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On Tuesday morning, a pro forma event went down at B. Smith’s restaurant at Union Station: Mayor Anthony A. Williams swore in the members of the Workforce Investment Council, a group that will advise the city’s Department of Employment Services (DOES) on how to disburse its job-training cash. Just like any other perfunctory function involving the District’s gaggle of boards and commissions, the event garnered nary a mention in the local press.
The moment, however, was not without a notable quirk: Among the council’s 34 new members was Charlene Drew Jarvis. No, not Ward 4 Councilmember and Economic Development Committee Chair Charlene Drew Jarvis. This was the other Charlene Drew Jarvis—the wildly successful president of Southeastern University at 501 I St. SW. From her post on the work-force council, Jarvis could push DOES to pay the tuitions of unemployed District residents to attend Southeastern, as the department has previously done with American and George Washington Universities.
Jarvis seized the work-force council post just in time to tout her new credential before the muckety-mucks at her media splash of the year, Thursday’s Southeastern University 120th Anniversary Gala at the Woodley Park Marriott. A press release for the event promised a proclamation from Williams and an appearance from D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. It also acknowledged the corporate sponsors—AT&T, Host Marriott Corp., Ferris Baker Watts Inc., the Smoot Corp., and PEPCO—as well as “600 local business leaders” and other luminaries.
Of course, 120 isn’t exactly one of those traditional magic numbers that open the anniversary-gift floodgates. But then again, pretty much any jubilee marks a good time for the two Charlenes, distinct but always related personages, to work their magic.
Aside from their beneficent concern for higher education, the corporate types who interrupted their northwesterly commute for the gala share one other preoccupation: the wink and nod of Jarvis, who in two decades atop the council’s Economic Development Committee has commanded millions of dollars in government stimuli—plus appointments to several powerful boards that determine who gets this-and-that development contract.
If nothing else, the Southeastern bash demonstrates just how brilliantly Jarvis has leveraged that power for the benefit of the university, which pays her an annual salary of $130,000, a healthy supplement to her $80,000 council income.
In its best incarnation, Jarvis’ dual role as legislator and educator provides a transparent wiring diagram plotting how power and money move in the District. In its worst, it shows how to buy access to a chunk of city hall without breaking the law. Southeastern’s endowment fund, after all, observes none of the contribution limits reigning at the city’s Office of Campaign Finance.
As a university president, Jarvis needs well-heeled allies. And as a veteran councilmember, she has the power to create allies. Jarvis far outstrips her council colleagues when it comes to muscling her friends onto the various boards and commissions under the purview of her economic development committee. And when their appointments come under fire, she speaks up. “Oh boy,” says an administration source who requested anonymity. “She fights.”
And once you peek inside the Jarvis machine, it’s not hard to see why.
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Take Jarvis’ clash this summer with Williams over the members of the Committee to Promote Washington, one of four boards under the councilmember’s watch that actually dish out taxpayer dollars. On a Sunday in late June, a Williams staffer faxed the committee a notice indicating that the mayor planned to ax current appointees to the committee, which controls $5 million annually in city funds. Jarvis went nuts: “The decision to appoint new executive committee members without contact with the existing members…defies explanation,” the councilmember fumed to the Washington Post.
Jarvis, who did not return calls for comment, had strong Realpolitik motives for lashing out against the administration. For starters, one of the sacked committee members was local restaurant mogul—and Southeastern benefactor—Paul Cohn. Of course, Cohn’s interests overlap snugly with Jarvis’ pro-business bent on the council. The restaurateur relies on the councilmember to keep a lid on business taxes and promote commerce-friendly projects like the MCI Center and the new convention center.
But Cohn also has another tie to Jarvis: He serves on Southeastern’s board of trustees. It’s a much more efficient way of applauding Jarvis’ business instincts, since his contributions to the councilmember’s campaigns and constituent service fund can’t exceed those annoying $400 donation caps. Cohn says he raised about $5,000 for the gala.
