Just before the mayhem broke loose in Congress last week over the D.C. budget, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison traveled to One Judiciary Square for a visit with Mayor Anthony A. Williams. The Texas Republican wanted to update the mayor on the fate of the D.C. budget in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
It’s not too often that members of the Senate step down from their Hill perches for away-game wonk sessions with D.C. leaders. Indeed, the mayor’s aides took the visit as a sign of Hutchison’s respect for the city’s new leadership and, by association, home rule.
The city had chosen a different interpretation by Thursday afternoon, when Hutchison and her colleagues gutted the D.C. Council’s proposed pay raise by 10 percent. Local legislators stepped up to the mike immediately: “It is an extraordinary, punitive, illogical, power-based interference with salaries that have gone through a legislative process,” Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis told the Washington Post.
The District’s political establishment fell in line behind Jarvis, as everyone from D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton to political commentator Mark Plotkin attacked Hutchison for dissing the democratic will of D.C. residents.
Williams was ready with a home-rule-defense line of his own: “We ought to leave that up to the voters.”
Eager to stay chummy with Hutchison, and perhaps carrying some secret Schadenfreude at his council rivals’ misfortune, Williams never matched the fiery rhetoric of Jarvis et al. Nonetheless, the mayor’s logic was dead-on: It should be up to the voters. Too bad the council didn’t abide by that edict when it enacted the hike—just one reason it ranks among the most indefensible pieces of public policy to hit D.C. in years.
* Council Chairman Linda Cropp instituted the raises in January without a peep of public discussion. None of the recipients of the raises—Councilmembers Cropp, Vincent Orange, Jim Graham, and David Catania—bothered to notify their constituents of their special appropriations. (Only councilmembers elected in 1998 were eligible for the raise; three turned it down.)
* Cropp submitted legislation to codify the pay hikes only because the three who refused the raise—Kathy Patterson, Sharon Ambrose, and Phil Mendelson—pressured her to do so.
* The bill never underwent scrutiny in a public hearing. Instead, the council discussed it in a “public roundtable,” the technical term for a hearing with virtually no public notice.
* As if to underscore the irony of big raises for part-time legislators, the council will break for two months of vacation starting July 15—just a couple of weeks after all that anti-Hutchison outrage. That way, councilmembers can moonlight as trial lawyers and summer camp counselors.
If ever the mayor had a chance to break out his line about “commanding respect vs. demanding respect,” Hutchison’s raise-slashing initiative was it.
The citywide outrage over Hutchison’s “Councilmember Reality Check Act of 1999” managed to overshadow the doings of D.C.’s emerging menace on Capitol Hill: Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). Like the most harmful overseers in the city’s two-century-long experience with congressional servitude, Durbin fancies himself an expert on D.C. affairs by virtue of his part-time residence in the capital city. He calls upon that expertise in his frequent slams against the pending D.C. budget, particularly its tax cuts.
“The District needs better results in terms of the basics before we give away dividends,” said Durbin at a June 9 Senate D.C. appropriations subcommittee hearing on the budget. “We’re going to do something about the schools and the D.C. crime rate. We need to talk about quality of life—don’t talk about a tax cut. That’s where you lose me.”
LL shared Durbin’s misgivings about the drastic original version of the tax cut—although the senator seems to have missed the way it was scaled back during the legislative process. Still, Durbin’s meddling should enrage the home rule crowd far more than Hutchison’s poke at council pay. Voodoo economics or not, the tax cut churned through every cog in D.C. governance, including bona fide council hearings, control board scrubbing, and weeks of negotiations among the key players.
Hell, the issue received so much press coverage that publicity-hungry outsiders—try Iris J. Lav of the ordinarily nationally focused Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, for one (who on earth is Iris J. Lav?)—submitted their own analyses on the plan.
Motivated more by admiration for the tax cut’s John DeLorean-era economics than by respect for D.C. democracy, Durbin’s Republican colleagues on the Appropriations Committee overruled him and upheld the city’s consensus budget. But Durbin won’t respect any consensus that doesn’t include him: Last week, he made clear his determination to punish the District for ginning up the tax cut, even if his action undercuts something much less alien to a good Democrat like him—access to education.
Durbin’s new whipping boy? The District’s tuition assistance bill, which depends on a $17 million federal appropriation. Durbin plans to oppose the federal contribution—via an amendment on the Senate floor—as long as the tax cut remains in the D.C. budget.
“The city council has decided that it has
$59 million a year that it can’t find anything to spend on,” Durbin told LL last week. “As long as that’s the case, the District should pay for [the tuition assistance].”
Translation: If District parents want an affordable college education for their children, they must pay the highest taxes in the country. When pressed about this dilemma, Durbin told LL, “You want it both ways.”
Yes, Senator, just like your constituents.
John F. Kennedy had Camelot. Lyndon Johnson had his kitchen cabinet. Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. had his legendary task forces.
Now, Mayor Williams has his own answer to the age-old problem of executive mentorship: advisory groups. Designed to prevent the embarrassment that invariably arises from the administration’s chronic failure to consult with the community, the advisory groups pile onto the surplus of committees, coalitions, councils, partnerships, alliances, associations, “friends of”s, and networks that are already duplicating one another all across town.
