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D.C. Democratic State Committee members received a two-page letter in the mail this week from fellow committee member Philip Pannell, who is challenging Norman C. Neverson for chair of the party on June 6. It was a strikingly candid approach to campaign agitprop: “It has been brought to my attention by several persons on and off the D.C. Democratic State Committee…that there is growing concern regarding my ability to function if elected chair…since I have a diagnosed mental illness,” Pannell wrote in the June 2 letter.
For more than a quarter-century, Pannell has been an outspoken and visible Democratic Party activist. He says he felt compelled to address the issue after receiving phone calls from politicos concerned about his fitness for office. The word on the street was that Pannell’s illness caused him to be erratic and uncontrollable. “I’m saddened that [the campaign] has taken this turn,” Pannell told LL on Monday. “This all started when I handed my platform out. I guess if you can’t get someone on substance, you just label them as crazy.”
In 1985, Pannell was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, commonly known as manic depression. Over the past 17 years, Pannell explains in the state-committee letter, he has experimented with various therapies, including medication, to cope with his mental illness. He reports that he’s been off meds for more than a year now. Pannell even included an information sheet about bipolar disorder in the envelope.
When asked whether the rumormongering originated in his camp, incumbent Neverson denies any orchestrated effort to tar Pannell. “None of my supporters have ever come to me and talked about Mr. Pannell’s illness,” says Neverson, who has led the party since June 2000. “Many have come to me and talked about Mr. Pannell’s [behavior].”
Neverson implies that Pannell has exploited his own illness to mar Neverson and his supporters, who include Mayor Anthony A. Williams. “Phil has not exhibited the capacity to accept discourse without making it personal,” counters Neverson. “He has called me on many occasions homophobic. He has called me a clown. He has called the mayor gutless and a clown because the mayor disagrees with him on certain issues.”
LL can’t comment on the homophobia, but after attending several state-committee meetings chaired by Neverson, we can vouch for the circuslike atmosphere.
Once a Williams ally, Pannell has hammered the city’s chief executive in recent months. As president of the Ward 8 Democrats, Pannell brought a resolution to the state committee in May condemning Williams for his participation in a fundraiser for Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.). Despite a highly dramatic and passionate soliloquy by Pannell, the resolution failed.
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Pannell’s attempts to engineer a shame campaign haven’t escaped the attention of the mayor, who has now taken quite an interest in the state-committee race. At last month’s endorsement meeting of the primarily gay and lesbian Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, of which Pannell is a longtime member, Williams aggressively lobbied Stein Club members on behalf of Neverson. Although Pannell won a majority of votes, he did not receive the 60 percent needed for the club’s endorsement.
Neverson backers in attendance that night—many of whom worked for Williams or are involved with his upcoming mayoral re-election effort—considered it an away-game victory.
Pannell sees the mayor’s invisible hands meddling in more than just the Stein Club. He points to the Williams administration’s involvement in last Saturday’s election to fill an open Ward 6 slot on the state committee. Ronald Collins, who works for Williams as director of the Office of Boards and Commissions, won the spot by one vote over David Meadows. That’s one more solid Neverson vote on June 6.
When Neverson assumed the party’s leadership two years ago, he promised to bring order and relevance to the historically bumbling panel. Instead, he has brought chaos to its laughathon monthly meetings as well as to its financial books, which are based on the Arthur Andersen school of accounting.
Pannell concludes his letter by inviting state-committee members to a buffet dinner after Thursday’s election—win or lose—at Ward 8’s political watering hole, Players Lounge. “It is located directly across the street from Saint Elizabeths Hospital,” Pannell writes. “So, if you feel my behavior is odd and unusual that evening, please feel free to escort me across the street to get the help that you think I need.
“I have been there and done that,” he adds.
HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD NW
In an interview with GQ, comedian Chris Rock describes his next movie as a rollicking “com-oh-dee.”
Rock is not referring to his HBO film on Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr., news of which the Hollywood Reporter scooped last week. The comedian has made the foibles of D.C.’s former mayor an integral part of his cutting stand-up routine, which often skewers black politics and culture.
So what is Rock’s new source of humor? The D.C. Council. Of course, LL has relied on this comedy factory for years. In his new DreamWorks-produced movie Head of State, Rock will star as Mays Gilliam, who toils as a D.C. councilmember.
