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The District has undergone quite a transformation over the past four years: from municipal spendthrift to checkbook balancer, from population repellent to yuppie magnet, from federally managed colony to popularly managed colony. The city has drawn in new residents, new businesses, and new revenue. Trash collection has turned routine again, grass isn’t taller than the children who play on city ballfields, and phones actually get answered in D.C. agencies.
Yet in this town of plenty, one item remains scarce: political leadership.
When D.C. voters show up at the polls Sept. 10, they will be handed a seemingly streamlined ballot—and LL’s not referring to aesthetic changes brought about by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics’ new hi-tech voting machines. We’re talking about the sheer lack of names listed underneath local offices. For starters, D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and D.C. Council Chair Linda W. Cropp face no opposition in the Democratic primary. And whatever semblance of a Republican Party we have here couldn’t even scare up a mayoral candidate to put on the ballot this time around.
Of course, there’s the write-in option, which this year will be filled in with more than just the random smattering of celebrities, best friends, and egotists: Mayor Anthony A. Williams, the municipal change agent widely considered the catalyst for our city’s turnaround, will rely on supporters to write in or stamp his name following the elections board’s decision to deny the incumbent a spot on the Democratic ballot because of massive fraud and forgery in his nominating petitions.
The charitable explanation, offered by Williams himself, is that he’s not an experienced pol. “Let me begin by stating the obvious: I am not a professional politician,” Williams proudly started his inaugural address four years ago. The real explanation, though, is that he’s not a leader of any sort and hasn’t changes D.C.’s political culture one bit. A quick inventory of his screw-ups:
* When Williams came into office, D.C. voters expected that he would surround himself with similarly trained, Kennedy School of Government-type technocrats. What we ended up with were inexperienced directors in critical agencies such as Vanessa Dale Burns in Public Works, Ronnie Few in Fire and Emergency Medical Services, and Robert Newman in Parks and Recreation.
* Williams vowed to be the “education mayor,” but his leadership on schools has been lackluster. Though Williams often touts a $200 million-plus increase in public-school funding over the course of his administration, D.C. taxpayers have a right to wonder what their additional monies have purchased. Special ed still drains a disproportionate amount of funds, and standardized test scores have increased only marginally.
Don’t expect the path to good schools to get any smoother: In the past few months, Williams publicly voiced disappointment with the school board president he endorsed two years ago, Peggy Cooper Cafritz. Cafritz, as well, will run unopposed this November.
* Williams promised to bring high ethical standards to his office. Instead, his office has received four rebukes from various D.C. agencies, a 514-page report from the inspector general, and six referrals to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Even with these lapses, only four other D.C. Democrats stepped up to put their names on the ballot: Osie L. Thorpe, James W. Clark, Faith, and the Rev. Douglas E. Moore. At the Ward 5 Dems candidates forum, Thorpe bragged: “I’ve been here 40 years, and I haven’t had a job since I’ve been here.” So much for him.
Ditto for Clark and Faith, despite the former Broadway actress’s winning campaign song.
Moore’s sales pitch to D.C. voters? “I am on the ballot,” he bragged to the Ward 5 Dems. The Francophone’s political career ended 24 years ago—after embarrassing episodes that include biting a 19-year-old truck driver—but here in the District there’s always at least one political afterlife.
So who steps up to challenge the embattled incumbent?
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Sounds suspiciously like a job for Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. Instead, D.C. got the next-best thing: Barry confidant and preacher the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, who last week received Hizzoner’s highly publicized endorsement. Ever since then, it’s been Barry for Shadow Mayor: The two have campaigned side by side almost every day.
In the great Barry tradition, Wilson campaigns not on principle but on opportunity. Thus far, the minister has pounced on a constituency marginalized by Williams: the poor and vulnerable. But those with the most at stake often vote the least, so Wilson has tried to broaden his definition of this shunned group: In Ward 3, that means motorists who can’t use Klingle Road; in Ward 7, that means Kingman Park residents shellshocked by Grand Prix race cars; and everywhere else, that means people waiting in DMV lines.
