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Picketers and sign holders held their ground outside St. Ann’s Church in Tenleytown last Sunday after Mass, discussing feelings ranging from disappointment to anger to neglect. But their comments were directed at a more earthly authority than the archdiocese or the Vatican: Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson.
The group assembled to kick off the campaign of Erik S. Gaull, who is challenging Patterson in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary. In his address to a crowd of 40-odd supporters, Gaull blasted Patterson for lame constituent services and promised to model his approach after those of Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham and Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian Fenty. “People have settled for a low standard here,” Gaull supporter Mary Rowse told LL later. “There’s a lot of sentiment that no one is fighting for Ward 3. There’s a feeling that other wards are getting more from their councilmembers.”
Ah yes, Ward 3—land of the underserved.
This slice of political geography is better known as home to the white and well-to-do: The ward is less than 6 percent African-American and has the highest per capita income in the city by far, according to population data. When Ward 3 residents speak out against institutions encroaching on their back yards, they are not referring to halfway houses and social-services agencies—they’re trash-talking prep schools and universities.
Last week, some Ward 3 residents received calls soliciting their opinions about Patterson and Gaull. “When they started making a series of statements about what Kathy Patterson had done in office, the first thing mentioned was that Chevy Chase was redistricted
into Ward 4,” reports Peggy Robin, a Cleveland Park resident who participated in the phone poll.
Patterson, who commissioned the poll, knows her vulnerabilities well.
Last year, the District reconfigured its ward boundaries in response to the latest census figures. Rowse and some fellow Chevy Chasers raised holy hell to keep Patterson as their legislative representative—by fighting to keep the historic Northwest neighborhood wholly in Ward 3. They lost the battle: The plan adopted by the D.C. Council shifted the eastern half of Chevy Chase into Ward 4. Rowse remained a Ward 3-ite.
The outcry against the switch had racial undertones, because Ward 4 is more than 70 percent African-American. Even though a change of ward boundaries doesn’t affect school or police districts, Ward 3 does retain a certain sociopolitical cachet: A Ward 3 residential parking permit, for instance, buys you unlimited on-street parking near Lord & Taylor in Friendship Heights; a Ward 4 permit works for Wings ‘n Things on Georgia Avenue.
The fight against a Ward 4 designation was also tinged with hypocrisy. Rowse and some of her neighbors complain that Patterson doesn’t respond to constituent concerns. Yet the prospect of moving into Ward 4 promised to outfit these neglected souls with arguably the best constituent guy in the John A. Wilson Building: Fenty. Having Fenty take over half of Chevy Chase has had its benefits. “We have Adrian Fenty. He’s representing Chevy Chase right now,” explains Rowse. “People think of him as their councilmember.”
Gaull has seized on Patterson’s perceived invisibility in the ward. “The people of Ward 3 have told me they want a Ward 3 councilmember to be accessible and concerned,” Gaull said on Sunday. “They want someone who will return phone calls and e-mails….I’ll also be there at community meetings—a part of your lives, not apart from them.”
Responds Patterson: “We spend an awful lot of time working with individual constituents.”
When he gets into governing issues and especially schools, though, Gaull sets himself up for a knockout punch. This past year, Patterson sparred with the mayor over the budget, especially in areas of public safety and schools. She takes her job of oversight seriously.
At the kickoff, Gaull tried to position himself as the scrappy underdog with few resources to fight the entrenched, two-term incumbent. “I’m just a grass-roots kind of community activist without a powerful perch from which to run or raise money,” Gaull humbly told the crowd. “It’s the David-and-Goliath story, but we all know how that ended.”
Gaull currently serves as president of the Palisades Citizens Association, which represents one of the ritziest ‘hoods in town. And he made many of his community contacts as a former member of the Anthony A. Williams administration, where he served as director of operational improvements for City Administrator John Koskinen. Wilson Building sources say that Gaull decided to run for the Ward 3 seat only after getting passed over by Williams and Koskinen for the newly created deputy mayor for operations job, which went to George Washington University administrator Herb Tillery. Gaull says he applied for the position but had been considering running for a while.
Gaull didn’t burn bridges with administration loyalists, though: Milling about Sunday’s event were fellow Williams administration veterans including Max Brown and Jim Wareck. Williams fealty sells well in Ward 3, where the mayor remains uberpopular. And the mayor’s inner circle seems eager to help Gaull’s cause: At Tuesday night’s Anti-Defamation League dinner, Gaull was surrounded by Williams re-election co-chair Max Berry and former administration staffers Brown, Sandy McCall, and Doug Patton.
In 1994, a little-known schools advocate came out of nowhere to unseat Ward 3 incumbent Jim Nathanson. Yet Gaull knows he has a formidable task: “Over the past few weeks, I’ve interacted with many of you from all over the ward,” Gaull told supporters munching on campaign-provided Subway subs Sunday. “To my great pleasure, I have been warmly received by people excited at the prospect of new energy, new focus, and new ideas on the council. Invariably, however, people ask me two questions:
“No. 1: Am I nuts?”
