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Some D.C. councilmembers govern by ideology. Others undertake exhaustive studies of the bureaucracy to root out waste and mismanagement. At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil unfurls his copy of the Washington Post.
In 1999, the Post wrote an expose on the city’s halfway houses, documenting how easily offenders were skirting the rules of their quasi-incarceration. Brazil, who at the time chaired the council’s Judiciary Committee, responded with fiery language and hearings. “The current failures in our system only breed further disrespect for the criminal-justice system,” he said. “We cannot allow these continuing threats to public safety.”
The Post stepped into Brazil’s jurisdiction again in late February, with a two-part investigative series on the failings of the city’s community development corporations (CDCs). As chair of the council’s Committee on Economic Development, Brazil almost immediately called for hearings on the CDCs and their municipal overseer, the Department of Housing and Community Development. “A thorough examination of how the finances, operations and outcomes of the CDCs were monitored and measured is needed, in addition to looking at the operations of the CDCs themselves,” Brazil soberly stated in a Feb. 28 press release.
“There is a problem, and I must get to the bottom of it,” he asserted.
LL suggests that the dauntless councilmember begin his quest by rummaging through his own files: For several years in the 1990s—first as the Ward 6 councilmember and then when he moved on to an at-large seat—Brazil served as a board member of the Anacostia Economic Development Corp. (AEDC), one of four CDCs that has drawn complaints from surrounding communities.
The AEDC has raked in more than $23 million in loans and grants from public and private sources, yet a majority of its proposed projects have never made it out of blueprints. Among them is the Anacostia Gateway at Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road SE, a proposed $40 million commercial development consisting of retail and office space. It’s a vacant lot right now.
Documents at the Office of Campaign Finance explain why Brazil is following—not leading—the call to elicit accountability from the CDCs. In his 1998 mayoral run, Brazil received a $2,000 campaign contribution from the Anacostia Holding Co., which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the AEDC. He also received $400 from Good Hope Market Place, LP, which is also affiliated with the AEDC.
AEDC President Albert R. “Butch” Hopkins also contributed $200 to Brazil’s mayoral run, as well as $100 to Brazil’s at-large campaign in 2000.
“Who would know the history and needs of Anacostia/Far Southeast more than Mr. Brazil?” argues Hopkins, referring to part of Brazil’s Ward 6 home turf. “Who was better suited to the needs of Anacostia than Mr. Brazil?”
LL suggests starting with “A” in the phone book.
Brazil did not return calls from LL for comment.
When the press doesn’t tell Brazil how to legislate, he goes about his business with less bluster. Take the recent debate in council chambers over taxes. When he joined the legislative body, in 1990, Brazil repeated a mantra of efficient government, lower taxes, and more police on the street. His “Not One Penny More” campaign argued that D.C. residents were unduly burdened by the city’s high tax rates.
“I have a legislative record of reform on the council that is unequaled,” Brazil told supporters at his at-large campaign kickoff less than two years ago. “I led the efforts to say no to unbalanced budgets, no to higher taxation, to demand an end to fiscal lunacy, and to demand accountability from government officials.”
Yet during the recent debate on the issue of tax parity, Brazil abandoned his supply side. In a period of looming deficits, argued Brazil, cutting taxes is bad policy. The councilmember’s words echoed not his past as an anti-tax crusader but the admonitions of Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who wants as many tax dollars as he can get to finance agency reforms.
The sudden ideological mind-meld between Brazil and Williams is hardly coincidental: In the 2000 election season, Williams helped Brazil scare off a potential challenge from Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. by assisting the incumbent with fundraising support and staff.
Even so, Brazil couldn’t even muster the courage to vote the way he spoke. When the roll call came, Brazil voted present.
Serving as treasurer of any organization is a thankless job. You have to deal with inadequately substantiated expense reports, people who want too much money, and, of course, regular treasurer’s reports. D.C. Democratic State Committee Treasurer Robert I. Artisst handles all that, as well as a steady volley of potshots from the floor during meetings.
At the committee’s March 7 meeting, Artisst’s bookkeeping skills became a central item on the agenda.
“It seems to me that the organization is in sort of a crisis,” said Ward 6 resident Harry Roberson Jr. at one point in the evening. “There appears to be a problem with the administration of the treasurer, who was duly elected by the executive board of the organization.”
