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Slightly over a year ago, former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. declared himself the city’s anti-violence czar. You remember: It was June 29, 2000, and Barry sent out a two-page press release announcing his intention not to seek the at-large council seat held by Harold Brazil. Given how vulnerable he was after his weak showing in the 1998 mayoral race, Brazil must have exhaled when he read the announcement.
Although Barry insisted that he had both the votes and money to beat any contendereven with a late entry in the racehe chumped out. He said he had prayed over his options and decided that “organizing a massive and comprehensive movement to End the Violence Now” was a better way to serve the city he had held in a vise-grip for more than 20 years.
“I am seeking a way to serve rather than seeking the limelight,” Barry said. “In the coming weeks, I will be announcing a three-part major effort to end violence now….The stakes are high and the impact of our effort will be critical if we are to save this generation of urban youth,” he continued. “Our course is set, our resolve is strong, and our mission is clear.”
Invisible, if you ask LL. If there was a three-part plan announced later, she never heard of it. In fact, LL’s been chasing MB’s phantom movement for months.
“I’m out there all the time. Marion Barry hasn’t contacted me. He hasn’t done anything,” says Leroy Thorpe, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 2, who also heads a neighborhood crime watch organization. “He’s very good at political posturing but short on delivery.”
“I haven’t even heard Marion Barry’s name during the two months I’ve been here,” says Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Inspector Robin Hoey, who heads the Office of Youth Violence and helps coordinate activities at the department’s boys and girls clubs. In recent months, the youth-violence division has used sports leagues, mediation, and mentoring programs to try to reduce the level of violence among young people. The pilot program focused mostly on Barry’s back yardSoutheast. But Hoey says that MPD Chief Charles Ramsey is now pushing to make it a citywide effort.
So, where is the Man? Maybe he’s deliberately running a covert operation. Maybe he sees what he calls his “helping ministry” as more effective if it’s hush-hush. Giving Barry the benefit of the doubt, LL dialed him up at home, expecting he would detail his assault on crime, his offensive strategy, and his war-room statistics. No such luck: Barry didn’t return repeated calls.
Rick Sowell, a Ward 5 civic leader who, for more than a year, has been actively fighting youth violence, admits that Barry has been missing in action. But like many people with a soft spot for Barry, Sowell appears to want to cut some slack for the ex-convict and dethroned mayor-for-life.
“He charged his disciples up,” says Sowell. “Rather than be a star player, he’s playing the role of coach.” Sowell meets every Tuesday with other civic and business leaders and members of the MPD regional command center in the Ward 5 Bloomingdale community. (Sowell says Barry hasn’t attended any of the meetings.) Together, Sowell and the Tuesday group have implemented an effective crime-fighting plan.
“We went from 30 [homicides] two years ago to seven last year, and now we are down to zero so far in this neighborhood,” continues Sowell, “so I would say [Barry’s] initiative is working subtly.
“Some might say it’s too subtle,” he adds.
He took the words right out of LL’s mouth.
THEIR LIPS ARE SEALED
“I can’t answer your question without getting a release from downtown,” an agency director is telling LL, who is just easing into her usual 50 questions about some issue in the District government.
“We have been told not to speak to the press until we get a release from the communications office,” adds the director, who earns more than $100,000 a year and was hired to develop, implement, and, from time to time, explain public policy to District taxpayerswhich, of course, includes the press.
LL is flabbergasted. She thinks maybe she has stumbled into some Soviet-era dictatorship. Surely the agency director must have misunderstood the directive from the mayor’s communications office. So LL calls Sharon Gang, the deputy director of communications, who attempts to characterize this latest apparent free-speech violation by Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ administration as an effort to “provide coordination for media requests.”
But the guidelines impose more than coordination: “Effective immediately, all press inquiries, contacts and any related communications with members of the news media or their representatives should be coordinated through the Mayor’s Office of Communication,” wrote Joy Arnold, Williams’ interim chief of staff in a July 10 memorandum.
“This includes any communications with media by Deputy Mayors, [Executive Office of the Mayor] directors, and related staff at formal or informal events and any information or comments provided through unofficial channels or ‘off the record,’” Arnold added.
What makes Arnold’s policy directive even more interesting is that she dared issue it in the first place, knowing as she must have that only three days later the mayor would announce his selection of a permanent chief of staff. Arnold lost the job to Kelvin J. Robinson, a guy out of Florida. Why couldn’t Arnold have waited for Robinson to take the reins before announcing a new communications gag rule?
