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In the early days of his administration, Mayor Anthony A. Williams coined a mantra for his new-look government. “I want to be held accountable,” the mayor said at nearly every public appearance. “That’s all I ask.”
Most onlookers waded through Williams’ rhetoric, dismissing it as political boilerplate that would be forgotten before the air went out of the campaign balloons.
Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, however, took the mayor at his word. The only councilmember with the political courage to endorse Williams over three of her colleagues in last year’s Democratic primary, Patterson has since exchanged her pompoms for a bullhorn.
Patterson’s vigor for mayoral hounding looked pretty intense in May, amid Williams’ scandal over consulting income. In a financial disclosure statement, Williams reported receiving $40,000 in income from Arthur Andersen Consulting and NationsBank during the primary campaign, in a deal that the candidate should have made public before the Sept. 15 elections. In a letter-writing campaign to the Office of Campaign Finance, Patterson seemed to enjoy exploring the various options for punishing the rookie mayor and proposed stiffer sanctions for campaign-finance violations.
And after Williams sacked procurement chief Richard Fite in late June, Patterson kept the pressure on, touting Fite’s bona fides and accusing the mayor of violating the independence of the city’s contracting operation. On Sept. 16, Patterson will begin a public investigation into the mayor’s meddling in procurement matters.
By August, it seemed as if Patterson had nominated herself as the mayor’s personal Ken Starr. Patterson was mightily upset about the real estate provisions in the D.C. appropriations bill now pending in Congress. As previously reported in this space, Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), chair of the House D.C. appropriations subcommittee, amended the bill in July to move authority over city properties from the D.C. Council to the mayor and to impose various restrictions on the leasing of city office space.
Framing the real estate language as a violation of home rule, Patterson called on Williams to present a united front with the council in demanding that Istook & Co. drop the objectionable provisions from the bill. As she expressed in an Aug. 12 letter to Williams, however, Patterson wasn’t too impressed with the mayor’s cooperation. “I have to conclude…that you wanted the provisions to remain in the bill—regardless of your letters and conversations with me,” wrote Patterson.
Never one to let such loaded allegations go unsubstantiated, Patterson attached to her letter a meticulous time line documenting her various communications with mayoral staffers on the real estate issue, a document that could double as a log for tree-service requests from the Department of Public Works.
The time line includes 19 entries spanning July 20 to Aug. 6. Here are a few choice excerpts:
July 26—KP calls [Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development] Doug Patton, having been told he was lead on issue. He doesn’t return call.
July 27—KP (and Councilmember [Phil] Mendelson) meet with Mayor (and [Williams’ legal counsel] Max Brown) on appropriations issues including lease issues. KP expresses concern that letter must go to Hill that day to affect floor debate. Assurance given that Mayor’s concurrence with Council position will be reflected in letter. No letter is produced.
Aug. 2—KP’s chief of staff talks with Max Brown who assures that second letter will go to Hill later that morning, and that [Office of Intergovernmental Relations aide] Jim Wareck will be calling her by 9:00 a.m. KP’s chief of staff calls Jim at 11:20, he tells her he will not be able to speak with Doug Patton until much later in the day; Jim tells her to contact Doug. At end of day KP calls Doug Patton again.
Perhaps the mayor now wishes he had soft-pedaled his appeals for accountability.
Those who endeavor to slog through Patterson’s time line word by word—don’t bother; that’s LL’s job—come away with two impressions, not necessarily in this order: (a) The councilmember needs a longer summer vacation, and (b) she’s right.
After the unreturned calls and unmet promises outlined in the letter, Patterson decided that she and her council pals were getting quietly shafted by Williams. “Had the mayor really gone to bat and asked the Hill to delete these provisions, they probably would have been deleted,” the councilmember told LL last week. History should have taught Patterson to tame her expectations: In the 1997 appropriations cycle, then-Chief Financial Officer Williams urged Istook’s predecessor, Charles Taylor (R-N.C.), to vest him with authority over city real estate and contracting—an overture killed by D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and other home-rule-friendly types on the Hill. The current dispute, accordingly, represents just so much unfinished business for the mayor.
Williams has his motives, not all of them venal, for making a grab for more control over the city’s real estate portfolio. The Istook amendments, after all, promise the mayor more control over a policy area in which he has pledged quick turnaround—namely, the conversion of city-owned properties to private ownership. And Williams is apparently done making conciliatory noises about the issue. “A lot of people think the current process sucks; there’s no question about it,” the mayor told LL this week.
“I don’t know of any other municipal legislative body involved in disposition of properties,” says Patton. “Someone’s got to get their arms around the property issues, and we have to do that.”
The dust-up should not be chalked up to the usual small-stakes shenanigans at One Judiciary Square. The fight is not a personal matter—neither Williams nor Patterson is petty or thin-skinned—and it’s certainly not ideological.
“The mayor and I have an excellent relationship,” says Patterson. “We talk frequently.”
Yeah, the memo suggests as much. But nothing more trivial than raw power politics divides the two good-government soul mates. Prior to Williams’ mayoralty, Patterson thrived in the power vacuum that was the D.C. government. In 1997, the control board assumed sway over the key D.C. government agencies but lacked the chops and the personnel to manage them. Against that backdrop, Patterson fashioned alliances with managers like Fite and developed a sense of ownership over agencies under the jurisdiction of her committee on government operations.
“Kathy is very, very aggressive in her oversight,” Williams told LL in a fit of understatement. “I try to work with her as much as I can.”
The Williams-Patterson dynamic also applies to Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis, who has watched Patton tread on the prized economic development turf that she has held since 1980. Jarvis this summer said that it was time for Patton to go after he perpetrated a mass firing of the members of the Committee to Promote Washington.
