Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis has learned many precious political skills in her 20-plus years on the D.C. Council: how to say yes to every big-time developer in town; how to hit up political friends for donations to Southeastern University, where she is the sitting president; and how to cultivate allies in city government.
No surprise, then, that as soon as Mayor Anthony A. Williams was inaugurated in January 1999, Jarvis began acting like a lifelong supporter of the short-timer. As chair of the council’s Committee on Economic Development, Jarvis praised Williams’ schemes for stimulating neighborhood investment and even accompanied him to a retailers’ convention in Las Vegas last year. Although the councilmember last spring joined her colleagues to support a tax cut opposed by the mayor, she is easily Williams’ second-most reliable council ally, behind At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil.
Now, though, Jarvis is about to learn a lesson about mayoral gratitude toward allies: There isn’t much of it. With an election looming, you’d think that Williams—who, Jarvis and Brazil notwithstanding, still has no commanding faction in the D.C. Council—would be helping friends, punishing enemies, and securing himself a navigable legislature for 2001.
But instead of rallying behind Jarvis, the administration’s operatives are following standard practice and talking out of both sides of their mouths, pretty much ensuring that whoever sits in Ward 4’s council seat won’t feel particularly strongly about the mayor one way or the other. For instance, Jarvis recently learned that Bud Lane, Williams’ Ward 2 “coordinator,” had lent his name to a May 8 fundraiser for Adrian Fenty, Jarvis’ opponent in this September’s Ward 4 Democratic primary race.
After Williams got a lecture from Jarvis about just what a political alliance entails, he retreated into damage-control mode, maintaining that Lane was only speaking for himself. “I told Charlene in a phone call that I want to be as supportive as possible,” said the mayor after schmoozing at a press event with the creators of NBC’s White House drama The West Wing. “Bud Lane is not speaking for me on this issue.”
Well, who is? When LL asked just who was in charge of political operations for the mayor, he got a mishmash of vague responses. Lane, too, apparently lacks Williams’ power flowchart: “I didn’t check it out with anyone [in the administration] first,” says Lane. “Everyone should be given a forum if they want to run for office.” (Jarvis said through a spokesperson that she refused to comment on the matter.)
Imposing discipline on folks like Lane may be expecting too much of Williams, who, like his predecessors, will never invite comparisons with Chicago boss Richard Daley. “Even [Mayor-for-Life] Marion [S. Barry Jr.] couldn’t have kept that from happening,” says Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose.
Fair enough. But the Lane fiasco demonstrates a larger political infirmity in One Judiciary Square’s top floor: The mayor’s people were apparently unaware that several of his Ward 2 supporters were scheming against Jarvis. In a smart piece of community politicking, Lane and allies such as convention center opponent Beth Solomon have bagged the failed quest for a challenger to pro-convention center Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and, instead, turned their fury on the city’s premier practitioner of money politics.
What it comes down to is that one part of the Williams coalition—the good-government types who oppose the civic boondoggles Jarvis has long promoted—is out to get another piece of his coalition—business-friendly types such as the Ward 4 councilmember. Of course, politicians manage fractious coalitions all the time. But Williams appears to have given no thought to how he’ll deal with this kind of feud.
Indeed, with the campaign only a month or so away, the administration hasn’t yet figured out how to handle the Wards 2, 7, and 8, and at-large council elections, either. Says Williams, “We’re now fashioning a plan to be supportive of our friends on the council.”
Come again? Friends on the council? This is a body, after all, that has forged a new reputation of accountability and fiscal rectitude at the mayor’s expense. Williams last December went so far as to suggest that the council’s nasty treatment of his initiatives resulted from “personal” vendettas against him. Now the mayor will have to swallow those hard feelings and practice his best stump-smiles for appearances with politicians—many of them far less congenial than Jarvis—who’ve been hammering him for 16 months. The reason? Incumbency.
Take a look at Wards 2, 7, and 8. The incumbents in each race—Evans, Kevin Chavous, and Sandy Allen, respectively—have defied the mayor with impunity. In what is becoming an annual tradition, Evans is working to force tax cuts down the mayor’s throat. Chavous never passes up an opportunity to bare his resentment toward Williams. And Allen last year cut the life support for the mayor’s precious Medicaid expansion plan.
Mayoral obstruction, moreover, is just one thing these incumbents have in common. Another is no serious opposition in their 2000 races. Primary challengers for Evans and Chavous have yet to surface, and Allen’s only competition thus far comes from Sandra Seegars, who garnered all of 432 Ward 8 votes in her 1998 at-large campaign.
Confronted with these blowouts-in-the-making, Williams has no choice but to find (relatively) nice things to say about the incumbents. On Chavous, for instance: “Kevin has been supportive on education budget issues,” says Williams. Note the omission: The mayor didn’t mention his school-board restructuring plan, which Chavous helped to kill. And when LL asked Williams about the sneering contempt that the councilmember shows him, the mayor responded, “You’re just trying to rile me up….I have no comment on that.”
Evans and Allen, likewise, should be getting some tepid mayoral endorsements soon enough. “I just hope he shows up for my May 13 candidacy announcement,” says Evans. Nor will Allen stiff-arm a guy with a 77 percent approval rating. “Now, how would you say, ‘No, Mr. Mayor, I don’t want your support’?” asks the Ward 8 councilmember.
