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For a while it seemed that Mayor Anthony A. Williams might be a prime candidate for a Miracle-Ear. He has been near-deaf to the din of criticism that grew out of the questionable fundraising activities of his minions, particularly his deputy chief of staff, Mark Jones.
When the stories about that fundraising first broke, the mayor said he would provide a complete accounting of the money that had been collected via a network of little-known nonprofit organizations, effectively concealed from immediate public disclosure. He also said he would ask an independent group of experts to advise him on how his administration might continue to tap the coffers of corporations and small businesses to develop what he calls a “public-private partnership” addressing what he calls important social issues.
Williams intended to ride out the storm, hoping the story would blow over. Executive-branch sources say that he also wanted to give Jones time to document information from the various organizations he had used as conduits for the fundraising. Williams gave Jones until Tuesday, Feb. 6, to produce the materials, but mayoral sources say that Jones didn’t meet that deadline. By the end of the day, the mayor made a formal request to the inspector general, Charles Maddox, to review the fundraising efforts that had taken place in his name. “This administration is committed to meeting the high ethical standards the citizens of this city expect and deserve,” Williams wrote to Maddox.
Meanwhile, executive-branch and council sources say, Jones was asked on Wednesday, Feb. 7, to take a leave of absence, but he resisted, saying he wanted to seek legal advice. Asked about Jones’ status, the mayor’s press secretary, Peggy Armstrong, would say only, “We do not comment on personnel issues.” When reached at his office, Jones said he had not spoken to the mayor. But when asked if he had spoken with his supervisor, mayoral Chief of Staff Abdusalam Omer, Jones replied: “I don’t have anything to say about that. I want to see what the mayor has to say before I say anything.”
Sources say that the mayor may be reluctant to take any action against Jones, because there are allegations that others were involved in the fundraising. Further, key players in the religious community, including the Rev. Frank Tucker, pastor of First Baptist Church in Northwest, have begun to lobby on Jones’ behalf, according to Judiciary Square sources. Tucker was in a meeting and could not be reached for comment at press time.
CLEANUP ARTIST WANTED
In spy flicks, when someone gets wasted in a less than professional way, the organization sends in a sanitation expert. The cleanup person quickly gets rid of the body, washes the blood off the walls, and generally makes it look as if an AK-47 hadn’t assaulted the place.
Politicians have their own version of cleanup artists. The Clinton White House was forever calling in its sanitizers, including the highly respected Charles Ruff, who was supposed to shield the president’s legal team from charges that it was deliberately withholding information from Congress. Sometimes, as in the case of Dick Morris and James Carville, the scrubbers made an even bigger mess.
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Given all the uproar over his administration’s recent fundraising activities, Williams should be looking for his own domestic with impeccable references. The ad would read: Needed immediately: Someone without connections to Mayor-for-Life Marion S.Barry Jr., fresh to political scene but seasoned enough to know the local operatives and players, with access to discreet and healthy cash cows, smart enough not to get caught lining pockets or stuffing potential supporters with fancy miniature crab cakes.
It is hard to believe that the mayor has fallen into such a mess, especially when he had at his disposal an eight-page document titled the “Political Strategy of the Williams Administration,” a copy of which LL has obtained from an executive-branch source. As expected, administration officials said they couldn’t confirm the authenticity of the document, which appears to have been written last summer, some time after the school-board special election. Not surprisingDid anyone expect Morris to admit to sucking toes, or the Clintons to confess to shredding files, or Mark Jones to confirm that he knew exactly what he was doing when he hit up those corporations and funneled the money through nonprofits headed by his friends?
For all the fundraising sloppiness that has been reported by LL and other media, it appears that Williams has been reading from the strategic playbook. The document calls for the “aggressive use of constituent service fund[s] to support political priorities,” which is shorthand for soft-money financing of campaigns. It also calls for the Office of the Mayor to “target nonprofits and churches that can be supportive of particular programs of the Mayor, especially during the timeframe immediately before the mayor’s budget
The creation of several political action committees (PACs) is also part of the strategy. Three separate PACs are to be “run by an external political person.” One is to “help get the message out on issues of import to the mayor”; a second is to “fund congressional races and council-related activities”; the third will support “the mayor’s re-elect committee to fund on-going political efforts.”
Too bad there isn’t any instruction for what to do when mayoral staffers end up snared in their own strategic web. But what political operative ever thinks of being caught?