Nonetheless, Williamsites say the advisory groups will do something new: “They’ll ensure that the mayor knows what’s going on,” says mayoral adviser Max Brown. Of course, the mayor’s problem has proceeded in the other direction—namely, he hasn’t bothered to advise others of his plans. Perhaps he needs a Mayoral Information Recipients’ Advisory Group.
To date, the mayor has created 10 advisory panels, each with a distinct constituency: small business; major business; environment; Jewish affairs; faith; Islamic affairs; young African-American professionals; protocol; gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered; and developers.
LL’s hotshot sources in the mayor’s office have leaked word that the last two groups on the list are considering a merger, a prospect that would yield the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Developers Advisory Group.
STRAINED (INTERGOVERNMENTAL) RELATIONS
If Mayor Williams ever repeats the missteps of his first six months in office, he’ll at least have a response to criticism that he never addressed their root causes. First, he hired a new chief of staff, Abdusalam Omer. Then he dispatched Deputy Chief of Staff Henry Sumner “Sandy” McCall to a party-planning post. Now he’s shaking up the crucial Office of Intergovernmental Relations—the team entrusted with briefing the mayor on council and congressional legislation.
Williams was unhappy with the quality of legislative analysis produced this spring. As a result, he now plans to transfer several of the office’s 10 staffers to other posts in the D.C. government. “We need to make the office an effective tool to help the mayor and council move through legislation,” says Omer, whose housecleaning will end up reducing the mayoral staff by 25 percent this year. “It should be analytical, not a paper-pushing, administrative office.”
The putsch amounts to a smack at Intergovernmental Relations Director Warren Graves, who has reportedly complained of being excluded from decisions on his office’s fate. According to sources close to the office, Graves told the mayor in early June that he’d be quitting. Omer declined to speak about Graves’ employment status, but did say, “If you don’t produce, you’re gone.”
Graves signed onto Team Williams after steering Jack Evans’ unsuccessful 1998 mayoral campaign and has had trouble penetrating the new boss’s political in-crowd. He’s about the only guy up there whom D.C. old-timers—who still make up the majority of the political class—like and trust. Perhaps he has too much experience in D.C. politics for Williams’ neophytes.
Whatever the palace dynamics, the mayor’s intergovernmental tinkering will help continue shrinking his office budget, which was in danger of heading into the red in fiscal 1999. “With the ex-CFO and former budget director running the office, do you think we were going to overspend our budget?” asks mayoral spokesperson Peggy Armstrong.
* Arlene Ackerman’s public-schools administration is starting to work like a defective Roach Motel: Appointees check in and then check right out. Last month, for example, parent outreach coordinator Vernell Jessie pulled up stakes after just three months under the controversial superintendent. Jessie declined to comment on the reasons for her abrupt departure but made it clear she had not been wooed away from the District.
Ditto for Russell Smith, who resigned his post as associate superintendent for operations on June 18. “It’s between the superintendent and myself,” Smith told LL. “It has nothing to do with children.”
A source close to the schools said that Smith and Ackerman parted ways over school facilities. As operations chief, Smith expected the school system’s as yet unhired facilities director to report directly to him. However, Ackerman and her deputy, Elois Brooks, wanted to exert direct oversight over facilities, according to the source. Ackerman spokesperson Devonya Smith would neither “confirm nor deny” that version of events, calling any spats between Smith and Ackerman a “personnel matter.”
Speaking of personnel, Ackerman’s human resources office will have to hire a few more clerks if current trends persist. After all, Smith lasted only three weeks in his job, a brief stay-over for a reputable public servant who spent three years as D.C. Auditor and three years as a control board staffer.
Last week, Smith returned to work at the control board. “He likes me better,” joked control board Executive Director Francis Smith.
* D.C. residents picked up the Washington Post Sunday to learn of a new crime-fighting blitz by the Metropolitan Police Department. A front-page story told of the department’s efforts to “flood” city streets with police officers to stem the random gun violence that has felled bystanders in recent weeks.
Accompanying the article was a photo of Williams and Police Chief Charles Ramsey walking through a crowd of diners on Adams Morgan’s 18th Street strip.
No one read the story with more interest than Ward 1 Councilmember Graham—who prefers making news to reading it. Neither the mayor nor the police chief had bothered to tell Graham that they would be making the rounds in his political back yard.
“I was bothered by this—yes, I was,” Graham told LL this week.
The councilmember said he communicated his dismay to mayoral adviser Brown on Monday morning. The excuse from officialdom, Graham reported, was that the mayor had decided “spontaneously” to visit Ward 1 on his Saturday night anti-crime outing. In fact, spontaneity might well explain the mayor’s fashion choices: Clad in boat shoes, khaki shorts, and a fishy-wishy T-shirt, Williams looked more like John F. Kennedy Jr. strolling back from a Cape Cod clambake than a big-city mayor keeping the streets free of crime.
Mayoral spokesperson Armstrong took the rap for keeping Graham in the dark. “I should have called him,” said Armstrong. “It’s part of our protocol to call the councilmember when we go into a ward like that.”
“I would have liked very much to have been there,” said Graham. “All of us in this community would like to feel a sense of inclusion.”
Well, at least Post reporters got that inclusive feeling. “That would suggest that [the mayor] had a telephone,” said Graham.
* “When you own your own home, our community is stronger, with safer streets, and you have a place for your children to come home to.”—Williams, proud renter of a Foggy Bottom apartment, in a local TV ad promoting the Fannie Mae Foundation’s “Free Homebuying Fair.” CP
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