City Paper is not for tourists
Aspiring politico and leftist PR maven Adam Eidinger has generated some buzz. His campaign posters show the Statehood Green Party activist wearing Elvis Costello glasses against a dark background; the shot looks like a piece of film. It prompted one friend of LL’s to ask: “What is Adam Eidinger running for? President of the film club?”
No, Eidinger is running for a D.C. office with a little less power: shadow representative, the poor soul who goes around trying to persuade Congress to grant statehood to the District. The position pays no salary, and D.C. voters have little notion of what their shadow rep does day to day. Despite those drawbacks, Eidinger has energetically campaigned with a platform that includes squatting in Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s office and instituting an Oct. 1 D.C. statehood holiday. He has heightened his revolutionary profile by participating in the junta that directed the September protests against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Meanwhile, candidates for offices that provide salaries, SUVs, and other perks have mostly sat on their duffs this fall—especially the incumbents.
Most prominent in this latter category is Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Throughout D.C.’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods, LL has heard a consistent indictment against the mayor: He disrespects us. He ignores us. He has never shown compassion for us. Implicit in the complaints, of course, is the strongly held belief that our bow-tied, Ivy League former accountant shows more deference to the city’s affluent white residents, clustered mostly in Northwest.
D.C. residents living in neighborhoods such as Deanwood and Kingman Park and Trinidad need not worry: Williams displays the same indifference to constituents living in Chevy Chase, Capitol Hill, and Foggy Bottom.
That must be what the mayor means in his campaign literature: “One City, One Future.”
LL had the epiphany a little over two weeks ago: Sitting in front of a packed audience at the Chevy Chase Community Center for a campaign forum, Williams hardly rose from his chair to address the sizable crowd. Such an effort would have required the mayor to lift from the table his right elbow, which was in place to prop up his head for most of the discussion. Nearly a week later, on Oct. 21, before another mayoral debate’s standing-room-only crowd at the H Street Playhouse, campaign aides freely joked about the Williams ennui.
That’s hardly the dynamism Williams promised after District voters saved him from what he himself characterized as a “political near-death experience” in the Democratic primary. When massive forgery and fraud in his nominating petitions kept him off the ballot, the incumbent mayor waged an unprecedented write-in campaign challenged by the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, the populist Anacostia minister. In the dog days of the primary, Williams transformed himself into a technocratic Mr. Smith-Gone-to-Washington, with the help of campaign staffers who reminded the mayor to smile and talk with kiddies.
Williams stumped in several communities a night, played pickup basketball, and visited three or four churches on Sundays, often with the press in tow.
What a difference 61,848 write-in votes make: This past Sunday, Williams attended only two church services—both in Philadelphia, where the mayor was campaigning for former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, who is running for governor of Pennsylvania. On his journey back to the District, Williams probably was reminded that he had an election himself on Nov. 5, because Republican Carol Schwartz’s yellow-and-black campaign posters have blanketed D.C. streets in recent weeks.
Schwartz, of course, ended up on the general-election ballot in another highly unusual way: The D.C. Republican Committee nominated her for mayor in September, even though GOP voters wrote in Williams 708 more times than Schwartz on their primary ballots. The at-large councilmember, who lost twice to Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. and once to Williams, had previously declined to run a fourth time for the job.
Then she changed her mind and accepted the nomination—less than six weeks prior to the November general election.
“I know we all wanted him because he was not Marion Barry,” Schwartz confessed Monday to a meeting of the Foggy Bottom Association at the Melrose Hotel, where Williams ended up a no-show. “Well, guess what, folks? I’m not Marion Barry, either.” And not Willie Wilson, either. When Wilson challenged Williams in this fall’s mayoral primary—with his fiery pulpit-speak, “Voice of the People” T-shirts, and endorsement from Barry—D.C. voters lined up 3-to-1 behind the mayor.
Williams emphasized how he had moved the city forward—by stabilizing the city’s finances, restoring core services, and resuming cordial relations with Congress. Indeed, under the Williams administration, the city has enjoyed budget surpluses and has mothballed the financial control board. Recycling and trash pickup have been regularized, tax collections and other revenue streams have increased, and city agencies once again seem sorta functional.
On other fronts, Williams has sorta screwed up. When he came into office, he promised to restore ethics and integrity to District government. A month or two into his first term, the Washington Post reported that the mayor had failed to disclose two lucrative contracts he had with companies that do business with the city. Another couple of rebukes from the city’s Office of Campaign Finance, several referrals to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and a 514-page inspector general’s report on improper fundraising later, Williams is no longer seen as the by-the-book, meticulous bean-counter most D.C. voters thought they punched their ballots for in 1998.
As a talent scout, Williams hasn’t exactly produced municipal all-stars. He recruited resume-enhancers such as Robert Newman and Ronnie Few. Now his handpicked special adviser for religious affairs is being investigated by the inspector general for sexual harassment of a city employee.
