City Paper is not for tourists
On Jan. 18, WAMU’s D.C. Politics Hour sent local news organizations a press release plugging the show’s biggest scoop of the new year. According to sources corralled by esteemed WAMU political analyst Mark Plotkin, the release announced that Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. was plotting a bid for an at-large D.C. Council seat in the upcoming fall elections.
Just so Plotkin doesn’t scoop us next time, LL is hereby issuing press releases dated Jan. 18, 2004, and Jan. 18, 2006, stating the same thing. LL is basing these prospective scoops on the word of “longtime Barry associates.”
In any D.C. election year, there are three reliable refrains recycled at political gatherings: (1) “They’re tearing down our campaign posters!” (2) “They’re taking contributions from out-of-town businesses!” And (3) “Barry’s going to run!”
The Barry refrain has deep roots in the city’s political history.
In 1992, Barry began his legendary political comeback by winning the Ward 8 council race. Two years later, he beat John Ray and incumbent Sharon Pratt Kelly to once again become the city’s chief executive.
In recent election years, Barry has encouraged speculation on his candidacy to feed his ego. In 1998, for example, he waited until every local press outlet had done at least 10 stories on his dithering before bowing out of office.
Two years ago, Barry threatened a run against At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil, whose absenteeism and uninspiring approach to legislating made him a prime target for upset. Unfortunately, the possibility of a Barry candidacy scared other potential hopefuls out of the race. Barry bluffed right up to the week before the July filing deadline, announcing in late June that his talents were better served on an initiative to halt youth violence.
Brazil undeservedly skated to re-election.
It’s tempting for LL to dismiss the latest scuttlebutt as a relapse of Barry’s addiction to the media and public spotlight. But LL has heard too many anecdotes backing up the story. To wit: One District resident spotted Barry and his wife, Cora Masters Barry, at the Metro Center Hecht’s. Barry took the citizen aside, told him he was mulling an at-large campaign, and solicited his fellow shopper’s assistance.
Barry spokesperson Raymone Bain could not be reached for comment.
The mayor’s closest supporters remain mum on the record. “It’s pretty well-rumored,” says former Ward 7 Councilmember H.R. Crawford. “I don’t think he’ll run.”
Talk of a Barry challenge bounces off At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson like proposals to gut environmental laws. A first-term councilmember and frequent opponent of developers, Mendelson won the Democratic primary in a highly contested race three years ago.
Since then, the councilmember has advanced a series of unobjectionable legislative measures, like giving residents the option of not having their Social Security numbers printed on their driver’s licenses. Mendelson did prompt some rumblings among his backyard constituency last year, when he endorsed a redistricting plan that sent longtime Ward 3 denizens of Chevy Chase into the wasteland of Ward 4.
Mendelson says that he’ll gladly tout his record to voters, but he’s careful not to speak with the swagger of a shoo-in incumbent. “I think there are going to be a lot of rumors between now and when the petitions are due in July,” he responds. “I have to take the rumors seriously.”
That means raising more money. As of the July 31, 2001, candidate committee contributor filing, Mendelson had $15,325 in his election war chest. He says that he plans on raising more money from his ragtag coalition of neighborhood activists, tree-huggers, and smart-growth advocates. That’s a lot of $50 contributions to collect.
With concerns about his health and a precedent for bowing out, Barry and his threat will not likely dissuade other candidates from jumping into this year’s race. Ward 4 resident Beverly Wilbourn has announced her intention to run at large as well. And as springtime approaches, the field should fill up with at least five other unknowns who want to hone their public-speaking skills.
And when Chevy Chase voters chastise Mendelson at election forums for redistricting them into Ward 4, the Panama-hat-wearing candidate will be the one who tells them to “get over it.”
Most appointees to the District’s 140 boards and commissions understand their civic responsibilities as follows: Receive D.C. Council confirmation. Place commission appointment on resume. Tend to other professional obligations.
But last week, D.C. Office of Boards and Commissions Director Ron Collins asked all six members of the city’s Local Business Opportunity Commission for their resignations. The request came directly from Mayor Anthony A. Williams.
According to a handbook published by the mayor’s office, the Local Business Opportunity Commission promotes minority business opportunities in financing, bonding, and D.C. government contracting as well as enforces the Minority Contracting Act of 1976. The commission also regulates the Equal Opportunity for Local, Small, and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises Act, which gives firms that qualify a leg up on contract bidding.
Board Chair Timothy Robinson, general counsel to D.C.’s Public Service Commission, did not return phone calls for comment. “I don’t have a comment,” says commission member Charlie E. Mahone Jr., a professor at the Howard University School of Business Administration. Phone calls to other commissioners ended up in similar dead ends.
Those in the business community murmur that the commission did not advocate effectively for minority businesses in getting D.C. contracts. They also suggest a rivalry between the role of the commission and the D.C. Office of Local Business Development, which is also part of the executive branch.
Why such a bloodletting? “The mayor is not singling out any individuals,” explains Williams’ press secretary, Tony Bullock. “They’re supposed to go out and do outreach in the minority community to get them to participate in government-contract business. We’re not seeing that happen to the level the mayor would like to see.”
Bullock adds, though, that the mayor invites old commission members to reapply.