Another interesting piece of the Williams strategic political plan: D.C. Council neutering. Point No. 7 of the 10-point document calls for the mayor to “develop and cultivate a bloc of seven” councilmembers, which has to be the most ingenious idea LL has ever heard. “We need to identify strong supporters/pressure points of each [councilmember]…This can be done by examining their respective campaign finance reports, identifying community activists that they rely on and cultivating them mayoral praise…Through this aggressive outreach, we
can begin to turn the council in our favor, so long as we occasionally get tough with them when necessary.”
And just who are the gang of seven the administration identified in its plan?
Not NOTs (Nemeses of Tony) David Catania or Kevin Chavous. The strategic plan identifies Ward 5’s Vincent Orange, Ward 1’s Jim Graham, Ward 6’s Sharon Ambrose, Ward 2’s Jack Evans, At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil, Council Chair Linda Cropp, and Ward 4’s Charlene Drew Jarvis.
Oops. Guess the mayor’s political operatives forgot to ensure that Jarvis would be re-elected. So much for a plan coming together.
Tuesday morning, when the D.C. Council met for its pre-legislative-session breakfast meeting, Orange, chair of the Committee on Government Operations, distributed a draft of a letter he wanted to send to Maddox requesting an investigation of the administration’s fundraising and personnel activities. Orange said he was prompted by LL’s Jan. 26 column and the Washington Post’s Jan. 30 contribution to the discussion about the shenanigans in the Williams administration.
Orange decided he wanted the inspector general to determine whether the activities of the mayor and his minions “skirt” financial disclosure laws and city personnel regulations, according to a draft of the letter obtained from a council source. Orange also asked the inspector general to investigate whether the fundraising activities described by LL and the Post “violate[d] the standard of conduct” that a District employee “shall avoid actions that might result in or create the appearance of using public office for private gain” and whether “political favor [was] granted or undue pressure presented” in donations made by Washington Gas, PEPCO, the Urban Assistance Fund, Comcast, the For the Kids Foundation, A Second Chance Foundation, the Church Association for Community Service, and A Better Washington Political Action Committee Inc.
When LL asked, just moments after the council’s breakfast, for a copy of Orange’s letter, the councilmember said through a spokesperson that he didn’t intend to send it until the next day. But that was before he learned that Williams planned to send his own letter to the inspector general. Orange quickly made his available to the press, beating the mayor by a couple of hours.
Guess the mayor may want to scratch Orange off that list of legislators to seduce.
DOES TOO, DOES NOT,
At the recent press conference announcing the city’s alleged $241 million budget surplus for fiscal 2000, a tug of war ensued over whether the District was finally free of the nasty, oppressive financial control board. Having satisfied the congressional requirement that the city produce four consecutive balanced budgets, the mayor, D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Cropp, and Evans each pronounced the control board witches deadas of that daywhile diminutive control board Chair Alice Rivlin twitched in her seat, her facial expressions signaling to all, particularly General Counsel Daniel Rezneck, that the misinformation needed to be corrected. (LL doesn’t mean the chief financial officer’s decision to include as part of the “surplus” $123 million from the congressionally mandated reserve fund. The accounting gimmick, while legal, gives a false impression of the city’s fiscal health. Recall that in December, CFO Natwar Gandhi sent everyone into a panic when he announced that the District was facing a $200 million projected deficit for fiscal 2001, if agencies continued at their high rate of spending. LL chose at last week’s press conference not to belabor those
points; even she didn’t want to rain on the
When it was Rivlin’s turn to speak, she didn’t feel as compelled as LL to keep the smiles on elected officials’ faces. Standing before a podium that nearly obscured her from view, Rivlin asserted that, contrary to the opinions expressed by the mayor, councilmembers, and Norton, the control board does not immediately expire but simply becomes dormant until Sept. 30, at which time the current five-member panel is expected to be dissolved.
“I don’t care what you say, Alice. The control board goes out of existencenow,” retorted Norton when she returned to the microphone to respond to a question from the press. Rivlin shook her head in objection. Who knows how long the press conference would have lasted had Rivlin gotten another opportunity to defend her point?
She also didn’t have the chance to defend herself against the slap delivered by her predecessor, Andrew Brimmer, who had been invited to the “momentous” event because of his earlier contributions to the city as the control board’s first chair.
In his all-too-officious, autocratic style, Brimmer recounted the events that had prompted the creation of the control board, and lamented that he had been disconnected from the actual operation since 1998, when Rivlin was appointed. But he said he had been tracking the board’s actions: “I don’t believe I ever called with any complaintshave I, Alice? I had concerns, but I never made complaints.”
When the true record of the control board under Rivlin is revealed, Brimmer may wish he had dropped that dime and offered up some of the objections he surely must have had while watching the ship he built during his tenure rust into a rudderless wreck. Jonetta Rose Barras
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