Y2K’s electoral dynamics set up the District for at least two more years of status quo. As always, most councilmembers will feel free to swipe at Williams because they won’t owe their political survival to him. And the lone exception to that rule will continue to be Brazil, who acts like Williams’ appointee to the council.
Not one to be outdone in mayoral fealty, Brazil in late March refused to sign a council letter asking Williams to revise his disastrous March 13 budget proposal. The merits of the request were obvious enough that all but one of Brazil’s colleagues signed the letter. (The other holdout, Ambrose, was overseas.)
The absence of Brazil’s John Hancock on that letter didn’t go unnoticed on the 11th floor. “I want to be supportive of Harold Brazil in every way possible,” says Williams. Does that pledge include sponsoring fundraisers? “Anything we can do,” responds the mayor.
Williams’ declarations presumably mean he will oppose the possible at-large candidacy of Barry, who insisted in a Washington Post interview that his successor needs more council supporters. What a delicious prospect: the District’s most sycophantic politician debating its most washed-up politician over who would be more loyal to the mayor.
How much lower could Williams sink?
* Mayor Williams’ handlers long ago discovered that First Mother Virginia Williams was a PR gold mine. Ever since her son took office, Virginia has been crisscrossing the District pro bono, speaking inspirationally to community types and, invariably, belting out unsolicited arias, folk tunes, and other ditties.
If the show is to go on, though, the Williams administration may have to pony up some expense money for the first mother’s roadies. “I believe that this is all being weighed heavily to make sure that nothing is ever done illegally,” says Virginia Williams of funding efforts by mayoral supporters. The most likely source of cash is the mayor’s re-election committee, which registered with the Office of Campaign Finance April 24.
A funding breakthrough would delight Ward 7 resident Carol Parris, the 84-year-old civic dynamo who often takes Virginia Williams to political functions. “I love her,” says Virginia Williams. The first mother also loves the sleek red 1998 Dodge Intrepid in which Parris appears at her doorstep.
“If you want to know why two old ladies drive around in a red sports car, we do,” says Parris.
In the early days of their partnership, says Parris, she averaged about $30 in weekly gasoline costs—a figure that has now doubled thanks to inflation at the pump and a more vigorous itinerary. “I need to live, too,” says Parris.
* The gay rights event last Saturday night at the Doyle Washington Hotel near Dupont Circle put D.C. councilmembers in a pickle. On the one hand, the legislators wanted to attend the annual reception of the city’s Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) and its program honoring the achievements of local gay rights advocates. On the other, no one wanted to break the line of picketers from Local 25 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union who were protesting the establishment’s allegedly discriminatory labor practices.
For most councilmembers, the situation set up a choice: Evans and Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham declined to break the picket line, but both sent checks to GLAA and praised the honorees. Republican At-Large Councilmember David Catania broke the line and attended the event.
At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz, though, managed to have it both ways. She waited until nearly everyone else had filed into the hotel—90 minutes after the reception’s 7 p.m. start—and breezed through the front door. By that time, the picket line had packed it in. Schwartz explained away her convenient tardiness by referencing a “previous engagement,” which she declined to identify.
When presented with allegations that she’d waited around until the coast was clear, Schwartz protested altogether too much: “When something goes from 7 to 10, I do not go at 7 and stay ’til 10, with my busy schedule. I can show you hundreds of schedules that are from 7 to 10….In this case here, I showed up; whatever was going to be awaiting me was awaiting me. My timing was not perfect. If you saw my history, I’ve really been a brave soul all my political life.”
* It’s hard to blame D.C. shadow Sen. Paul Strauss for bungling his periodic forays into power politics. After all, Strauss is vested with so little authority that he doesn’t get much practice at exercising it. Hence the senator’s clubfooted handling of his role as a voting delegate to this summer’s Democratic National Convention.
Strauss, as we all know, has no vote in the Senate and even has trouble getting a seat in meetings between mayoral staffers and officials on Capitol Hill. His title, however, does confer him status as a bona fide Democratic presidential delegate—a prerogative that he has been sucking for every last bit of political juice. A recently distributed Strauss mailer, for instance, displayed a picture of presidential hopeful Al Gore alongside this question: “[W]hy was this man calling” Strauss? The answer, laid out on the opposite side of the flier, was that Strauss was a Democratic delegate; the text noted that Gore could “count on” Strauss’ vote on the convention floor.
At a Monday press conference attended by Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile, Strauss boasted that he withheld his support for Gore until he received a call from him, according to press conference attendees. D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a fierce Gore supporter and former boss of Brazile, then lashed out at the shadow senator: “Unlike you, the rest of us didn’t need a call from the vice president.”
“I decided that this deserves mockery,” Norton later told LL. “As far as the public is concerned, self-promotion by politicians is tolerated. Self-importance is not.”
* If Chief Financial Officer Valerie Holt has her way, officials at the financial control board and the mayor’s office will put aside their newspapers and instead read her April 29 press release on the city’s fiscal year 1999 audit. The official release, after all, contains no reference to the three-month delay in the completion of the audit nor to the various management lapses that it exposed. Instead, Holt notes that the audit marks the third consecutive surplus and “supports the ‘new spirit’ felt throughout the city.” The release quotes Holt as attributing the city’s “good results” to the “hard work and dedication of the entire government under the Mayor’s leadership.” Not even the mayor will take credit for this one. CP
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