Another D.C. insider straddling Jarvis’ two worlds is Southeastern trustee Barbara Davis Blum, who also happens to be chair of the Economic Development Finance Corp. (EDFC) board, a D.C. instrumentality that dishes out loans to minority businesses in the city. It’s a convenient spot for Blum, president of the BDB Investment Partnership, which, according to Blum, “invests in real estate, stocks, and bonds.” Blum’s run on the EDFC board will end this year when the body will merge with the National Capital Revitalization Corp. (NCRC), an economic development behemoth that will operate with over $50 million in local and federal funds.
Jarvis lobbied the Williams people to seat Blum on the NCRC. “She’s my friend, and I would be very good on the board, but it’s up to the mayor,” says Blum. But, according to an administration source, the mayor has already spoken on this issue. “[Jarvis] has always fought hard for Barbara, but she lost on this one,” says the source.
Jarvis’ consistent lobbying for friendly board members stems from an understanding of D.C. politics commanded only by a classic Barry-era politician: The city’s boards and commissions are the informal playing field of local government, where business types and politicos meet to divvy up part of the city’s $5 billion budget. To stay on the field, players max out on campaign contributions to their sponsors, round up friends to work the polls on Election Day, and, indeed, help their sponsors to advance in their second jobs.
Which raises the matter of Southeastern’s endowment. When Jarvis took over as president in 1996, the school had no development fund, period. A spurt of Jarvisian fundraising, however, has padded the institution with an endowment in the hundreds of thousands, according to Pedro Alfonso, a Southeastern trustee—who also happened to Jarvis’ 1996 campaign finance manager. The kitty will swell a bit after this week’s “gala anniversary,” Partyspeak for “corporate fundraiser.”
According to Elizabeth Lisboa-Farrow, chair of the school’s trustees board, the event’s 60 tables sold out by Tuesday at prices ranging from $2,000 to $10,000. Buyers included Clark Construction and Smoot (builders of the new convention center, which Jarvis championed); former convention center head Terence Golden, now of Host Marriott; roving D.C. government contractor Lockheed-Martin; consultant-to-the-government KPMG Peat Marwick LLP and so on.
The 48 corporate sponsors will team up with the 92 individuals in the event’s “Renaissance Club” to make the university $300,000 richer.
Lisboa-Farrow is under no illusion that the university would pull in as much cash if its president were, say, a renowned botanist. “I think the fact that she is a councilmember has certainly elevated the institution’s position,” says Lisboa-Farrow, who credits Jarvis for doubling enrollment in three years to 979 students and bringing “focus and perspective back to a D.C. institution.” In addition to her Southeastern duties, Lisboa-Farrow serves as advisory chair of the Ibero-American Chamber of Commerce, a city-funded body whose budget passes before Jarvis’ committee.
And Lisboa-Farrow says there’s an outlet for those who would hammer the councilmember for the transparent mixing of her public and private careers. “If she were not an effective councilmember, the citizens of the District would not vote for her, and that’s how you take care of those issues,” she says.
BACK, BACK, BACK
Garrison Elementary School slugger Andre Ousley should tally some banner numbers at the plate next year. Last spring, Ousley roped a whopping seven homers over the fence against opponents in the Elementary Baseball League. “Andre’s one of our best hitters,” says John McCarthy, director of Elementary Baseball, a reading and baseball program supported by the Justice Department.
In next spring’s campaign, Ousley’s HR totals will benefit not only from improved strength and bat speed gained in the offseason, but from D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s plan to shrink the distance between home plate and the outfield wall. Is the superintendent simply looking for District youngsters to produce a Ken Griffey Jr.-caliber highlight reel? Alas, no: The plan is her latest scheme to accommodate the Sunday parking needs of the Metropolitan Baptist Church.