Moreover, the memorandum appeared just one week before Joan Logue-Kinder, the communications director who helped Arnold draft the lame policy, was less-than-politely asked to leave after just two months on the job. Sources say Logue-Kinder and the mayor butted heads from the beginning. The breakup between the mayor and his communications director was so bad that he didn’t even offer a kind word at her departure. In an unprecedented move, the task of explaining Logue-Kinder’s brief stintand saying the typical nice things that rarely reflect realitywas left to City Administrator John Koskinen.
With this kind of chaos swirling in the mayor’s inner office, you’d think the administration would have its hands full and could trust senior agency directors to explain their own policies and programs.
Gang, whose status must be considered tenuous given that she was hired by Logue-Kinder, asserts that routine questions can still be handled by the public information officers in the various agencies. But, according to the Arnold memorandum, “the Office of Communications should always handle requests for non-routine programmatic or policy information on sensitive or potentially sensitive issues.”
In the re-election mode the Williams administration has entered, what isn’t sensitive? But here’s the larger question: What happened to that completely transparent operation the mayor promised he would run when he was campaigning for the office?
THESE LIPS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE SEALED
Arnold is on a Gestapo roll. Sources at One Judiciary Square say she and her assistant, Terence Coles, recently put the squeeze on several employees who had been questioned by the inspector general as part of his continuing investigation into the fundraising scandal that rocked the Williams administration earlier this year. To refresh your memory: Back in February, the mayor asked the inspector general to look into reports, in the Washington City Paper and other media, that his deputy chief of staff, Mark Jonesand possibly others in his officehad allegedly violated the city’s Standards of Conduct Act by soliciting funds from companies doing business with the city and then funneling those funds through questionable nonprofit organizations.
“I wasn’t going to say anything, but this is not right. She [Arnold] asked us to write down the questions and write down our answers,” says one Judiciary Square source. “She also gave us the impression that if we didn’t do it, we could get in trouble with her or the mayor.”
When LL asked Tony Bullock, the mayor’s interim director of communications, about what had occurred, he initially was incredulous. “I find it hard to believe,” he said, adding that “we did have a [Freedom of Information Act] request for details [about the fundraising]. It could’ve been in furtherance of that request that some information was sought.”
The next day, Bullock called LL back, but this time only to dance. He declined to confirm any information about the alleged interrogations and who was behind them. Instead, he stuck to the party line: “The inspector general has asked the mayor’s office not to discuss with anyone the details of what is an ongoing investigation.”
A Judiciary Square source says that between Bullock’s first and second conversations with LL, the inspector general, hearing what Arnold had done, sent word that “they should stop what they were doing, or the mayor and his staff could be considered obstructing an investigation.”
The whole matter adds yet another ethics strike against the Williams administration. Is anyone counting anymore?
THEIR WALLET IS SEALED
Sen. Mary Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat and the new head of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the District, says she is a friend of D.C. and promises to highlight the imbalances in the city’s revenue structure caused by economic and taxing restrictions imposed by Congress.
But before Landrieu goes looking to surrounding jurisdictions for a reciprocal income tax or any other changes in financial policy to bolster the city’s coffers, she may want to shake the wallet of her husband, E. Frank Snellings.
Snellings owns property in the 400 block of East Capitol Street, where he’s building a new house for the family. But recently, the property was among several hundred listed for auction by the city’s Office of Tax and Revenue. The reason: nonpayment of property taxes. As of July 16, Snellings owed $1,410 for last year’s property taxes, according to Office of Tax and Revenue records, and sources say he hasn’t yet paid $1,063 due for the first half of 2001. Last weeksurprise!his property was purchased at the tax auction by Abbott Development Group. Now Snellings must settle his tax bill plus a penalty to keep the site.
LL tried to get a comment about the unpaid taxes from Landrieu. Rich Masters, a spokesperson for the senator, promised to pass along the request to Snellings, who Masters said deals with the couple’s “personal financial matters.” When LL didn’t receive a return call, she hopped the bus and discovered Snellings at the site, wearing jeans and a baseball cap and looking every bit the property developer.
Snellings says he never received a tax notice from the city. He says that once before his property tax notice was sent to an incorrect address and that his attorney had “gotten it straight, I thought. Whoever is doing the ministerial duties with the tax office has made another mistake.” He adds he noticed in April that there were no property-tax deductions on his income-tax return, but that didn’t alarm him because he assumed that, as in Louisiana, the city simply sent out property tax bills once a year.
Snellings says his attorney is checking into what went wrong this timeand “Obviously, I will pay the taxes.” Let’s hope the check is in the mail. Jonetta Rose Barras
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