Sure, a Schwartz administration would certainly produce a few slip-ups of its own. As she has made clear in her most recent council term, Schwartz hardly gets into the nitty-gritty budgetary minutiae, and she hasn’t championed a big-time local issue besides trash trucks. But take a quick look at what a Schwartz regime would bring:
* Fashion: LL has focused on Schwartz’s outfits and jewelry this election season because the rest of the local media have completely missed this story. With her award-winning necklaces and belt buckles, Schwartz singlehandedly neutralizes the dowdiness of local politics and the gray attire of colleagues such as Phil Mendelson and Sharon Ambrose.
* Integrity: Schwartz has run in nine D.C. elections since 1974. Not once has she tangled with the ethical police of the District government. Williams is already on a first-name basis with everyone from the inspector general to the lawyers in the Office of Campaign Finance.
* Rehoboth: Each summer, reporters escape D.C. for the Delaware shore—and so does Schwartz. With the veteran Republican in the mayor’s office, those trips would become reimbursable business expenses in the eyes of the IRS.
* 1History of Fiscal Restraint: As Schwartz has dutifully reminded voters on the campaign trail, she voted against the reckless Reagan-era budgets that ended up bankrupting the District. Where was Tony?
* Tax-Free Shopping Days Galore! Schwartz’s prescription for a downtown business revival boils down to special sales-tax moratoriums designed to lure customers from the suburbs. This year, the moratorium kicked in just in time for parents to buy back-to-school supplies. Here’s to cheaper erasers and backpacks under the Schwartz administration.
Connect the arrow for Schwartz, honey.
COUNCIL AND OTHER RACES
* LL has very little to say about this year’s D.C. Council contests. D.C. voters may cast two votes for at-large councilmembers. Though eight candidates appear on the ballot, two stand out. Both are incumbents: Democrat Phil Mendelson and Republican David Catania.
Connect the arrow for Mendelson and Catania, as well as fellow incumbents Linda Cropp for council chair, Jim Graham in Ward 1, Kathy Patterson in Ward 3, Vincent B. Orange Sr. in Ward 5, and Sharon Ambrose in Ward 6.
* While we’re on a roll endorsing incumbents, LL also endorses Ray Browne for the shadow-rep seat—despite the high-profile campaign mounted by Eidinger.
* Two of the more controversial members of the school board run unopposed this year: President Peggy Cooper Cafritz and District IV Representative William Lockridge.
District III Representative Tommy Wells, often a voice of reason in the unruly school-board meetings, attracted three opponents: Benjamin Bonham, Sunday Abraham, and Marshall R. Phillips Sr. Of all the school board members, it’s Wells who most deserves a free ride to re-election. As co-chair of the board’s special-education committee, the longtime children’s advocate has taken on the city’s most costly dysfunction.
Connect the arrow for Wells and press down like you mean it.
D.C. voters have the opportunity to weigh in on a crucial home-rule issue Nov. 5: Should the District have autonomy over the enforcement of local law?
Everywhere else in the country, local jurisdictions have district attorneys who enforce their local laws. Advisory Referendum A asks D.C. residents to vote yes or no to shift prosecutorial responsibilities away from the U.S. attorney to a locally elected D.A. If the measure were approved, the D.C. Council will craft legislation that will still be subject to congressional approval—which is where the real battle over this initiative will take place. After an initial one-time appointment by the mayor, the D.A. will be locally elected for a four-year term.
Some have expressed reservations about the cost of creating such an office. “For us to say that we cannot afford to enforce our laws is just ridiculous on its face,” says Catania, who has championed the issue ever since getting on the council. “Our failure to fully enforce our law actually costs us more in the long run.”
Home-rule advocates should have no reservation about the referendum.
Connect the arrow to vote yes, to approve Referendum A.
During the heyday of the Contract With America, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his Republican revolutionaries treated D.C. like one big municipal laboratory.
Now drug reformers want to do the same thing with the benevolent-sounding Initiative 62. Voters reading the summary on their ballots will learn that the initiative supports drug treatment over incarceration for first- and second-time nonviolent drug offenders, excluding Schedule I offenders.
In the main, LL agrees with this public-health-oriented approach.
But LL still has concerns about how the initiative got on the ballot. National drug-policy reformers hired professional petition-gatherers hailing from California and Florida to help collect almost 40,000 signatures to get the initiative on the D.C. ballot. Among those petitioners were operatives who also worked for the Williams petition drive, according to campaign-finance reports. After calling D.C. residents who signed as circulators for Initiative 62, LL found some similarities to the circumstances of the Williams petition fiasco: Some circulators said that they had not witnessed signatures but had only signed their names at the bottom of completed sheets for money.
Also, Initiative 62 proponents have only vague ideas of how the initiative would ever be implemented or funded. It’s unclear whether it would work alongside the city’s much-heralded drug court program or replace the program.
Connect the arrow to vote against Initiative 62. CP
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