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On Monday night, the office of Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced a big event for the following morning: President George W. Bush would be making a joint appearance with the mayor at One Judiciary Square for a speech on homeland security. Before the speech, the two would tour the District’s Synchronized Operations Command Complex across the street at police headquarters along with Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge.
For Bush, the event was a chance to promote his domestic security agenda without having to board Air Force One.
For Williams, it was a chance to highlight his cordial relations with the White House.
And for WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin, it was a chance to fume.
Plotkin is the local media’s premier advocacy journalist, a nasally crusader for D.C. statehood who gets particularly agitated when the feds exploit municipal D.C. to advance their national agendas.
In Plotkin’s worldview, the Tuesday event was planned by another axis of evil: Here was a Republican president, who does not support statehood or even voting representation for the District, graciously introduced by D.C.’s all-too-accommodating Democratic chief executive. D.C. officials made every effort to spiff up the red carpet for President Bush.
Anytime the city bends over backward to fete a powerful opponent of statehood, Plotkin goes apoplectic. The juxtaposition of federal power and local fecklessness fires up the talkative radio personality, who salivates at the prospect of pressing both Williams and Bush about D.C.’s plight before the White House press corps.
But before the speech, Plotkin bumped up against a cardinal rule of Bush political events: no questions. Unlike the mayor’s handlers, the Secret Service keeps the Fourth Estate at a distance.
That rule touched off a Plotkin frenzy. In his trademark khakis, blue shirt, and loafers, Plotkin paced the back of the old D.C. Council chamber Tuesday morning. He noted the local officials politely seated in the audience: D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Council Chair Linda W. Cropp, Committee on the Judiciary Chair Kathy Patterson, and many members of the Williams cabinet. After fidgeting about for a few moments, Plotkin settled down in a seat toward the back. Then he quickly got up.
“There’s not an opportunity to ask any questions?” Plotkin pestered Williams’ deputy communications director, Sharon Gang.
Gang knew the Plotkin schtick. Before she even had to chance to respond, Plotkin tacked on a few more rapid-fire inquiries:
When was the mayor’s office first contacted about the event?
Will the District receive any compensation?
“Has [Bush] ever been to a D.C. building before?” asked Plotkin, as LL watched.
Gang and LL noted that Bush and First Lady Laura Bush have both visited several D.C. public schools. “Has he ever been to a D.C. public building that’s not a school?” Plotkin shot back.
“We’re just props!” Plotkin then blurted out. “We’re extras!”
The loquacious commentator then scanned the room. “Is [Bush] planning to come back anytime soon?” he asked.
“He lives here,” deadpanned Gang.
As Plotkin raged on, Williams escorted Bush around the District’s hi-tech video-surveillance center. Plotkin saw the tour as an opportunity not to show off the city’s new anti-terrorist technologies, but rather to press Bush on more immediate threats to D.C.’s well-being: How about a federal payment to compensate the District for the land and services the feds use free of charge? What about the voting-rights bills pending in the House and Senate? Better yet, what about statehood?
Plotkin took a seat and then came back to LL. “Notice the jazz that’s playing?” he observed. “That’s supposed to be calm and soothing to us.”
Around 10:50 a.m., Bush, Ridge, and Williams entered the room. Williams recognized local leaders in the audience. He then praised his federal guests for their leadership in working with local municipalities in emergency management. “It takes great leadership, and that leadership is provided by our president, George W. Bush,” Williams announced.
“Mayor, you’re doing a great job,” Bush responded moments later. “I’m honored that I’m living in your neighborhood.”
Plotkin shook his head and squirmed, unable to hide his disgust.
Bush then lauded other city leaders, including Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Margret Nedelkoff Kellems and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Charles H. Ramsey. “I’m impressed with Chief Ramsey,” Bush said. “I don’t know if this hurts or helps you, Chief.”
“This is a city with a lot of complex issues,” Bush stated.
