In her winter newsletter, D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton announced her “Election Reform Town Meeting,” to be held on April 10. The participants will include Penelope Bonsall, director of the Office of Election Administration at the Federal Election Commission; Alice Miller, executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics; and Donna Brazile, who is called an “election expert.”
Norton is kidding, right? Miller and Bonsall can be labeled elections experts. But tagging Brazile with such a title is like calling Jimmy Carter a house-builder.
Brazile is more than some bureaucrat who ponders the world of chads and butterfly ballots and praises a Republican secretary of state with an obsession for mascara and Bushes. The 40-year-old political operative has been involved in three presidential electionsthose of Michael Dukakis, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and most recently, Al Gore. Even before she reached the ripe age of 30, Brazile displayed impressive grass-roots organizing skills and a command of the political arena, staging the first commemoration of the historic March on Washington and playing a strategic role in the establishment of a national holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Norton owes her current job to Brazile, who served as prime architect and implementor of the “gentlewoman’s” congressional campaigns. During Norton’s first campaign, in 1990, challenger Betty Ann Kane revealed that the D.C. native had not paid her federal and local taxes in several years. The charge threatened to damage not only Norton’s political future but her reputation as well. Brazile helped Norton manage the controversy and rise above the din crafted by Kane. As a result, Norton won that election and every other since. She remains one of the city’s most popular politicians.
Take this warning from LL: Don’t ever think of Brazile merely as some nondescript “elections expert,” and don’t believe that this Norton “town hall meeting” is just another gathering sponsored by the lady given to “wild woman” impersonations. The meeting and the bland nomenclature are features of a larger political strategy. It’s the old-boy system of politics in female attire.
Since the presidential inauguration, there have been reports that Brazile might enter the 2002 D.C. Council race, vying for an at-large position. April 10 appears to be Brazile’s coming-out party, setting the stage for her potential run against incumbent Councilmember Phil Mendelson. It also foreshadows the kind of maneuvering Mendelson can expect from Norton and others whose political chits Brazile has collected throughout her illustrious career.
Mendelson doesn’t think he needs to worry. “It’s my race to lose,” he has said privately.
But one council staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity, sums up the overriding view throughout the city: “If Donna gets in the race, she will crush Phil. I mean, she will just crush him!”
Talk of the potential of a Brazile run is frequent in backroom conversations among many of the city’s politically active African-Americans, who have been seething since the council became predominantly white in 1998; these people are determined to restore the city to its chocolateness. But if Brazile should decide she wants to add “councilmember” to her portfolio, she won’t have to depend only on blacks to come out in droves on Election Day. She has a fairly deep reach into white and Latino communities, as well.
Mendelson knows that his core constituency in the last election was largely white and based in Ward 3. Although he has used his creative “sidewalk office” programin which he sets up shop at entrances to various Metro stationsand collaboration with African-American councilmembers to extend himself in those communities where he didn’t fare so well, Mendelson is not the household name Brazile is.
It also doesn’t hurt that Brazile for a time oversaw the management of Norton’s constituent-services offices, building relationships with key civic and business leaders. Prior to becoming Gore’s campaign manager last year, Brazile was heavily involved behind the scenes with benchmark public policy and political developments in the District, including the creation of the financial control board and the design of the 1996 federal bailout of the city. If that weren’t enough, she knows everybody who is anybody around the country and can offer a parade of supporters that reads like a Who’s Who in Black America and that could include former U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and civil rights doyenne Dorothy I. Height. Further, Brazile’s networklocal and nationalcan produce hundreds of thousands of dollars, which could make the $100,000 or so raised by Mendelson in his 1998 campaign look like leftover peanuts.
Why would a woman with this kind of expertise and political influence want to position herself in a legislature of a local government that is burdened by congressional overseers and lacks financial autonomy? Brazile doesn’t answer that question. But she does say: “I’m still pondering whether to run and for what position.” There is speculation that an at-large run would be just the beginning of a well-orchestrated effort that could lead either to a future mayoral bid or to a dash for Congress if Norton retires or moves into a federal job, which sources say the congressional delegate wants.