Aside from fiery rhetoric, though, Wilson has few solutions to Williams’ shortcomings. While the preacher decries the closing of D.C. General, he hasn’t followed up on the system that succeeded the public hospital in delivering health care to his targeted constituency: On Aug. 16, Greater Southeast Community Hospital, the linchpin of Williams’ new HealthCare Alliance, handed out pink slips to more than 100 employees citing “financial pressures we face…to serve a vulnerable population east of the river.” And how will this affect that population?
D.C. voters won’t find out from Wilson.
Connect the arrow and write in Anthony Williams. There’s no better choice.
At-Large D.C. Council
Incumbent Phil Mendelson has done well in his first term on the council, to judge solely on the basis of his sworn enemies: Chevy Chase crybabies, “Repair Klingle Road” zealots, and the Greater Washington Board of Trade.
Slimed with the council’s Subcommittee on Labor, Voting Rights, and Redistricting, the first-termer tackled the city’s political reapportionment. The results didn’t please everybody, of course, including Chevy Chasers, who got bounced to Ward 4. And Mendelson’s work as chair of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ air-quality committee didn’t endear him to the region’s business lobby. His green gene also prompted him to support the mayor’s policy of keeping Klingle Road closed to auto traffic.
The business community’s antidote to Mendelson? Attorney Beverly Wilbourn, who ran as an independent in the at-large race four years ago. Business leaders endowed her with money and political heavies, but they failed to instruct her on how to run an effective campaign. That’s a tough assignment, given that the self-proclaimed education, statehood, and affordable-housing advocate has been largely silent on these issues since her last stump speech in 1998.
Mendelson’s bigger threat, on the other hand, might find that silence is golden—or at least less incriminating. “I think the Ward 3 schools have not diminished one bit under my leadership,” boasted Dwight E. Singleton, the incumbent school-board member representing Wards 3 and 4, to an assembly of Ward 3 Dems earlier this spring.
Connect the arrow for Mendelson like nobody’s business.
Ward 1 D.C. Council
In the city’s most diverse ward, the electorate divides along geographic—meaning racial and ethnic—fault lines: Challengers Dee Hunter and Shelore Williams will compete mostly for black voters east of 16th Street NW, and Hector Rodriguez will appeal to Latinos scattered around the center city. Incumbent Jim Graham is particularly popular among whites in the Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods, ground zero in the city’s march toward gentrification.
Not that Graham hasn’t spent significant time listening to residents in Columbia Heights, Shaw, and Petworth. In his four years in office, Graham has parked his flashy Saab convertible in illegal spots along 13th Street and Georgia Avenue NW, and in many other no-parking zones, to participate in community meetings and ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
Graham has tried to play omnibus politician, scolding landlords for housing-code violations while at the same time schmoozing with developers. Hunter scores some good points about the lack of affordable-housing set-asides in projects built on Graham’s watch. In fact, Hunter mouths all the right buzzwords about maintaining the ward’s culture and diversity. But he fails to get beyond platitudes. LL hopes he’ll hone a message to make another go of it in four years.
Meanwhile, Williams wastes her time spamming voters about Graham’s “extremist” record via e-mail, and Rodriguez seems to have no platform beyond representing Latinos—a job Graham seems to have fully embraced.
Connect the arrow for Graham. ?Comprende?
Ward 3 D.C. Council
LL gives Erik Gaull credit: The Ward 3 council hopeful resigned from his Williams-administration job to run against one of the city’s most formidable legislators. And Gaull proves that competition helps everyone: Ever since his campaign kickoff in June, Gaull’s been harping on constituent services, and Ward 3 residents report that incumbent Kathy Patterson has been more responsive than usual to phone calls and e-mails.
Yet Gaull can’t beat Patterson simply by promising to install rumble-strips and repair potholes: Patterson has been a municipal Alan Greenspan, watching over city finances and watchdogging administration officials. That leaves Gaull with only one other significant beef: Patterson’s vote to overturn term limits for councilmembers.
Connect the arrow for Patterson and press down hard.