The council has often proved a career dead end for many ambitious politicians, but Rock is out to dispel that history: In Head of State, the Democratic Party front-runner for president dies right before the national convention. With no hope of beating the popular Republican contender—who’s a decorated war hero and actress Sharon Stone’s cousin—the party decides to nominate an African-American candidate: Gilliam.
This week, with the assistance of the city’s Office of Motion Picture and TV Development, DreamWorks producers scouted out the John A. Wilson Building for Head of State, taking photographs of council offices. The Hollywood types probably hope to bring home some authentic D.C. vignettes to make sure Councilmember Gilliam keeps it real on the silver screen. Here are a few local pols for Rock to emulate:
* Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian Fenty
In the interview with GQ, Rock compares his fictional D.C. legislator to Kwame Kilpatrick, the 31-year-old mayor of Detroit. Ward 4’s photogenic councilmember is also 31 and most likely a future mayoral contender. He also speaks in a slow baritone, not unlike The Terminator.
Head of State adaptation: With head shaved, Rock’s Gilliam runs up and down Georgia Avenue chatting with constituents, decrying single-sales of beer, and making potholes subject to termination.
* Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent B. Orange Sr.
In Rock’s film, Councilmember Gilliam is a classic political opportunist from the hiphop generation. In the Wilson Building, Orange pounces on all opportunities for press attention and festoons himself with fancy gold medallions.
Head of State adaptation: Gilliam throws his birthday party fundraiser at Ward 5’s Dream nightclub, instructing filmgoers on the electric slide and booty call.
* Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous
Thrust into the national spotlight, Councilmember Gilliam must appeal to the masses, as well as to establishment figures who will finance his campaign—a balancing act that Chavous has mastered.
Head of State adaptation: Before a throng of irate citizens, Gilliam harrumphs about the closing of D.C. General Hospital before whisking away in his shiny black Benz.
* At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil
In his broad national campaign, Gilliam must master the art of appearing sincere and engaged at all times—especially when he’s daydreaming. That’s where Brazil comes in.
Head of State adaptation: Gilliam shaves his mustache to demonstrate his commitment to fiscal austerity.
* Last month, Southeast Citizens for Smart Development claimed victory when the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustment revoked building permits for a Girls and Boys Town facility for troubled youth under construction near 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE. For more than a year, the community activists have fought Father Flanagan’s national nonprofit in court and administrative hearings.
On Sunday, the group held a chili cook-off and silent auction to raise some dough for its legal defense fund. Among the marquee items on display was a Hill Street Blues monogrammed vest jacket donated by Capitol Hill resident Robert Prosky, who starred as Sgt. Stan Jablonski on the ’80s prime-time drama after the passing of Sgt. Phil “Let’s be careful out there” Esterhaus. LL eyed the item for several minutes, prompting an overanxious bidder to intimidate LL with taunts about bidding wars. The item, which came with a signed picture of Prosky saying “No to Boys Town,” sold for $95 after multiple bids.
Competition was considerably less fierce for the chance to break bread with some of D.C.’s political celebrities. When LL hovered over the piece of paper offering lunch for two with Ward 7 Councilmember Chavous, no one approached. Eventually, one person bid for the meal: After almost three hours, the price of a Chavous lunch began and ended at $40. At $13.33 per person, other lone bidders won the same cheap lunch with Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, Ward 5 Councilmember Orange, and At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson.
Ward 4 Councilmember Fenty fetched $65, and council Chair Linda W. Cropp raised $70 for the organization.
The most eligible councilmembers were Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose and At-Large Councilmember David Catania, whose tag-team Mediterranean dinner for six netted $270 for the organization.
* In his May 29 press conference, while dodging questions about the resignation of D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Chief Ronnie Few, Williams mentioned a proposal to rename 16th Street NW District of Columbia Avenue NW. The nation’s capital has a crosstown street for every state in the union but lacks a thoroughfare named after it.
The proposal would need to weave its way through the council, which approves all street renamings.
City officials were surprised by the statehood-oriented proposal: “We pave the streets, we don’t name them,” says Department of Transportation spokesperson Bill Rice. CP
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