Mayor Williams appointed D.C. Taxicab Commission Chair Lee E. Williams two years ago to implement what he believed were necessary reforms to the industry, including a switch from zone to metered fares and the possible introduction of medallions to reduce the number of cabs on the road. Now the mayor seems to have a favorable environment for those ideas: The commission consists entirely of Williams-administration appointees.
With all those cronies stacking the commission, Williams and Williams might expect to control the outcome of decisive votes. But, in fact, the mayor can’t even get cc’d on the agenda.
On June 4, the D.C. Taxicab Commission voted 7-to-1 to suspend testing of applicants for six months beginning Oct. 1, 2002. Chair Lee Williams cast the dissenting vote. A final vote on the measure will likely come next month, but commissioners tell LL that the outcome will be the same. The temporary moratorium will prevent new drivers from putting the rubber to the road.
Mayor Williams’ advisers were surprised by the commission’s action. “It was not the mayor’s directive to restrict access to new drivers,” says mayoral spokesperson Tony Bullock.
Commissioners say they will use the six months to study industry numbers. “I’d like to find out exactly how many cabs are on the street and how many drivers are licensed,” says recently appointed Commissioner Horace Kreitzman. “I haven’t seen official statistics.”
In other business that day, commissioners unanimously approved a new rule requiring the rear seats of taxicabs to be vinyl, leather, or covered with plastic. “Lord knows who’s back there,” explains Commissioner Sandra Seegars to LL. “You’d be surprised what goes on in the back of taxicabs.”
“The mayor has no preference in seat finish,” offers Bullock.
With his attempt to overhaul the industry a flop, the mayor might reform the commission itself: A Williams-appointed task force has recommended reducing the commission’s size and authority.
* Since the announcement of his resignation in late May, D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Chief Ronnie Few seems to have adopted the Dick Cheney approach to public appearances. Though he will remain chief until July 31, Williams administration officials have discussed hiring an interim chief to serve alongside Few in an effort to stabilize the critical public-safety department.
Few decided to pursue a career outside the department a few weeks after news reports disclosed that the chief and three of his top deputies had falsified their resumes.
So Williams seemed as surprised as everyone else to see Chief Few attentively sitting in the audience at his Ward 1 town-hall meeting at Harriet Tubman Elementary School Monday night. After all, the Williams for Mayor campaign events, which masquerade as community outreach, are designed to highlight the Williams administration’s triumphs, not its shortcomings. “Chief Ronnie Few is with us,” Williams announced and pointed to his left, after recognizing the rest of his cabinet in attendance.
The fire chief sat next to Assistant Chief Adrian Thompson, yet across the aisle from the rest of the Williams agency heads.
“I’m still working,” Few told LL at the evening’s end. “I’m writing just as many memos as before.”
* Though the mayor has remained mum about whether he’s supporting D.C. Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz in this fall’s general election, others have been less circumspect. First Federal City Council Chair Terence C. Golden tried to lure former D.C. Councilmember Bill Lightfoot into the race for president of the board. Then the Washington Post stoked the fire by writing an article about Golden’s dissatisfaction with Cafritz.
Lightfoot has said he will enter the race only at the mayor’s request.
That hasn’t stopped councilmembers from throwing their lighter weights around. Last month, Ward 3’s Patterson, Ward 4’s Fenty, and Ward 6’s Sharon Ambrose sent a love letter of sorts to Lightfoot: “We write to urge you to seek the presidency of the D.C. Board of Education in the November election, and to offer our support for your candidacy,” they wrote. “Please let us know if there is any assistance we can provide in your decision-making and in a fall campaign for this important position.”
Ambrose says the trio hasn’t heard back from Lightfoot.
* Shadow Sen. Paul Strauss inhabits an insulting parcel of political limbo. Despite his senatorial designation, he is shunned on Capitol Hill. And even though he’s elected by D.C. residents with a mandate of pursuing statehood for the city, he gets no respect at city hall, either.
Last Friday afternoon, for example, Officer Fred Watkins slapped two pink violation slips under the front windshield wiper and an orange “tow” sticker on the back window of a black Dodge Stealth parked near the Wilson Building steps. LL noticed the sports car’s “Taxation Without Representation” license plates: “U.S. Senate B.” After peeking in
and spotting nominating petitions on the
front seat, LL deduced that the car belonged to Strauss.
No matter, said Watkins. “Parking is reserved for councilmembers,” he coolly explained to LL. Why two tickets, though? “I looked at his inspection sticker. It’s been dead since August 2001,” the officer explained.
As Strauss was testifying that afternoon, in favor of adding the “Taxation Without Representation” slogan to the city’s flag, a tow truck removed the car. “I understand to some extent that the tags make me a target,” Strauss says. CP
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