Mayor Anthony A. Williamsthe man who would be ethics kingis fond of saying he is holding his administration to the “highest standard.” But there is every indication that, for Williams, height is a relative thing.
Consider the different responses by the mayor to the escapades of Reba Pittman-Evans, Mark Jones, and Lynn French. All three city officials found themselves embroiled in controversy recently. But one was fired, another placed on leave, and the last practically promoted. LL is scratching her head trying to discern the administration’s ethical-lapse-discipline criteria.
Pittman-Evans, the mayor’s first chief of staff, was iced for mishandling the whole episode surrounding staffer David Howard’s accurate use of the word “niggardly,” which was interpreted by another colleague as the dreaded N-word. In a fit of pique and black-nationalist indignation, Pittman-Evans fired Howardwith the mayor’s endorsementand then conducted an investigation. Weeks later, after the entire affair became a national news story and Jay Leno fodder, the truth about the incident was revealed, Howard was rehired, and Pittman-Evans was herself unceremoniously kicked out the doorwith a pile of taxpayer money as a severance package to cushion her fall from grace.
Ambition Man Jones, who served as Williams’ deputy chief of staff until last week, when cash, donations, nonprofit conduits, invisible paper trails, Internet domains, and power hunger caught up with him, was placed on indefinite unpaid leavewhich is a euphemism for being fired. The decision to send Jones into permanent hiding came after media reports that he was allegedly getting cozy with contractors doing business with the Districtwhich, if found to be true, could be a violation of the city’s Standards of Conduct Act. There were also allegations that he hit up corporations and other businesses for contributions in a sort of soft-money campaign-financing drive; the money was allegedly used for political purposes and the mayor’s so-called pet social issues.
Jones was sent packing, ostensibly while the city’s inspector general, Charles Maddox, completes his investigation into the entire fundraising fiasco. Jones has not been seen at One Judiciary Square since last Monday, when the locks were changed to his office. But the fighting may have only just begun, because sources say Jones has engaged attorney David Wilmot to negotiate an appropriate exit strategy and severance package for the 30-something wannabe political operative. Wilmot has become one of the go-to lawyers for District government employees who have goofed but want to haggle over how much; the degree of their mess-ups seems to determine the amount of cash the city is willing to pay to get them out of the operation.
French is the director of the Homestead lottery program, which makes government-owned properties available to residents for almost no money if they promise to perform renovations and live in the houses for a specified number of years. French’s home was raided by the FBI earlier this month, as were the offices of the Development Corporation of Columbia Heights (DCCH) and the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development, where the Homestead program is headquartered. The Feds reportedly are attempting to determine whether French got a deal on her $180,000 house when she bought it from the DCCH, which is headed by Robert Moore, a former District government housing director, friend of former mayor Marion S. Barry Jr., and confessed drug addict, who served time in prison on an embezzlement conviction. The development corporation in the past has received local and federal grants and subsidies. French herself at one time worked with Moore when she was on the staff of former D.C. Councilmember Frank Smith, whose committee had oversight of housing. And French’s daughter currently works for Moore.
But unlike Jones and Pittman-Evans, French has received what could be perceived as a promotion. She has been shifted over to the office of the Deputy Mayor for Children, Youth and Familieswhich is closer to the mayor’s office than the housing department.
When asked about the special treatment French is getting, Peggy Armstrong, the mayor’s spokesperson, recites what has become “the Bow Tie Mantra”: “We don’t discuss personnel matters” in the press.
But LL and inquiring minds throughout the city really would like to know whether French has anything on the Williams administrationor is simply in possession of powerful juju, capable of masking her alleged offense and removing the cloud of a federal investigation. If it’s the latter, LL invites her to pass some on to Jones, who could use a little magic right about now.
On Friday, Feb. 9, one business day before Jones was to discover that the locks on his office door had been changed, the city’s Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) upgraded from “review” to “investigation” its probe of events surrounding the deputy chief of staff’s fundraising practices and his allegedly close and improper relations with city contractors, says Cecily E. Collier-Montgomery, the OCF’s executive director.
The news baffled LL, because Williams and his chief of staff, Abdusalam Omer, had publicly suggested that the OCF had cleared the administration of any violations of campaign-finance laws and the Standards of Conduct Act, which prohibits high-ranking city officials from receiving any gifts from individuals or companies doing business with the District. In fact, Collier-Montgomery says she never cleared the administration of anything. Rather, she was responding to a Jan. 29 letter that she received from Jones, a copy of which LL obtained from the OCF. She says she issued only a narrow “interpretative opinion” that did not address the larger issues of the administration’s fundraising or Jones’ relationship with city contractors.
The letter reveals Jones’ frenzied state, but it also challenges previous assertions made by the administration. Jones asked Collier-Montgomery to confirm “as quickly as possible that under the following fact pattern, no violations” of the Standards of Conduct or the Campaign Finance Reform and Conflict of Interest Act had occurred. Jones stated that sometime in September 2000, he, Omer, and David Julyana consultant, former Federal City Council staffer, and member of the mayor’s unofficial kitchen cabinethad a “60 second discussion in Dr. Omer’s office during which Mr. Julyan agreed to contact OCF on our behalf and discuss issues relating to creating and operating a political action committee and a nonprofit foundation, each of which would have an association with
Julyan subsequently did have a meeting, on Sept. 22, with the OCF’s general counsel, during which it was discussed whether the mayor’s staff could be briefed about efforts surrounding the PAC while they were on “official duty,” according to Jones’ letter.