Ward 5 D.C. Council
When we first spotted red-and-white “Harry Thomas City Council Ward 5” campaign signs, LL wondered whether the late councilmember’s son had simply hung up posters from his father’s failed 1998 campaign. That’s not the only thing he’s recycled: In his quest for the Ward 5 seat, Harry Thomas Jr. has promised to bring back his father’s brand of personal politics. He even wants to bring back his father: In a campaign forum at Sharon Baptist Church last Thursday, which attracted quite a few seniors, Thomas even wore a “Vote Harry L. Thomas Sr. ’94” button on his lapel.
Incumbent Vincent B. Orange Sr. beat Thomas Sr. by 359 votes four years ago, focusing on his opponent’s failure to keep the Northeast ward from turning into a giant trash-transfer station. Now critics accuse Orange of the same apathy in dealing with halfway houses and other residential treatment facilities.
Unlike Patterson, Orange has hardly made his mark on oversight. He’s most known for tormenting D.C. Inspector General Charles C. Maddox, who was investigating the mayor’s nonprofit fundraising.
LL is sure happy we don’t live in Ward 5: The choice between a Harry Thomas redux and a slick and disappointing incumbent guarantees four more years of subpar leadership.
Ward 6 D.C. Council
Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose’s tenure in public office has coincided with a Capitol Hill renewal. Ambrose touts her leadership in economic development and public safety in bringing about the revitalization. But challenger Keith Andrew Perry says not everyone has benefited from Ambrose’s endeavors: Stressing the need for affordable housing and health care, Perry says he will deliver dynamic, responsible leadership to neglected communities along the H Street corridor, the eastern half of Pennsylvania Avenue SE down to Barney Circle, and Southwest.
But local court records paint a less-than-flattering portrait of Perry: The 38-year-old council hopeful has been delinquent with child-support payments for his two adolescent sons. On June 5, 1998, Perry was arrested for failure to respond to a bench warrant issued by the D.C. Superior Court Family Division. He remained in arrears until June of last year, when he made a lump-sum child-support payment totaling $11,000.
Perry also has a spotty financial and employment history. According to the D.C. Office of Recorder of Deeds, Perry and his current wife owe more than $23,000 in federal income taxes from 1998 and 1999.
Perry says that he’s current with both his taxes and his child-support payments. He explains that the bench warrant was made in error, because he had asked the court for leniency while he cared for his ailing mother. “To the extent that I was able to pay, I paid,” he says.
Connect the arrow for Ambrose with certainty.
When LL last saw Susana Baranano, the shadow-rep candidate mentioned how her identical twin who lives in Pennsylvania enjoyed full congressional voting rights while she remained voiceless in Congress. Given the interchangeable DNA, perhaps Baranano might invite her sister to help her mount a stronger bid for the District’s unpaid lobbyist position in the House of Representatives.
Connect the arrow for incumbent Ray Browne and don’t see double.
Pete Ross has been LL’s shadow all summer, ubiquitous not only on the D.C. political circuit but in LL’s civilian excursions to the Safeway, the DMV, and even the Dupont Circle Farmers’ Market on Sunday mornings.
The tireless campaigner has assembled a group of supporters, mostly Paul Strauss-bashers, who have inundated LL with e-mails and envelopes full of information outlining the incumbent’s thousands of dollars in parking tickets, alleged Hatch Act violations, and potential ethics issues as a member of the Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals. D.C.’s second most meaningless office—see No. 1 directly above—has produced this year’s most competitive horse race.
Strauss has an entertaining script on the stump, but once the incumbent gets past his one-liners—”I hear this year I’m getting a pay raise,” the pro-bono official quipped at a Verizon-sponsored forum last month—he has few achievements to brag about for his six years of public service.
Ross has even less charisma. But if he comes close to pestering those in Congress the way he has LL, all 100 U.S. senators will be fully briefed on the District’s disenfranchisement. And they might finally take action on a voting-rights bill just to shut him up.
Connect the arrow for Ross and don’t be tempted by the eraser. CP
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