As part of an agreement reached Sept. 29 with petitioning neighbors and the church, Ackerman vowed to satisfy complaints from parents by keeping cars off the field and re-sodding it—or at least what remains of it. But her plan would now shrink the baseball field to allow for a paved driveway between the church and a large paved expanse just beyond the field’s outfield fence. Schools officials have set aside the paved area for “board games for children”—read: shuffleboard and other AARP favorites. However, the space could probably serve other purposes at nonpeak times, like, say, Sunday mornings….
Whoever frolics in the new play/parking area should watch out for Ousley & Co., who will have no problem clearing the 160-foot right field fence or the 180-foot center field distance—both of which fall way short of the 200-foot Little League standard. “I guess the outfield will be pretty close to first base,” says Ousley, who insists he’ll be able to call Dr. Longball “whenever I feel like it.”
One way to protect the parishioners’ cars from the home-run showers, says Little League executive Lance Van Auken, is to build the Garrison version of Fenway Park’s “Green Monster.” But Van Auken says small fields shortchange the players and diminish opportunities to host playoff games. “We certainly don’t recommend [shrinking the field],” he says.
* Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans’ campaign to dump his well-earned image as corporate shill and frame himself as the common man’s hero picked up a few followers in eastern Georgetown last week. Without notifying any affected residents, the Department of Public Works (DPW) posted no-parking signs along 28th Street NW to reroute traffic from the Q Street Bridge, which will soon close for repairs. Flattened by the department’s ticketing blitzkrieg, the aggrieved summoned neighbor and converted busybody Evans, who channeled the street’s outrage to DPW flack Linda Grant. “I told her that if those signs weren’t down by the time I got home,” says Evans of his Wednesday afternoon call, “I would tie a rope to them and pull them down myself.”
When asked whether the well-mannered Evans had really threatened Dukes of Hazzard-style municipal warfare, Grant replied, “Shall we just say that he passed along some information that I passed along to our deputy director.” The information moved quickly: The signs were gone by sundown. “Jack had those people over there in about an hour,” says 28th Street resident Caroline Van Vleck.
* Superintendent Ackerman has proffered a number of noble reasons for championing the $50 hourly cap on fees for attorneys representing parents in special education cases. In an Oct. 3 Post Op-Ed, for instance, she argued that the savings in attorney payouts had already improved prospects for the city’s young: “Twelve new special-education programs now are housed in 10 elementary and two middle schools; 20 new early childhood programs now are located in elementary schools throughout the city; and the Taft Diagnostic-Prescriptive Center, housed in the former Taft Junior High School, now serves as a transition site for students exhibiting behaviors that temporarily preclude them from remaining in regular education settings,” wrote Ackerman.
Ackerman’s polemical tract, however, left out her real motivation for insisting on the cap: In the 1996-1997 school year, an era that predated the cap, the school system contested 810 special ed cases and lost every single one of them, according to figures brought to light last week by Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous’ Special Committee on Special Education. In the win-loss column, that’s a clean 0-810, eclipsing the aggregate futility of such perennial doormats as the Bad News Bears and the L.A. Clippers. (Eight-hundred thirty-one other cases never reached adjudication.)
With that record, Coach LL, too, would be pushing for all kinds of caps—caps on attorney fees, caps on attorney competence, and caps on losses. “There are tools that the school system can use to help their record,” says special ed attorney Myrna Fawcett. “But they have consistently made it a highly contentious process.”
* In last year’s mayoral race, Councilmember Chavous promoted himself as the “mayor for every neighborhood,” on a platform that rested on redirecting downtown development cash to the hinterlands—”Around town, not downtown.”
Now Chavous has added another plank: Sticking up for big business’s right to stiff black neighborhoods. The councilmember/attorney, after all, is now defending Domino’s Pizza against a civil action brought by several Southwest residents who must comply with the company’s curbside delivery policy in ‘hoods where delivery personnel don’t feel safe exiting their cars. “I’m not the lead lawyer on that,” protests the councilmember, an attorney at the downtown firm Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn. “I know several of the drivers, and that’s the real story.”CP
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