If Mendelson doesn’t see a gigantic “Caution: Danger Ahead” sign in this April 10 meeting, then he is either blind, crazy, or dreaming, in which case LL suggests that one of his supporters quickly wake him.
FILLING THE PARKS POST
It appears that Mayor Anthony A. Williams is closing in on a director for the Department of Parks and Recreation, a post that has been vacant since October. Sources say that a panel of administration officials, councilmembers, and select citizens has interviewed four candidates: three out-of-townersfrom Syracuse, N.Y., Charlotte, N.C., and Cincinnati, Ohioand Neil Albert, who has headed the agency since the former director, Robert Newman, left under a cloud of allegations that included falsifying his résumé, misusing government resources, and failing to maintain basic recreation facilities.
Sources say that Williams will announce Albert’s selection this week. Albert, who has a strong management and finance background, is widely praised.
“Much-needed stability has been coming back to the department, and that’s important; the department was in complete turmoil last September,” says Mendelson.
“I would not be disappointed if Albert were selected,” says Ward 4’s Adrian Fenty. “He has gotten several projects in my ward back on track that had been stalled and is opening one center that has been closed for years.”
But sources say that although Albert’s short-term improvements have been impressive, his effectiveness could be hampered by budget cuts that may affect some of the agency’s summer programs. “Without having a [permanent] director in place, the agency is somewhat ripe for picking,” says one council source.
Albert did not return telephone calls to his office. Williams administration officials said earlier this week that the process had not been finalized; they would not share with LL the names of finalists.
When last LL saw Ambition Man Mark Jones, he was being booted out of Williams’ suite of 11th-floor offices at One Judiciary Square, where Jones occupied the space of deputy chief of staff for external affairs. Jones had gotten himself and the Williams administration entangled in a fundraising controversy from which neither has yet been freed. The scandal involved the questionable use of nonprofits as conduits for various fundraising activities, some of which involved the participation of companies already doing business with the Districtan apparent violation of city ethics laws.
Reports by LL and others forced Williams to call for an investigation by the city’s inspector general. Although inside-government sources say Jones was acting on orders issued from on high, he was placed on administrative leave without paywhich, in most circles, is a euphemism for being fired.
Well, not to worry, Jones fans: The man is as resilient as he is slick. It appears that his relations with government contractors have paid off personally. Government and civic sources say that the political wunderkind has landed at Dynamic Concepts Inc., a telecommunications company owned by perennial government-teat-sucker Pedro Alfonso. Dynamic Concepts currently has a $1.2 million contract with the city to develop a client-tracking system for the D.C. Department of Human Services; last year it had two smaller contracts with the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer. Alfonso did not return telephone calls to his office seeking confirmation of the Jones hire. Reached earlier this week on his cell phone, Jones would not confirm or deny his employment. Instead, he told LL to call his attorneys, David Wilmot and Frederick Cooke, who also did not return LL’s telephone calls. In a minute, LL’s going to take this personally.
Some sources say that Jones owes his good fortune, at least in part, to another political wunderkind, Max Brown, who knows a little about scandal and media scrutiny. For a time, Brown was Williams’ special counsel, providing legal and political advice to the mayor while drawing so much heat that when he left he could have been treated for third-degree burns over most of his reputation. Brown was dogged mostly because of his abrasive style of gatekeeping and because critics believed that a white person shouldn’t have so powerful a role in a predominantly African-American administration. Although Brown departed from government more than a year ago, he remains a Williams insider and serves as chair of the finance committee for the mayor’s re-election team.
Finding Jones something to do is critical to ensuring that more dirty linen doesn’t get aired, say government sources. But taxpayers aren’t out of danger yet. They still may need to be concerned about how much of their money the administration could dump into Jones’ pocket as a way of settling his government ouster and permanently closing his mouth. Green is used frequently in the District to mute the disgruntled; to LL’s disappointment, it continues to produce absolutely amazing results. Jonetta Rose Barras
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