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Last week, Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson declared that allowing Mike Tyson to fight at the MCI Center would be tantamount to inviting riverboat gambling along the shores of the Potomac. The Patterson quip came amid a one-two combination of moralizing outbursts from councilmembers about consorting with felonious boxers and their money-grubbing promoters.
LL finds it curious that none of those concerns popped up during discussion of a certain ceremonial resolution introduced in 1996 by Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous.
The name of that resolution? The Don King Recognition Resolution of 1996, Bill 11-645. It passed unanimously.
Three years later, Patterson and her cohorts must have decided that no Olympic cycle could conclude without at least two resolutions honoring Tyson’s longtime promoter. This time, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans sponsored a resolution designating Sept. 24, 1999, Don King Day in the District of Columbia: “Whereas, Mr. King continues to bring revenue to Washington, D.C…staging World Title Bouts here as opposed to Las Vegas, Atlantic City or Madison Square Garden and recognizing the young champions right here in our back yard…” The council also handed King a key to the city.
“It would have been my preference if we had not done either [resolution],” Patterson now says.
Apparently, Mayor Anthony A. Williams has been studying old council legislative records.
Last week, Williams was in Utah to view the Winter Olympics. While the mayor was skiing at the Alta resort, Washington Post Metro reporter Craig Timberg reached him via cell phone to request his opinion on whether the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission should license controversial pugilist Tyson to box in Washington. The fighter had been denied a license in Las Vegas, and his promoters had latched onto Washington as a viable location.
“The question was posed to him on a chairlift,” asserts Williams press secretary Tony Bullock.
Notwithstanding the interruption to his carefree day, Williams expressed enthusiasm for the event and emphasized its positive economic impact on the city before he swooshed down the slopes. “The mayor doesn’t need a council of advisers to have an opinion. He says what comes to him naturally,” Bullock says. “He’s met dozens and dozens of people who are out of work.”
The chairlift comment caused the mayor a flurry of trouble 2,000 miles east.
The National Organization for Women protested in front of the commission’s headquarters. Members of Congress tut-tutted. Even the mayor’s staunchest supporters strenuously disagreed. “Mr. Mayor, having just returned from the wholesome atmosphere of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, you understand better than anyone how much time and hard work it takes for a city to protect its image,” wrote Greater Washington Board of Trade Chair Linda Rabbitt to Williams in a letter dated Feb. 19. “[W]e respectfully disagree with the position you have taken with respect to the Boxing Commission’s decision.”
Unlike his other public miscalculations—such as his off-the-cuff suggestion to move the University of the District of Columbia east of the river or his appearance at the Rev. Willie F. Wilson’s Union Temple Baptist Church during the D.C. General debate—Williams this time aligned himself with D.C.’s old guard. In proclaiming his support for the Tyson fight, Williams reconnected with an erstwhile quasi-ally: former D.C. First Lady Cora Masters Barry.
A former boxing commission chair, Barry still has ties to the commission, as well as to Tyson and his promoters.
Her connection to the current mayor dates back to a strange alliance forged as Williams was battling a few councilmembers in his 1998 mayoral campaign. In exchange for Barry’s endorsement, Williams agreed to assist the construction of her pet project: the $5 million Southeast Tennis & Learning Center. Barry’s Recreation Wish List Committee—which she founded and currently serves in the capacity as chief executive officer—initially pledged to fund the entire complex but collected only $400,000 in the end. The city picked up the rest of the check.
Thanks to Barry’s involvement, tennis has become the favored crossover sport for the local boxing set. For example, Boxing Commission Chair Arnold McKnight is manager of the Southeast Tennis & Learning Center. McKnight previously worked as a tennis coach for Barry and her husband, Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. And according to his resume, McKnight has served as a tennis-tournament coordinator for the Recreation Wish List, as well.
Boxing Commission Vice Chair Michael Brown also serves as a board member on the Recreation Wish List. The son of late Clinton-administration Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown, Brown also serves as president and chief executive officer of the Ronald Brown Foundation. The foundation has contributed to Barry’s cause, but the Recreation Wish List’s Web site doesn’t indicate an amount.
Cora Masters Barry refused to comment.
That leaves Mable Boatwright as the only commissioner with no overt connections to Cora Masters Barry and the old boxing crowd. LL hears that she’s working on her topspin lob.
After sitting through 24 hours of classroom instruction, successfully passing oral and written exams, and navigating reams of paperwork, D.C.’s taxicab drivers must wait eight to 12 weeks for their reward: a hack license. In a city where cabs lack uniform paint colors and meters, passengers rely on the placards affixed to drivers’ passenger-side visors to make sure their chauffeurs are legit.
For the past several weeks, however, the D.C. Taxicab Commission has faced a severe backlog in processing hack licenses. According to a letter distributed to those seeking renewals, hack licenses will not be issued by the commission “due to an administrative delay.”
LL’s translation, for the bureaucratically challenged: The commission has run out of paper.