At Wednesday’s mayoral press conference, Plotkin pressed Williams on conversation topics. “What did you ask of [Bush]?” Plotkin repeated twice.
Williams offered a few platitudes.
“We’re permanent extras!” Plotkin later fumed. “We’re part of the Hollywood set!”
* After a lengthy debate last Thursday afternoon, the D.C. Council voted to allow parents in the District of Columbia to give their children any surname they choose: “[This] will allow parents to name their child, for instance, Phil Mendelson Jr.?” asked Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous at one point in the session.
The amendment, which initially passed 7-6, was hailed by sponsor Ward 3 Councilmember Patterson as a good-government measure that would spare the District lawsuits from creative-naming parents. In Patterson’s view, the alternative, which would require parents to use either the mother or father’s name or a hyphenated combination, is a 19th-century archaism.
But the council’s time machine, as it turns out, doesn’t travel too smoothly through the centuries. A few hours later in the legislative session, At-Large Councilmember David Catania suddenly switched his vote, killing the Patterson amendment.
Catania didn’t suddenly succumb to Ralph Reed-style family values. And he didn’t switch because he was worried that the tree-hugging, tax-and-spend Mendelson might choose to name his child David Catania Jr. Instead, the newly re-elected incumbent was looking to spite his council colleagues for their vote on the day’s final agenda item: a proposal to give tax incentives to CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield to construct a facility in Northeast. Executives of nonprofit CareFirst, which is merging with for-profit WellPoint Health Networks, reportedly will get millions of dollars in bonuses and severance packages out of the merger.
Just after his council colleagues OK’d the CareFirst deal, Catania blurted out, “Madam Chair, I’d like to move to reconsider the Surname Choice Amendment Act of 2002.”
Other councilmembers were unwilling to characterize Catania’s switcheroo as a vendetta against CareFirst proponents, but they came close. “I very much regret where we are today, and I regret why we are where we are today,” said Patterson, right before the vote.
Catania did not respond to calls for comment. * For all those concerned about Carol Schwartz, LL has reassuring news.
About a week prior to Nov. 5’s general election, the Republican mayoral hopeful confessed to the local press that another defeat at the polls would be devastating. Yet less than 24 hours after her fourth mayoral loss, the at-large councilmember had the energy to wage a lobbying campaign against a measure that threatened to come before her colleagues in the Nov. 7 legislative session.
The issue? A repeal of legislation passed this summer that exempts D.C. councilmembers from most parking restrictions. In July, Schwartz sneaked in an amendment that granted D.C.’s legislative branch the same parking privileges enjoyed by members of Congress. She defended the parking perk as a home-rule issue. It passed on a voice vote with minimal resistance.
Last week, though, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans planned to introduce legislation that would repeal Schwartz’s amendment. That’s when Schwartz proved that she still has the power of persuasion: In the end, Evans pulled his bill from consideration.
“Jack just volunteered,” offers Schwartz, who chastised LL for our obsession with the measure.
* At least once a month, Democratic State Committee members call LL to report that the party has sunk to its lowest point. And it’s true: Every month, it gets deeper and deeper. This month’s installment: Last Thursday, Democratic party activists assembled at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library to fill an at-large slot vacated by Johnny Barnes, who resigned from the party to run as an independent candidate for mayor.
A challenge to Barnes’ nominating petitions kept him off the ballot.
Three D.C. Democrats had announced their intentions to run for the vacancy: Ward 6 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Bob Siegel, Ward 8 Dem Brad Lewis, and the Rev. Carlton N. Pressley, who works as the mayor’s senior adviser for religious affairs. Pressley greeted his fellow Democrats that night and then gave a rousing speech about his life, his political history, and his ambitions. He failed to mention a sexual-harassment claim made by a city employee that’s now being investigated by the inspector general.
Then he withdrew his name from consideration.
Still, Pressley received one vote for his efforts. Lewis and Siegel tied. Further screw-ups prevented the state committee from issuing a second ballot. CP
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