“Kathy and Charlene think they have the D.C. government divided between the two of them,” says an administration official.
Responds Patterson: “That’s not the first time I’ve heard that. [Whoever said it] needs to grow up.”
Patterson insists that she harangues the mayor only when he runs amok—-for example, messing with the “independent” procurement function and acquiescing in the emasculation of the council’s real estate powers. And while Patterson’s colleagues don’t share her anger over the Fite affair, her crusade on real estate could pick up some cohorts. “I’m not outraged—yet,” says Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose. “I would be happier if there were some more team playing.”
“I don’t indulge myself into thinking I’m liked [on the council],” says the mayor. Council-mayor squabbles are hardly the exclusive provenance of D.C. It’s a relationship where various antagonisms come with the territory, but it’s difficult to figure out why the mayor ends up at cross-purposes most often with the councilmembers who share his bent for reform.
As parents of children with special education needs have discovered, D.C. public schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman has little incentive to help them pursue their frequent petitions to the school system. After all, such parents commonly seek school system funds to finance their kids’ placement in private schools with programs tailored for special ed students—thereby depriving Ackerman of resources for costly education reforms in the system at large.
In a move that had those parents reaching for the pitchforks, last year Ackerman championed a $50 per hour cap on fees for lawyers representing special ed children in administrative hearings. Since the cap took effect in the fall of 1998, private law firms have been rejecting cases brought by indigent D.C. parents.
Then again, parents can fall back on Ackerman’s list of “free legal services” as advertised in a school system handbook on special ed cases. The list offers seven numbers to call for representation.
And only one of them works, as LL discovered after calling all of them last week.
“I was going down the list, and a lot of numbers were either private, out of order, or nobody’s home,” says Erveina Nichols, who was preparing for an Aug. 19 hearing on placement for her 14-year-old son, Tristan Nichols. “One person said, ‘I’ve gotten a lot of calls like this before.’”
Beth Goodman, a special education lawyer at the D.C. firm Feldesman, Tucker, Leifer, Fidell & Bank, says the school system’s handout is riddled with errors of both commission and omission. “That information is not only not helpful, but excludes information that could be helpful,” says Goodman, pointing out that University Legal Services (ULS), an outfit absent from the sheet, is the most obvious provider of free assistance.
Devonya Smith, Ackerman’s spokesperson, says the special ed office has recently released a new list, with updated phone numbers and a listing for ULS.
Tired of following Ackerman’s telephonic cul-de-sacs, Nichols had no choice but to represent herself in her hearing, where she was petitioning for school funds to pay for Tristan’s placement in Silver Spring’s Chelsea School. “I was scared,” says Nichols, who lacks a college degree, much less a law degree. She won anyway.
Years ago, you couldn’t attend a community meeting in the District without hearing a tirade on how poorly the city was enforcing its liquor laws. We have no enforcement personnel, the city treats liquor licenses as a matter of birthright, and neighborhoods have no leverage, went the cry from community activists.
Things have changed: This summer, a veritable liquor SWAT team—consisting of D.C. cops and inspectors from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board—has descended on restaurants across the city and hauled bartenders downtown. Funded by a $72,000 federal grant, the enforcers have visited 217 establishments and made 89 arrests, all for serving minors.
That’s apparently not good enough for longtime D.C.ers. “I could point them to clubs with 20 minors in them,” said Georgetowner Patrick Allen at an Aug. 30 meeting hosted by At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil. “But they’re busting white-tablecloth restaurants and places that don’t serve minors,” continued Allen, who deplored the liquor task force’s policy of handcuffing bartenders and otherwise making a commotion at busted establishments.
Ever eager to pander, Brazil said, “It’s an abomination, and it’s certainly reprehensible….It’s almost like a Gestapo tactic.”
It’s actually a good-government tactic. We asked for liquor enforcement, and we got it. Now we feel compelled to tell the police how to go about it. “It’s the law, and they knew it was the law when they signed up for their liquor licenses,” says Jacqueline Wallace, a spokesperson for the task force.
* University of the District of Columbia (UDC) President Julius F. Nimmons Jr. is a staunch advocate for a beleaguered institution. Over the past decade, everyone from Councilmember Patterson to former control board Chair Andrew Brimmer has hammered the university’s academic record and demanded budget cuts and layoffs. The steady siege has threatened to reduce the university from a four-year college to a two-year junior college focusing on remedial education—a specter that Nimmons has fought with all the scant resources at his disposal.
Perhaps he should reconsider his position and sign up for a little remediation himself. In an Aug. 16 “President’s Letter” to the UDC community, Nimmons opens with this line: “As I peruse the University environment, I find the state of our physical infrastructure absolutely unexceptable.”
* Every time Mayor Williams announces new appointments, Ward 8’s political hawks check their home addresses to see if the city’s east-of-the-river backwater is gaining a toehold in the new administration. Which is why they’ll be disappointed when the administration announces its appointments to the revitalized Citizen Complaint Review Board (CCRB).
Tally of Ward 8 CCRB members: 0. The ward’s best hope, according to sources involved in the selection process, was activist Rahim Jenkins, a candidate in the 1995 race to occupy the Ward 8 council seat vacated by Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. Despite his history of community involvement, however, Jenkins didn’t make it to the final round of selections.
Jenkins’ disqualifying strike was neither his geopolitical origins nor his threadbare ties to the Williams camp. Instead, it was an ill-considered remark at a 1995 candidates forum, where Jenkins said he was unsure whether Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan had invited “faggots” to his Million Man March.
“He pretended not to understand it was an offensive statement,” says Rick Rosendall, the public safety chair of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance and a member of the CCRB selection committee.CP
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