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Mayor Anthony A. Williams generally doesn’t stir much interest beyond the Washington metro region. Although his 1998 electoral victory made national headlines, he has since largely withdrawn into the four walls of his office.
Yet in the picturesque Sonoran Desert, in towns named Paradise Valley and Scottsdale, there’s a group of people obsessing over the occupant of the Wilson Building’s penthouse suite. LL imagines that, after a breathtaking hike around Camelback Mountain or a leisurely 18 holes at Talking Stick, these Arizonans kick off their cowboys boots, loosen their Wrangler jeans, and fret: Has Williams accumulated enough campaign cash to deter absolutely any challenger, whether it be Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin P. Chavous or rabble-rouser Don Folden?
A contested D.C. mayor’s race might scare the Barry Goldwater set even more than that infamous daisy ad.
So last Dec. 5, these desert dwellers each sent personal checks for $2,000 payable to the Committee to Reelect Tony Williams. And besides knowing how to correctly pronounce the names of Chavous and At-Large Councilmember David Catania, members of the cactus collective share yet another distinctive trait: They all have connections to Scottsdale-based Doctors Community Healthcare Corporation (DCHC), a major beneficiary of Williams’ new health-care program for D.C.
The Williams campaign recently reported amassing a $1.1 million election war chest, of which $480,000 has been corralled since its previous disclosure to the Office of Campaign Finance in July. A little more than 20 percent of these new contributions—$98,000, to be exact—comes from DCHC, its hospitals, its employees, and its affiliated businesses.
The corporation has been at the center of the District’s most contentious civic controversy: how to reweave the city’s tattered health-care safety net.
DCHC hopes to profit from urban hospitals, which care primarily for the poor and medically underserved. The corporation first moved into the District in 1992, when it acquired Hadley Memorial Hospital, at 4601 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SW in Ward 8. Eight years later, when the District refused to financially bail out Greater Southeast Community Hospital, at 1310 Southern Ave. SE, and the medical facility declared bankruptcy, DCHC purchased it for the bargain-basement price of $22 million.
Yet Greater Southeast still relies on infusions of municipal cash for life support.
When the D.C. financial control board pulled the plug on D.C. General Hospital last year, it signed a contract worth up to $90 million a year with Greater Southeast to privatize the city’s health care for indigents. Greater Southeast partnered with four other subcontractors to form the D.C. HealthCare Alliance, which offers free medical services to uninsured D.C. residents earning below twice the poverty level.
The decision to close down the city’s only public hospital was highly controversial and unanimously opposed by the D.C. Council. Williams vigorously defended the control board’s action and got shouted down at community forums, in churches, and even during his own State of the District address last year. Six months into the experiment into privatization, the issue continues to haunt the mayor: The D.C. HealthCare Alliance so far has been largely unaccountable and unmanageable, much like its predecessor.
But Williams has gained a staunch ally in DCHC. And the corporation has made sure that the mayor won’t forget how much it appreciates him.
According to the campaign finance report filed Jan. 31, the Williams campaign received contributions from 13 out of 15 members of DCHC’s senior management team listed on its Web site, including Executive Vice President for Mergers and Acquisitions Erich Mounce, as well as his wife, Marla Mounce, of Scottsdale; President and Chief Operating Officer Melvin Redman and his wife, Vicki Redman, of Paradise Valley; and almost the entire Tuft family: Paul, Alan, and Shirley Tuft all maxed out their contributions at $2,000. Paul Tuft is chair and chief executive officer of DCHC; Alan Tuft is its vice president for mergers and acquisitions.
And just so the mayor doesn’t forget that his Arizona buddies care about his pet issue—education—Paul Tuft has also made a $500,000 donation to the University of the District of Columbia.
DCHC’s local affiliates contributed a healthy portion to the mayor’s cause, as well. D.C. HealthCare Alliance Chair Ana Raley forked over $2,000, as did Alliance Chief Operating Officer James Christian and Chief Executive Officer K. Singh Taneja and his wife, Manjit Taneja.
DCHC’s largess makes the hometown donors look like cheapskates. The next-biggest sugar daddy in the last reporting period, Chevy Chase Bank, gave $17,525 to the mayor’s re-election efforts.
Committee to Reelect Tony Williams Chair Max Berry did not return calls for comment.
“We are pleased and proud to participate in the democratic process,” says Greater Southeast spokesperson Donna Lewis Johnson. “We typically contribute to political campaigns from mayoral bids to city-council races.
“We don’t expect anything from our contributions,” Johnson adds.
Health-care activists are skeptical. “This is the city’s largest health-care services contractor. Campaign contributions are a way to get the mayor and the Department of Health to look the other way,” says Sam Jordan of Health Care Now!, a health-care consumer-advocacy group. “Campaign contributions might explain why the D.C. HealthCare Alliance has provided no utilization data, has not enrolled the targeted number of uninsured consumers, and will not build Level 1 trauma services [at Greater Southeast].”
OUT OF ORDER
LL has no doubt that Henry M. Robert, author of Robert’s Rules of Order, would have exploded in a spasm of gavel-banging if he had attended Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6A’s monthly meeting last Thursday, Feb. 7.
First order of business was whether to censure Commissioner Robert Hall for calling fellow Commissioner Daniel Pernell a “faggot ass” following the adjournment of last month’s meeting.
