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With the stunning and sometimes ridiculous behavior of its leaders, the District continues to earn its reputation as a truly unique municipality. Case in point: recent bonuses passed out by Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ administration to key officials—some of whom have abysmal records.

Consider the Metropolitan Police Department: By its own admission, the MPD has one of the worst homicide closure rates in the country. The department spent so much of its budget during the first quarter of this fiscal year that it was on track to exceed its appropriations by $15 million; it needed a bailout from the recently approved supplemental budget. Further, the MPD seems to have in its employ police officers who exhibit signs of sidewalk phobia—they refuse to leave their squad cars. Others allegedly spend more time defaming gays, blacks, and women via departmental e-mails than they do protecting them. Nevertheless, in April, Police Chief Charles Ramsey received a bonus of $12,000.

LL’s head is spinning—the logic is absolutely dizzying. LL and more than a few residents think Ramsey hasn’t even earned his $150,000 annual salary, to say nothing of a major bonus.

But Ramsey isn’t the only beneficiary of the administration’s largess with our money. Although not every manager received a reward, at least 21 did. LL likes some of these folks but questions how and why they earned their bonuses. For example, take Peter LaPorte, director of the Office of Emergency Management: What did he do to receive his $9,439? Maybe he was rewarded for handling last winter’s massive snowfall or corralling all those dangerous World Bank protesters. Or maybe it was his assist in the coordination of the presidential inaugural that got him the moolah.

Milou Carolan, director of the Office of Personnel, got a bonus of $9,685. The cash recognition surely must have been the result of her miraculous paper-pushing. (Carolan served on the compensation committee that recommended who did and didn’t get bonuses, but officials say she recused herself when her own name came up.)

Back when he was chief financial officer, Williams learned not to mess with the Office of Aging’s budget or its director, which may account for E. Veronica Pace’s $8,198 bonus. Carolyn Graham, who doubled as deputy mayor for Children, Youth, and Families and interim head of the Department of Human Services, received $8,288. Pay for hazardous duty? Who knows? (She also served on the compensation committee and reportedly recused herself from deciding her own bonus.) Andrew Altman, director of the Office of Planning, received $11,489. He tackled real estate monster George Washington University and so far has won, so maybe that’s his claim to taxpayer dollars. But Public Health Director Ivan Walks—what’s his story? Isn’t his $198,000 per year salary enough? Does he really need a $19,800 bonus?

City Administrator John Koskinen says the bonuses aren’t wasteful, capricious, or illegal. He says a District statute permits awarding bonuses of up to 10 percent of an employee’s salary for achieving predetermined performance measures. Koskinen says the agency directors who received the money—the lowest amount was $5,298, which went to Gregory Irish, director of the Department of Employment Services—”met or exceeded” their goals as identified in the citywide mayoral scorecards published earlier this year. “You know the saying: ‘What gets measured, gets done’?” Koskinen asks.

But, from LL’s perspective, what gets measured has yet to get done. What’s more, the mayor’s highly touted scorecard achievements are a joke.

Although Koskinen lays out a detailed process for how the bonuses were awarded, LL’s got a little advice for him and the mayor: Hold the brownie points and gold stars. Bonuses ought to be for exemplary service. The city government hasn’t provided any yet.

GETTING IN SHAPE

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At first glance, the sudden transfer or departure of a half-dozen key administrators from the Williams administration may be alarming. Not to worry. Many of them aren’t going far—they’re just going to play politics. LL expects Peggy Armstrong, David Howard, Jim Wareck, and Abdusalam Omer to be reincarnated in the coming months as the mayor’s first-string re-election team. Early this fall, they will likely begin storming communities, pushing the mayor’s agenda, shaking cups for coins, and generally sending out the signal that they’re ready to rumble. It will be familiar territory: Each worked in some capacity in Williams’ 1998 mayoral campaign.

Armstrong, Williams’ outgoing press secretary, reportedly is moving to a less conspicuous position in the Office of Planning—it’s a fine place to be heard and not seen. Howard, who will be leaving his post as the mayor’s scheduler, also will find some dark corner in the administration—what better place to arrange quiet appearances before community groups? Wareck, the mayor’s departing special assistant for the environment, told LL earlier this month that he’s looking to start his own business; there are political donations to be wrung from those prickly environmentalists. Former Chief of Staff Omer left last month but hasn’t yet sought employment elsewhere. But opposition researchers adept in slash-and-run tactics are critical in any campaign. Although these mayoral confidants have all cited either a desire to pursue other interests or burnout as their reason for leaving, there is every reason to believe their prime interest at this stage remains Williams. The only thing that’s burning may be the opposition.

Ever the cautious politician, Williams isn’t taking any chances on his re-election. Although his poll numbers remain remarkably high—last time LL heard, his approval rating was 70 percent—Williams understands the threat he faces: two separate camps of politically active residents are pushing two different candidates, former U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and Ward 7 Councilmember and Mayor-in-Wanting Kevin Chavous. Moreover, Williams’ image has been bruised by both the fundraising scandal that is being investigated by the city’s inspector general and the monthslong battle with the D.C. Council over the future of D.C. General Hospital.

The fundraising scandal caused some damage among Williams’ good-government supporters, who are a significant part of his voter base. The skirmish over the public hospital, which ended only after intervention by the financial control board, tainted the champion-of-the-people image the mayor was attempting to cultivate among low-income and working-class residents—a population that didn’t support Williams during the last election but one he doesn’t want to write off in 2002. Williams doesn’t want to be labeled a politician for the rich and the middle class.

What’s more, Chavous and other councilmembers have already signaled that after the control board disbands in September, they intend to be all over the mayor like white on rice.

Williams had hoped to build his political machine by using the Office of the Public Advocate, as his predecessor, Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr., did with his Office of Constituent Services. But the public advocate’s office has failed miserably, having gone through three directors during Williams’ mayoral tenure, none of whom executed any stunning political feats. Further, Williams was unable to effectively use the office of his chief of staff as his political-outreach vehicle; Omer gained more enemies than friends on the mayor’s behalf. And Williams may have learned from the string of ethics issues that has dogged his administration that he can’t manage machine-building by his cadre of novices as he did in the past—in-house, and under the radar.

It appears that the mayor has made two crucial decisions: to turn over a significant portion of the daily operation of his government to Koskinen, who has received accolades from nearly every segment of the community for his ability to attend to controversy while maintaining an emotional flatline, and to move his politics outside, using his loyal supporters and former government workers as his front-line attack team.

By setting up an early skeleton campaign structure, Williams can properly intimidate potential opponents on several fronts. He can continue his massive fundraising—he already has a war chest of $600,000 and counting. He can re-establish his army of volunteers and supporters, locking up key civic and political leaders long before opponents even discover whom they should be talking to. And he can build a defense against the council’s post-control-board assault.

LL remembers more than one councilmember telling her early in Williams’ tenure that every time they spoke critically about the mayor to their constituents, they were told to “stop picking on him”—Williams muted his early critics by the sheer force of his widespread support. To return to that comfortable position, the mayor has to soothe the hurt feelings his administration has now left in its wake through either neglect or poor response. And he has to refresh his good-government stripes. His ability to pull all of this off, without any major glitches, will prove just how much Williams has—or hasn’t—grown as a politician. —Jonetta Rose Barras

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