Committee Chair Norm Neverson had a less diplomatic interpretation: “The biggest problem we have had in the last few months is that we have not been able to bag the treasurer,” he told his fellow Democrats as he roamed the floor like Phil Donahue throughout the meeting. Yet at no point did Neverson ask for Artisst’s resignation or bring the issue formally before the organization.
Committee members received two financial reports that evening—one submitted by Artisst and another prepared by committee consultant Horace Kreitzman. The two reports differed in their accounting of the organization’s receipts and disbursements, ending up with very different balances.
Neverson hired Kreitzman at a monthly salary of $1,305—a move that, like everything at the state committee, divided members into competing camps. The pro-consultant faction believes that Kreitzman represents the committee’s only hope of delivering a sane, accurate look at its finances. Opponents insist that the $1,305 payments are draining the committee’s coffers and imperiling preparation for the annual Kennedys-King dinner, the organization’s premier fundraising event.
The vote produced a convincing victory for the Kreitzman lobby. The fate of the fundraising decision, however, isn’t so clear. Right after the decision, Finance Committee head Mary Parham Wolfe announced her resignation as chair of the event.
“It’s the cloud that’s hanging over us,” Wolfe later explained to LL. “Some of us were trying to clear it up.”
* Nothing—not even MCI Center skybox seats or an exclusive table at Georgia Brown’s—confers prestige in D.C. as much as a low-numbered license plate.
And in D.C.’s post-Barry era, a low-numbered tag is one of the few fonts of patronage available to D.C. politicians. Taking credit for the assignment of the precious plates, then, is a must for any politico concerned with keeping supporters happy.
In that spirit, Mayor Williams mailed letters to the first 200 or so of this year’s recipients, instructing the chosen few on how to receive or renew their political perk: “As an expression of my gratitude for your support, I am pleased to assign you a low-numbered automobile registration and license plate,” wrote Williams.
Councilmembers, however, didn’t share the mayor’s pleasure. After all, the 13 legislators hand out almost half of the 1,250 power plates in the city. Yet Williams was attempting to horde all the credit.
After hearing a stream of complaints, the mayor’s office stopped sending the letters.
* If Williams administration officials taught a course in accounting, LL would surely fail. The toughest exam in the course would doubtless involve the budget of the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). Last week, Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi circulated a chart illustrating a $125 million DCPS projected budget deficit for the current fiscal year.
At the beginning of the March 7 D.C. Council hearing on departmental overspending, Gandhi and City Administrator John Koskinen assured councilmembers that funds to close the cavernous gap would come from two sources: a $90 million contribution from city coffers and $35 million in DCPS cuts, of which $22.8 million would result from a special savings plan approved by the D.C. Board of Education.
A schools administrator later testified that the $22.8 million in savings wasn’t really savings at all, but rather another chunk of overspending in addition to the $125 million projected deficit.
“Really the spending pressures for DCPS are actually $147.8 million!” Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham expertly calculated.
DCPS mathematicians claimed that Graham’s numbers didn’t add up. “There has not been overspending on the school system’s part,” Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz argued moments later, to the bewilderment of those on the dais. “We’re not in deficit-spending mode.”
* In the March edition of the InTowner, David Barrows writes an article headlined “Baseball Stadium Plan Strikes Out at Meeting.”
The story appears on the august paper’s front page, far removed from the incisive editorial musings of InTowner Publisher P.L. Wolff. In most publications, news stories are written by impartial reporters who haven’t publicly tipped their hand on major stories.
The InTowner, however, adheres to a less rigorous standard. Among the other pieces of writing to roll off of Barrows’ printer is a certain petition—to recall Mayor Williams. “Whereas Williams continues imposing plans to build a baseball stadium in a Ward 6 neighborhood that does not want it…” reads the petition, dated March 7, 2001.
Barrows seems to have a hard time even feigning journalistic objectivity. “In a series of meetings at the DC Armory over the past month, hospital activists had already been voicing strong opposition to any kind of stadium coming their way,” he says in the article.
That’s what LL calls eyewitness news: At a planning session for the D.C. General campus—now referred to as “Reservation 13″—two weeks ago, LL sat two rows back from Barrows, who repeatedly taunted Office of Planning Director Andrew Altman and his staff with anti-stadium, pro-D.C. General diatribes.
“I was not aware that he had something in his petition that dealt with a baseball stadium,” Wolff responds. “He’s not writing an article about recalling the mayor.” CP
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