Commissioner Ronald T.T. Nelson then read a statement condemning Hall’s language. “‘Faggot,’ like all hate words, is a word we use at our worst moments,” Nelson lectured. “A word we use to destroy.” Yet when ANC Chair Keith Jarrell asked for a commissioner to second the censure motion moments later, Nelson failed to do so. He later explained that he simply “forgot.”
Hall later apologized to the commission on his own.
A little while later, Commissioner Janet Quigley introduced a procedural resolution to make the ANC’s financial records available for public inspection. The call to second that motion also ran into problems. “How can the public see the records when I don’t know where the records are?” asked Commissioner Marina Martin to her colleagues. “Has anybody seen any records?”
Commissioners shook their heads. They admitted to those in attendance that most of the financial records they knew about were stored with D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols, whose office is examining the ANC’s ledgers. ANC 6A has had quite a history of creative bookkeeping.
Then the commissioners discussed—largely out of order—the mystery behind the rest of the commission’s records. Toward the end of the discourse, Jarrell proposed a Geraldo Rivera “Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault”-style unearthing of the ANC’s records at their designated storage space, at 624 H St. NE. Several hands shot up to join him.
CHECKING IT OUT
Luckily for the D.C. Democratic State Committee, the District has been historically a one-party town. So the ineptitude of the Democratic party’s governing body has hardly been an impediment to its success at the polls.
Absent consequences, some committee members have adopted a method of financial recordkeeping straight from the Arthur Andersen School of Accountancy.
On Feb. 6, Independence Federal Savings Bank placed a hold on a $500 check written on a Democratic State Committee account. The bank suspected forgery, because the check was not signed by authorized signatory and state committee Treasurer Bob Artisst. According to Artisst, all committee checks must bear his signature plus that of a witness.
The bank held two other checks for forgery, as well. One check was written to Horace Kreitzman, who works part-time for the state committee. The check was written for Kreitzman’s monthly salary and signed by state committee Chair Norm C. Neverson and state committee member Aimee Occhetti.
Another check was written for $80 to Occhetti and signed once again by Neverson and Occhetti.
“There are some shenanigans that happened internally,” says Artisst of the unauthorized signatures. “There have been some checks made up without authorization or vote of membership.”
Many state committee members aim their green shades at Neverson, who has brought yet more chaos to an already dysfunctional party cell. “How is it possible that I could be a forger for a check that I have signed?” Neverson asks.
Neverson disputes Artisst’s contention that the party chair can’t sign committee checks. “When political people want to run for office, they set up surreptitious issues,” argues Neverson. “There is no forgery—there never has, and there never will be.”
* Many astute D.C. political observers, as well as LL, were surprised when Ward 8 activist Eugene Dewitt Kinlow didn’t challenge incumbent Sandy Allen in her 2000 re-election bid. After all, Kinlow could have hammered away at Allen’s frequent stumbles on the council dais, along with her flip-flopping on key Ward 8 development matters.
Kinlow, though, appears to prefer a more formidable set of political foes—like At-Large Democratic incumbent Phil Mendelson, Beverly Wilbourn, and Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. Last week, Kinlow made it known that he’s forming an exploratory committee for an at-large council run this fall.
“I don’t think it’s fair that a majority of at-large councilmembers live between Connecticut and Wisconsin Avenues,” says Kinlow.
Although Kinlow is a Democrat, he has reportedly not ruled out the possibility of running as an independent, which would put him on a collision course with at-large Republican Catania. Wilson Building wisdom considers Catania unbeatable: The councilmember draws citywide support for his vigorous defense of D.C. General and pulls down generous contributions from his constituent base in the gay community and affluent parts of Northwest.
* D.C. Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz rolled her eyes, appointed school-board representative Laura Gardner held her head, and District 2 elected representative Dwight Singleton ran his mouth Monday afternoon, when the board presented its new $772 million “consensus” budget for fiscal year 2003 to the public.
It was a range of bodily expressions quite familiar to fifth-floor boardroom regulars on North Capitol Street NE. In November, the school board unanimously approved a nearly billion-dollar budget for 2003. After city leaders balked, the board shaved its request by $100 million. That still didn’t appease the mayor and members of the D.C. Council.
The board approved Monday’s $772 million budget with a vote of 6 to 1, with Gardner voting no and District 4 representative William Lockridge—who negotiated the budget with Cafritz as chair of the Facilities and Finance Committee—abstaining. Even though every board member expressed some regret at the figure, Cafritz reiterated that this budget number has the backing of Wilson Building colleagues.
Gardner remained unsatisfied. “Without sounding like a flaming radical subversive, I’m going to have to disagree with my colleagues,” she said before voting against the proposal, which would allot more than $11,000 per student.
* Philip Pannell has announced that he will seek the chair of the Democratic State Committee. The Ward 8 Democrat, who works as the executive assistant to Cafritz, has obvious experience wrestling with unmanageable hybrid elected/nonelected bodies.
“I only run for positions,” Pannell tells LL. “I’m not running against anyone.”
That will come as a surprise to current chair Neverson, who is expected to seek the chair, as well.
* MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor—whose company’s stock plunge made Saylor reportedly lose $6 billion in one day—also contributed $2,000 toward the Williams re-election effort. Perhaps the NOMA technology corridor has potential after all.
Saylor did not respond to an inquiry from LL. CP
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