HOME RULE DEFENDERS?

The D.C. Council last week feigned concern about the city’s quasi-independence—commonly called “home rule”—chastising the financial control board for supporting a contract that puts the management and operation of D.C. General Hospital into the hands of a private health-care provider—over the council’s loud objections. “You are circumventing democracy!” declared frustrated At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson to control board member Eugene Kinlow.

But Mendelson and his council cohorts, particularly NOTs (Nemeses of Tony) David Catania and Kevin Chavous, may have done more to torpedo the city’s future independence and freedom from the control board than any private contract.

The council’s unwillingness to resolve its differences with Mayor Anthony A. Williams, forcing the intervention by a reluctant financial control board, and the recent submissions by the council and the control board of competing versions of the city’s fiscal 2001 supplemental budget requests are fueling renewed angst on Capitol Hill over the District’s competence to manage its own affairs.

Suddenly, ominous noises are emanating from the offices of key Capitol Hill representatives that the scheduled September shutdown of the control board may not bring an end to monitoring of city business by a separate, congressionally created group.

“Members are giving serious consideration to creating something that will continue to play a strong oversight role,” says one of several congressional sources who spoke to LL on condition of anonymity.

“It may not have all the powers of the control board,” the source adds, “but it could be something that will have intervention authority.”

Another Capitol Hill source told LL that Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich, chair of the Senate Government Affairs’ subcommittee on D.C., sees the control board as providing a useful buffer for Williams in his effort to effect government reform, and he has privately questioned why the mayor would not want it to continue. Voinovich, who served as mayor of Cleveland when that city had a control board, could not be reached for comment.

During the past year, there was talk about some kind of post-control-board structure to monitor the District’s government, but those discussions focused principally on fiscal affairs and the role of the city’s independent chief financial officer (CFO). In fact, the District’s current operating budget includes a provision that continues the independent CFO as originally empowered.

But the acrimonious ending to the D.C. General situation has demonstrated to some in Congress that councilmembers may talk the government-reform lingo but are too weak-kneed to walk the reality. Moreover, the council’s plan to dump another $21.5 million into the deficit-ridden hospital is precisely the kind of action that brought the District to the brink of bankruptcy back in 1995.

When the mayor vetoed that idea, the council voted to override him, resulting in two versions of the supplemental budget, which undoubtedly will force Congress to step in to settle the dispute over how the city will spend its money—quite the opposite of the home rule the council claims to be defending. The dual budget submissions hark back to the era of former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr., when the council refused to approve personnel and program cuts ordered by the control board. Further, the confusion sullies Wall Street’s impressions of the District’s professed willingness to implement needed financial discipline, say sources with the CFO’s operation. A delay of approval of the budget could force a spending freeze, jeopardizing service delivery for several agencies.

“It’s really a mess,” says a District finance source.

Joint hearings on the control board are planned for early June on Capitol Hill, where congressional representatives will examine the board’s record and try to determine the structure for the new, and apparently inevitable, oversight and monitoring body. It’s clear that District officials, particularly those on the council, have demonstrated that they are not ready to operate untethered.

Not so, says D.C. Council Chair Linda Cropp. She says the council has behaved properly and that in her discussions on Capitol Hill, she was assured that representatives would not jeopardize home rule. But if they do, she adds, then the council’s defense of D.C. General will only “be the excuse for something [Congress] intended to do all along.”

Cropp’s reassurance notwithstanding, says yet another congressional source, “It’s very frustrating to see the council acting up like that. I can tell you it doesn’t help the situation up here.”

TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE BADLY NEEDED

LL is ready to market a new sitcom based on true stories from the annals of the D.C. Democratic State Committee (DSC). She could start with the most recent incident, the tale of the missing program booklets at the Kennedy-King Awards Dinner held last Friday. The fundraiser was attended by such notables as Democratic National Committee Chair Collection Agent Terry McAuliffe, Williams, Barry, born-again national-election reformer Donna Brazile, and LL’s all-time favorite comedian, DSC Chair Norman Neverson.

But keeping track of that esteemed lineup was hard, because distribution of the written programs was suspended soon after things got started. “People kept asking for them,” reports one dinner guest. “I was told that they hadn’t arrived.”

A member of the executive committee says the booklets had arrived, all right. But there weren’t many of them, and “they were horrible—they looked like a third-grade project.”

It wasn’t just the poor print job that caused the DSC to deep-six its own program and advertising booklets. “There was a big fight behind the scenes,” says another dinner guest. Seems there was a full-page ad that read “Draft Rodney Slater Mayor of the District of Columbia,” outlining reasons why voters should choose the former federal transportation secretary over Williams.

The program booklet also included a letter from Rep. Dick Gephardt, a leader of the national Democratic Party, which appeared with a picture of—oops!—Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a major figure in the civil rights movement and a well-known disciple of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Which leads LL to conclude that the organizers of the Kennedy-King Dinner didn’t know squat about at least one person for whom the event is named. Have mercy!

ART OF THE RECALL

David Barrows may be having trouble launching his recall effort against Mayor Williams, but mounting a public art exhibition does seem to be his forte. Already he has plastered selected neighborhoods with posters that purport to collectively illustrate the mayor’s sins.

The creation of artist Mike Flugennock, the black-and-white posters paste Williams to every problem affecting the city: “University of the District of Columbia Gutted.” “Understaffed Fire Trucks.” “D.C. General Closed.” “Not Enough Health Inspectors”—that last one depicting a large, grinning rat.

(LL doesn’t want to interfere with anyone’s demonization campaigns, which are critical to slaying an executive with a 70 percent approval rating. But the rat thing—come on. Does anyone remember ever seeing the mayor, after licking his fingers following a three-piece dinner from Popeyes, discard the box and bones at the nearest curb?)

“Williams is more interested in real estate and Capitol Hill than what neighborhoods want,” asserts Barrows, visual arts editor at the InTowner, a monthly neighborhood newspaper. But Barrows doesn’t explain why he’s tagging Williams with all the various specific ills.

If art were all that is needed to recall an elected official, Barrows might be on a roll. But it will take the signatures of least 30,000 registered voters for him to get the question placed on a ballot for a special election. Two months after successfully completing the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics’ simple petition-circulating process, which required him to submit a statement not to exceed 200 words outlining his reasons for wanting to recall Williams, Barrows ain’t anywhere near recall nirvana.

“Preparation seems to be the hard part,” says Barrows. “I’m still trying to get volunteers.

I have about 20, and I need over 100.”

He shouldn’t wait to exhale. In the past 20 years, there hasn’t been one successful local recall effort, and it hasn’t been for the lack of trying. Last October, Cardell Shelton also won approval to circulate petitions to get rid of Williams. (The mayor is so damn popular, LL is almost jealous.) But Shelton’s end may foreshadow Barrows’. The Ward 8 resident was supposed to return his petitions on April 18, but the elections board’s executive director, Alice Miller, says she hasn’t seen him.

Still, Barrows is optimistic. “I have until September. That should be enough time if I get the volunteers I need,” he says.

LL has a special fondness for dreamers. —Jonetta Rose Barras

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