When CNN broadcast live from Rock Creek Park just after noontime May 22, two things seemed certain: that the skeletal remains found earlier that day by a turtle-hunting dog walker would end up belonging to Chandra Ann Levy and that police Chief Charles H. Ramsey would command the crime scene in his cool, folksy manner.
For four years now, Ramsey has been top cop of the Metropolitan Police Department. Appointed as chief in April 1998 by Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr., who hired the former Chicago policeman at the behest of D.C.’s congressionally appointed financial control board, Ramsey is the only Barry-cabinet holdover still serving the District.
And he has perhaps the most iron-clad job security in Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ administration. His efforts on behalf of Williams seem to earn higher accolades than those of his boss: In a May 26 Washington Post poll, Ramseywhen identified as the police chiefreceived a 73 percent favorable rating, which bested Williams’ by 7 percentage points. Overall, the police department received a 65 percent approval rating, up 2 percentage points from the last poll, in February 2000.
The numbers are bizarre.
Skyrocketing approval ratings are generally reserved for overachieving police forces. But Ramsey has failed the city on several critical fronts: His vaunted community-policing initiatives have never blossomed, he’s been reluctant to address key personnel issues, and the department’s homicide-case-closure rate has remained below the national average throughout his tenure.
Yet when D.C. residents’ opinions are quantified of D.C.’s police force, they apparently reflect more on Ramsey’s reassuring presence than the effectiveness of his initiatives. The Levy sequel of last week showcased this dynamic: Ramsey offered plainspoken explanations of police procedure. He calmly answered reporters’ questions. And he effectively deflected any doubts about his department’s efforts.
“It was impossible to search every inch of Rock Creek Park,” Ramsey told the press. “The park is approximately 1,700 acres….I would say we searched Rock Creek Park. But it was impossible to search every inch. The bottom line is, if she was there, we didn’t find her.”
In a single statement, Ramsey managed to say two things: that there’s an excuse for his failure to find Levy and that there’s no excuse for his failure to find Levy.
Whatever the challenge facing the city, Ramsey positions himself in the media’s sweet spot. In April, the imperative was keeping anti-World Bank/International Monetary Fund protesters under control. That time, Ramsey found a willing PR organ in the Metro section of the Washington Post, which depicted him plotting strategy with brass from other police forces and otherwise commandeering the streets of D.C.
In a brilliant stroke, the chief stepped in to lead a column of protesters, thwarting hostility toward his subordinates.
While Ramsey handles the public apologies and profiles for photo-ops, he leaves the tough-talking to Executive Assistant Chief Terrance Gainer. After a leaker somewhere in the D.C. government told WTTG Fox News that Levy may have been bound, Gainer went on the offensive: “If it is true, the individual who released it should be shot or put in jail,” snapped Gainer. “How disappointing it is that some alleged professional is doing that type of talking in a case. It is the worst breach of investigative protocol.”
While Ramsey chatted for the bagels-and-muffins crowd on the Today show, Gainer received a more heated assignment later that evening on Crossfire. “It has been less than 24 hours that we found her. So I think we need a little bit more time to conscientiously look at the evidence that may be produced from there and look at competing theories,” replied Gainer at one point, fending off co-host Tucker Carlson.
Ramsey may soon have to find another tough-talker, as Gainer has applied to be top cop outside the department.
•For weeks, city-hall junkies and elected officials have wondered what Mayor Williams was doing with D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Chief Ronnie Few. Never a Wilson Building favorite, Few ran a dysfunctional department and had earned his job on the strength of a padded résumé.
After the résumé inaccuracies surfaced, in April, councilmembers pressed the mayor to act. Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson demanded that Williams either “clear the air” or fire Few.
On May 21, Few officially tendered his resignation to Williams. Williams responded with his own missive accepting the resignation that day, even though he was meeting with representatives from Target and Costco at the International Convention of Shopping Centers in Las Vegas.
The mayor’s folks apparently didn’t believe the exchange of notes merited a press release.
Over a week later, at his May 29 weekly press briefing, Mayor Williams finally announced Few’s resignation. Though Williams said a hectic travel schedule had prevented earlier notice, Wilson Building sources say the mayor was waiting for Few to have a press conference of his ownan event that never materialized.