According to D.C. Professional Taxicab Drivers Association Chair Nathan Price, the commission depleted its license stock sometime last week. Since that time, drivers seeking licenses have left commission offices at 2041 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE with 8 1/2-by-11-sized memorandums, which explain to law-enforcement officials—as well as to the public—that the named driver may legally cruise D.C. streets for fares.
The letters don’t fit neatly onto windshield visors. They are more legible than zone maps, however.
The letter also suggested that the commission would be back in the licensing business by Feb. 28. D.C. Taxicab Commission Chair Lee E. Williams did not return calls from LL for comment.
Perhaps he was comparison-shopping at Office Depot and Staples.
Four long years ago, Mayor Williams sold himself to the D.C. citizenry as a pragmatic bean counter. Yet in a pulpit address last Sunday evening, when the mayor spoke about his relationship to a higher power, he wasn’t referring to exponents. “You learn to be on your knees,” Williams confessed. “You can only do this with faith, hope, and the love of Jesus Christ.”
Had Williams viewed too many tear-jerker Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints advertisements on his extended vacation in Utah?
LL checked the program: Indeed, this was the holy consecration and installation service for the mayor’s new Interfaith Council, not a taping of the 700 Club.
The Sunday-evening service took place where God and D.C.’s African-American elite meet: the Metropolitan Baptist Church, at 1225 R St. NW. “I want to thank [the Rev.] H. Beecher Hicks for making Metropolitan Baptist available in so many ways to our city,” Williams remarked at his weekly press conference Feb. 20, when he first unveiled his new Interfaith Council to the public.
“We are supporters of the District of Columbia,” Hicks responded moments later.
Not for long, though: A little less than two years ago, Hicks laid out plans to move his influential and sizable congregation to a 34-acre plot of land in Largo, Md. The church hopes to begin building its new 3,000-seat sanctuary soon.
Hicks and approximately 50 percent of his flock live in the city’s mythical Ward 9 already.
The announcement was made several months after Metropolitan came under fire from its neighbors, who had filed suit to prevent the church’s parishioners from using an adjacent elementary school’s ballfield as a parking lot. Even though the school hosts an overwhelmingly African-American student body, Hicks played the D.C. trump card: race. “This is their world, or so they believe,” said Hicks in one Sunday sermon in 1999, referring to white people who had gentrified the community. “And they intend to take it back.”
But on this more recent evening, Hicks and his fellow pastors preached togetherness. Moments after Williams acknowledged his spiritual leader, he introduced his new senior adviser for religious affairs. In a city that hosts almost as many clerics as lobbyists, Williams had curiously selected a young preacher all the way from Winston-Salem, N.C.: the Rev. Carlton N. Pressley. “You’re an outsider; you haven’t lived here but a minute,” Pressley even noted about himself in his highly spirited remarks.
Only two years ago, the young minister had sought public office himself: He ran for the 67th District seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives against Democratic incumbent Warren “Pete” Oldham. During the campaign, Pressley tried to use blessed oratory to his advantage: “He prayed, then told a story about what makes a lightning bug illuminate while a mosquito and bumblebee do not,” reported the Winston-Salem Journal on April 26, 2000, about Pressley’s behavior at a candidate forum sponsored by the city’s Black Political Action League.
“It’s the stuff that’s in him,” Pressley explained to voters about the lightning bug. The young preacher lost the race, attracting only 36 percent of the vote in the two-way race.
Three hours into the sacred evening, the keynote speaker rose to the pulpit: Former D.C. Shadow Senator the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. Jackson referenced his time in Washington but chose not to list his accomplishments as the city’s statehood lobbyist on Capitol Hill. “That dream of democracy for you remains a place in my heart,” Jackson preached instead.
Somewhere in the middle of his remarks, Jackson acknowledged another who had sought redemption from those in the audience: “When the ninth inning is over,” the reverend roared, “Marion Barry is the winner!”
The crowd erupted in claps and hallelujahs. From his seat in the second row, Marion Barry smiled.
In his bid to become mayor in 1998, American City Diner owner Jeffrey N. Gildenhorn reminded the electorate, “I am not a politician; I am not a lawyer; I am not an accountant.” D.C. voters took his self-awareness to heart, delivering the Ward 3 restaurateur a mere .4 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.
Yet in a conversation with LL this week, Gildenhorn showed as much ambition to grill D.C. agency heads as hamburgers. He said that he’s considering a challenge to At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, jumping into a Democratic field crowded with prospective candidates including the likes of Marion Barry, Beverly Wilbourn, and Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, among others. “I’ve been approached by members of the community to run,” Gildenhorn selflessly explained.
When asked by whom, Gildenhorn flexed the debate muscles toned by attending numerous candidate forums the last go-round. “I don’t think it would be proper or appropriate to discuss names at this time,” he answered.
Gildenhorn argues that the council lacks a business perspective, which was previously articulated by former Ward 7 Councilmember H. R. Crawford and former Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis. Neither of those council veterans, LL notes, possessed the creative vision and ingenuity to dispense Hebrew National hot dogs with all the fixin’s at their campaign kickoffs, however.
“I have a substantial number of people that would like me to run again for mayor,” Gildenhorn added, declining once more to name anyone specifically. “But that would be too burdensome for me at this point.” CP
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