On Sept. 22, Jones says, Julyan sent an “unsolicited memorandum to Dr. Omer and me at our District government office” regarding setting up the PAC and foundation and his meeting with the OCF general counsel. Jones says that after Sept. 22, he and Julyan continued to move on creating the PAC, but as of Jan. 29, 2001, they had not established the foundation.
In her response, dated Feb. 2, Collier-Montgomery, ignoring obvious holes in Jones’ letter, told Jones that he had not violated the Standards of Conduct Act when he discussed with Julyan the possibility of creating and operating a PAC and nonprofit organization. However, she warned that using government time and resources would “run afoul of the standards.” She also reinforced the discussion Julyan had had with the OCF general counsel, in which Julyan had been told that any solicitation of funds by the mayor and his staff for the purpose of “promoting the general welfare of the citizenry” was governed by the city’s constituent services statute, which limits the amount of money that can be raised in any one year to $40,000.
“The D.C. Campaign Finance Act does not preclude a group of citizens from forming a committee, foundation, or corporation, and inviting the support of the mayor, where the activity is not coordinated out of the Office of the Mayor and the mayor does not control the fundraising operations or the funds contributed,” Collier-Montgomery wrote.
As LL reads Jones’ letter and Julyan’s memorandum, a whole bunch of questions leap to mind. For example, who has a 60-second discussion about creating a political action committee? Is it really possible to discuss the intricacies within that time frame? And when exactly did Julyan, Jones, and Omer have that discussion? The letter simply says September. It certainly had to be before Sept. 22, or how else could Julyan know what to ask the OCF general counsel when he met with her that day? According to Julyan’s memorandum, during that meeting Julyan discussed fundraising of the kind that has been undertaken by the administration in association with the For the Kids Foundation and the Urban Assistance Fund Inc., two nonprofit organizations headed by friends of Jones’. Given this specific information and previous contact between Jones and Omer with Julyan, why did Jones call the memorandum unsolicited? And, if Jones and Omer weren’t interested in what Julyan had to offer, why did they continue to meet with him, as Jones says in his letter to the OCF?
One thing is clear: All of the parties involved understood the implications of what they were doing. “Recognizing that the mayor has a perceived weakness in politics and ethics, attention must be placed on the announcement, operations, and disclosures of [the PAC and the foundation],” Julyan wrote in his Sept. 22 memorandum.
MAU MAU CENTRAL
Although the Williams administration’s political ineptitude is glaring, the mayor doesn’t have to worry. His potential oppositionMayor-in-Wanting Kevin Chavousisn’t doing much better.
As LL predicted last month, Chavous, who dreams daily of seeing his name in big red letters on the sides of government agency buildings, will abuse District residents with high drama as he sculpts his campaign. Earlier this month, Chavous, along with newfound sidekick/freshman Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian Fenty and Ward 5’s Vincent Orange, held a press conference demanding that the mayor fully fund the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation in next year’s budget. But the trio must be crystal-ball readers, because Williams hasn’t even finalized the fiscal 2002 budget, to say nothing of having submitted it to
But if the recreation grandstanding didn’t reap the attention Chavous desired, his D.C. General Hospital mau-mauing has been more successful. Last week, the two-term legislator attacked Williams and the control board for their decision to redesign medical services at the District’s only public hospital. Joined, once again, by Fentyfast becoming Chavous’ shadowanother NOT (Nemesis of Tony), At-Large Councilmember David Catania, and Ward 8’s Sandy Allen, Chavous said he would “not have the blood of our people” on his hands which had to be a page straight from Barry’s book, How to Become an Effective Demagogue. (LL remembers when Barry compared the control board to Nazi Germany.)
Here’s the question Chavous and his band of mau-mau artists won’t ask or can’t answer: Why didn’t Chavous, Allen, and Cataniawho have been around for more than three yearstake aggressive and proactive steps to stanch the financial hemorrhaging at D.C. General? And, if Chavous and other opportunistic politicians are so concerned about health care for the District’s most vulnerable citizens, why haven’t they taken real steps to do something about the city’s abysmal health indicators, especially in Wards 7 and 8, which mimic those of some Third World countries?
In almost every areaheart disease, diabetes, cancer, and HIV/AIDSthe rate of deaths in the District is higher than anywhere else in the United States. And the death rates in the city’s poorest wards in nearly every instance are among the highest in the city. For example, the overall rate of deaths from heart disease in the District during 1998 was 291.1 per 100,000. In Chavous’ Ward 7, the rate was 342.8.
If these statistics say anything, it’s that Chavous & Co.’s worrying about blood on their hands is too late. They’re slathered with it.
Jonetta Rose Barras
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