a hybrid elected-appointed board, Cropp caved.

And this spring, Williams took a lot of heat for putting his name on a fundraiser for Maryland Republican Constance A. Morella. Cropp’s name also appeared on the invitation. The mayor showed up for the event, but Cropp fled to a community meeting.

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Cropp is married to Dwight Cropp, a George Washington University professor and a former confidant to Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr.

She attributes her conciliatory style to her training as a guidance counselor. After graduating from Howard University, Cropp became a teacher and then guidance counselor at Roosevelt Senior High School. Yet Cropp has applied most of that training to politics: At the age of 32, she won the Ward 4 seat on the Board of Education. She spent the next decade on the board, serving as president for two years. In 1988, Cropp challenged Ward 4 incumbent Jarvis.

She lost that election, but two years later, she won an at-large spot on the council. And Cropp remained quite ambitious: Following the death of Wilson, the first-termer set her sights on the council chair. Although she received the Washington Post endorsement, she lost the race. But when Clarke passed away four years later, she moved up to council chair.

With her cheery demeanor and colorful eyewear, Cropp hardly projects the image of the calculating pol. But she knows how to fundraise: According to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, Cropp amassed a $276,000 war chest for her no-brainer re-election this fall.

Though Chavous, Evans, et alia are ambitious, they don’t have a lot of legislative successes to bank on. Chavous lost the fight over D.C. General and has failed to turn his Education Committee into a battering ram for reform. Evans has been a good financial watchdog but needs a better signature issue than tax cuts. Fenty just follows Department of Public Works trucks around. Cropp, meanwhile, can credit herself with reviving an entire branch of government.

“It’s important for me to be a very good chairman,” Cropp says of her future aspirations.

POLITICAL POTPOURRI

* Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham’s staff isn’t feeling so unidad y progreso since Graham installed his new chief of staff, Fernando Rivero. Shortly after his victory in the Democratic primary, Graham assigned longtime chief of staff Denise Wiktor to his Subcommittee on Human Rights, Latino Affairs, and Property Management.

The shakeup surprised many in the John A. Wilson Building, including Wiktor.

An attorney active with D.C.’s Hispanic Bar Association, Rivero met Graham through his work as a board member with the Spanish Education Development Center, a nonprofit organization that helps educate D.C.’s Latino community. Rivero volunteered for Graham’s campaign during the last month of the primary. “I was impressed by the way he approached me as an advocate,” says Graham of the decision to hire Rivero. “It just developed from there.”

Rivero has certainly made an impression on his Wilson Building colleagues, too. In his first two months, Rivero has clashed with several members of Graham’s loyal staff. One afternoon, council staffers and Ward 7’s Chavous witnessed a screamfest between Wiktor and Rivero in the fourth-floor hallway. Staffers accuse Rivero of a Napoleon complex, suggesting that he needlessly reinvents office protocol and in several cases keeps track of staffers’ time in the bathroom.

In the office, Rivero prefers to sit behind closed doors. A few weeks ago, an elderly Ward 1 resident came to visit her councilmember. Rivero kept her waiting for more than an hour as he sat and ate his lunch, staffers report. They say that Rivero might want to spend more time getting to know constituents and less time rearranging the photos in the office. “It’s a priority of the office to answer constituent calls, not to redecorate,” remarks one.

“I’m afraid I can’t talk to you about that,” Rivero said when LL inquired about the incidents. “That’s all inaccurate.”

* ..On Nov. 9, Ward 1 Dems Chair Shelore Williams and a bunch of her cohorts gathered at Capitol City Pavilion on Georgia Avenue NW. It was a momentous occasion: To begin with, the party cell hadn’t officially met for almost a year.

Given the rare opportunity to get together, the group decided to elect a new leadership slate. By meeting’s end, the Ward 1 Dems had announced Tony Norman as chair of the organization and Cary Williams as its first vice chair, along with other officials. Cary Williams, by the way, is Shelore Williams’ son.

The next Saturday, Nov. 16, another group of Ward 1 Dems met at the Frank D. Reeves Center of Municipal Affairs. They elected Columbia Heights Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Calvin Woodland Jr. as chair of the Ward 1 Dems, along with another full crop of new leaders.

LL asks: Will the real Ward 1 Dems please stand up?

Woodland, the choice of the second group, insists that he has received official sanction from Democratic State Committee Chair Norm Neverson. “I was elected by the people who were recognized by the state committee,” explains Woodland, who works for Ward 1 Councilmember Graham. Woodland says that the state committee scheduled elections after Shelore Williams failed to do so.

Shelore Williams, who unsuccessfully ran against Graham in the primary, maintains that the state committee butted in where it shouldn’t have. “We’re talking about a guy who can’t get the mayor’s name on the ballot, but he can hold an illegal election in Ward 1?” she responds. “If you don’t know who I’m talking about, it’s that wonderful Norm Neverson.”

Neverson, for his part, tells LL: “Excuses are the tools of incompetence. Excuses create mounds of nothingness. Those who indulge in excuses seldom accomplish anything.”

Except, perhaps, creating the first “shadow” Ward 1 Dems president. CP

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