BOYS WILL BE BOYS
Strolling casually in his Sebago moccasins and ESPN Zone baseball cap this past weekend, Mayor Williams toured part of the Pennsylvania Avenue SE business corridor. The tour began at 10th Street SE and headed eastward, away from the restaurants and coffee houses that populate the blocks closest to the Capitol. “Warning. You are entering a Litigation Zone,” read one letter-sized sheet of paper taped to a lamppost at the meeting spot. “If you are seen reading this poster, you could get sued by Girls and Boys Town of Omaha, Nebraska.”
LL has yet to be served with papers.
But walking-tour organizers Will Hill and Ellen Opper-Weiner, chair and vice chair, respectively, of Southeast Citizens for Smart Development, are both defendants in a lawsuit filed by Father Flanagan’s organization. The national charity has planned to construct a new facility for wayward youngsters on 1.6 acres of land along the 1300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE, but Southeast neighbors have run resistance. In the lawsuit, Girls and Boys Town accuses the District government, Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose, Hill, and Opper-Weiner of racial discrimination and bias by conspiring to delay acquisition of building permits for the site.
The defendants deny any kind of conspiracy.
While Williams heard an earful about what kind of retail the neighbors wanted along the backside of Capitol Hill, he saw in plain sight what they didn’t want: Throughout the eight-block walkathon, bright-red “No Boys Town” placards besieged the mayor, who was accompanied by Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Eric Price and Office of Planning Director Andrew Altman.
“Even the mayor turned to me and asked, ‘Are those signs for my benefit?’” Opper-Weiner admitted later.
Opper-Weiner denied being a party to any propaganda campaign. But during the walk, some of her fellow Southeast Citizens bragged about how efficiently they had spiked signs into the ground earlier that morning. “I didn’t do it,” Opper-Weiner insisted. “Will and I didn’t have anything to do with it.”
THE ARTFUL DODGER
Last Saturday morning, kids and parents packed Hardy Middle School’s auditorium. It wasn’t for a seventh-grade production of Oliver Twist: They had come to save the Fillmore Arts Center, an award-winning D.C. Public Schools arts consortium serving six schools, which is housed in Hardy’s building. The school system has slated Hardy for renovation as early as October 2002, yet its master facilities plan has no provisions for the arts center during or after the building’s renovation.
The kids learned quite a bit that morning about school-system politics. A few parents pointed out the irony of coming before D.C. Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz—co-founder and champion of D.C.’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts—to plead for an arts program. “Me and my friends like Fillmore—and I don’t want it to go away,” urged one young supporter, dressed in a pink sweat shirt and purple pants.
Cafritz repeatedly committed herself to preserving Fillmore but never quite told the interested audience where she planned to house it. She also lectured the children about budget planning, overages, and her reputation. “Some people in this audience still think I’m a dictator,” Cafritz told them at one point.
A man wearing a baseball cap and jeans jumped out of his seat and clapped vigorously in support of that statement: Moments earlier, Cafritz had introduced the gentleman as District 2 Board of Education representative Dwight Singleton. “She’s very autocratic,” Singleton later stressed to LL.
* If ever there was a moment to declare Chevy Chase, D.C., the District’s nerdiest neighborhood, it happened at last Monday’s Ward 3 Traffic Summit, held in the neighborhood’s community center. For more than two hours, Mayor Williams, D.C. Department of Transportation Director Dan Tangherlini, local advisory neighborhood commissioners, and residents discussed road signs, 70-year-old sidewalk regulations, and traffic-calming studies.
Though Williams occasionally rubbed his eyes in exhaustion, Ward 3 residents sat riveted. “Instead of watching the late-night news,” explained ANC 3G Chair Anne Renshaw toward the end of the meeting, “we roll up the blinds and watch the smart machine!” The machine, known in the vernacular as a “portable speed-monitoring machine,” flashes the miles per hour each incoming car travels.
* Inspector General Charles C. Maddox must feel as if he were living a John Hughes movie. At last Monday’s D.C. Council briefing in preparation for the release of the District’s 2001 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), which his office has a significant role in producing, Maddox sat directly across the table from Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent Orange. Last week, Orange’s Committee on Government Operations issued a vote of no confidence in the inspector general.
No one dared to talk to the scandal-ridden Maddox, who got into hot water himself by not investigating a fundraising imbroglio in the mayor’s office quickly enough.
The Breakfast Club storyline continued later that day, at the presentation of the CAFR for press and the public, when Maddox sat silent and isolated to the right of other District officials.
A resolution of no confidence comes before the council’s Committee of the Whole on Feb. 5.
* Everyone knows that At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz has style. And Schwartz sees the District’s new license plates as lacking in that category. “They don’t look good,” Schwartz scolded D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles Director Sherryl Hobbs Newman at a council hearing last month.
Schwartz was objecting to the flush lettering on the plates. “I happen to think the raised sign is classy-looking,” Schwartz said, before examining the new plate before her. “[The new ones] are just flat—and boring-looking. They look cheaper.”
LL’s problem with the new plates? Delaware—home to chemical companies and Dover—is one of only two states whose tags bear such a design.
“They really do look better,” Schwartz emphasized to Newman as she held an old raised license plate in her hand. “I think there’s a reason why 48 other states do it [this way].” CP
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