•On June 1, child-care centers across the District will begin taking waiting lists for young children of low-income working parents. It’s not due to a late-’90s baby boom: The city’s Office of Early Childhood Development announced last week that it projects a budget shortfall of $12 million this fiscal year.
The lack of funds to get through Sept. 30, 2002, means that the city will no longer subsidize child care for working parents and those engaged in GED programs, higher-education classes, or structured job searches. Unavailability of affordable and reliable day care is one of the biggest impediments keeping parents, especially single mothers, from entering the workplace.
Those enrolled in a day-care program by June 1 will maintain the subsidy.
“What are low-income parents supposed to do?” asks Monica Guyot, executive director of the GAP Community Childcare Center. “Where are they going to put their children so they can keep their jobs?”
Office of Early Childhood Development Director Barbara Ferguson Kamara did not return calls for comment.
“We are reviewing all spending considerations and identifying additional resources,” says Rhonda Stewart, a spokesperson for the Department of Human Services.
•On May 23, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) patiently listened to more than two hours of testimony from congressional colleagues, D.C. elected officials, and academics supporting D.C. voting representation in Congress. It was largely an amen chorus. “Democracy is defined in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as ‘…a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections,’” said Mayor Williams. “I say to the committee, why are the people of the Nation’s Capital excluded from this system of representation?”
Lieberman knew he needn’t answer. As sponsor of the Senate version of D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s “No Taxation Without Representation” bill, the Connecticut senator’s voting-rights bona fides are well-established.
But if the mayor had walked over to the Longworth House Office Building, he might have gotten a vigorous response to his query: That’s where Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) was circulating a letter seeking to overturn a D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment decision that revoked construction permits for a Girls and Boys Town USA project at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE. The organization, which has its headquarters in Terry’s congressional district, was in the process of building four town houses to shelter troubled and at-risk children.
“The framers of the Constitution gave the United States Congress full authority to govern the District of Columbia,” Terry wrote in his May 22 letter to colleagues. “Congress sets its laws and has the authority and responsibility to correct any actions by the D.C. city government which it deems inappropriate, irrational or harmful.”
Terry then offered a textbook example of how D.C.’s lack of budget autonomy leaves it subject to the whim of congressional overseers. “We strongly urge you to do all that is within your power to uphold the intent of Congress and allow the exceptional services of Girls and Boys Town to brighten the future for children of D.C.,” he wrote in a letter to leaders of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for the District of Columbia.
Terry no doubt hopes that those children will grow up happy, healthy, and without representation in Congress.
•jAs a longtime business owner in Adams Morgan, Bill Duggan has been on the receiving end of phone calls asking for help with street cleanups, charity fundraisers, and community festivals. Neighbors know Duggan’s Madam’s Organ for its controversial buxom-redhead mural. But the bar occasionally displays some heart, too: This spring, Madam’s Organ hosted a tribute to slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who often played his fiddle with the house bluegrass band on Wednesday nights.
Last fall, Duggan claims he received a charitable solicitation from local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Eleanor Johnson, who was looking to help out her fellow Commissioner Jobi Jovanka. Jovanka used to teach drawing classes at neighborhood barsa gig that Jovanka claimed had all but evaporated in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Jovanka had gotten behind in rent, said Johnson, and the owners of her apartment threatened eviction. “I want to ask you to loan her money,” Johnson requested.
Duggan refused. He presented taped evidence of Johnson’s request at the commission’s April meeting and threatened to play it for Johnson and Jovanka’s colleagues. A few days later, he received a call from the Office of the Inspector General, which queried him on Johnson’s request. Duggan claims the office had received a similar complaint from another Adams Morgan business owner.
Johnson did not return a call from LL for comment.
In May’s meeting, the Adams Morgan ANC unanimously voted against the renewal of Duggan’s liquor license. (The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board ultimately decides on liquor-license renewals.)
Jovanka deflected questions about Johnson’s activism on her behalf. But she was more forthcoming about Duggan. “His establishment is not following the rules with [Alcoholic Beverage Control Board] stuff,” she counters. “He’s just using this to ruin our names and discredit our reputation.” CP
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