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In a recent sweep through upstate New York, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton found out just what the folks on the home turf of Martin Van Buren think of her Senatorial ambitions. “Carpetbagger go home!” and “Go back to your village” read the signs of the anti-Hillary homers in the state’s rural heartland.
The New Yorkers didn’t get any more specific than that. Perhaps they wanted the first lady to settle in Arkansas and run for office there. More likely, the assembled didn’t care where she went, just as long as she stopped pretending to commune with the folks in Voorheesville, Amsterdam, and Rhinebeck.
Long before he forfeited his identity to D.C. politics, LL was an upstate New York boy whose family blood flowed with Empire State politics. On a Memorial Day research trip to his ancestral lands, LL discovered that the talking heads are right: The first lady is going to have one tough slog through the state’s northern and western reaches. LL’s Mom’s friends and neighbors—who with absolute statistical accuracy reflect the ethnic, racial, and ideological diversity of the region—would sooner adopt the life of the legendary Adirondack hermit than allow Hillary to make public policy on their behalf.
So LL has a better idea for Mrs. Clinton: Skip New York. If you want a post-White House career in public service, there’s no better place to start than the troubled city outside the executive mansion’s gates. After all, where else to showcase your pet issues—children and health care—than the District? Your adopted hometown ranks 51st in the nation in infant mortality, 51st in the nation in child poverty, and 51st in the nation in reduction of teen birth rates. Don’t those numbers stir your Children’s Defense Fund compassion?
Ditch the Washington of Brit Hume and the Democratic National Convention for the Washington of Tom Sherwood and candidate forums. Blow off Larry King and Air Force One; embrace Mark Plotkin and Bill Rice’s brown bicycle. Say goodbye to Camp David and Martha’s Vineyard, and wrap your arms around Coolfont and Rehoboth.
D.C. politics make a nice fit for you, Mrs. Clinton. After all, you’re a famous admirer of trailblazing women leaders like Eleanor Roosevelt and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Extend that reverence to hometown Washington’s very own tradition—hewn by the likes of global grandmother Hilda H.M. Mason. Compared with the Senate’s old-boys club, the District is a veritable feminocracy: Six of the city’s 13 legislators and the majority of its major officials—including the D.C. Council chairman, the chair pro tem, the U.S. representative, the control board chair, and the schools superintendent—are women.
In the District, you’d inherit just what you don’t have in New York: juice. When the White House tried to recast your public role in the wake of your health-care debacle, you turned your attention straight to your back yard—with your pockets full of federal cash. You debuted as a D.C. icon in Shaw back in December 1996 to inaugurate an $8.5 million federally funded community bank for the city. You toured damaged D.C. school buildings a few months later and announced a special
$18 million fund to assist with repairs. You trotted out $120 million in extra federal funding for the District at a White House ceremony in January 1998. And in April 1998, you finagled a $5 million Education Department grant for the city’s summer school programs.
Just imagine how those accomplishments would play on a nice, glossy campaign brochure. Alongside the hard numbers, you could display a de rigueur endorsement or two. This November 1998 statement by then-Mayor-elect Anthony A. Williams would work just fine:
“I was happy to have a meeting with the first lady,” said Williams after a 30-minute powwow on D.C. “I do believe she is really committed to our city, and she has a deep, rich understanding of its problems, its issues, and its opportunities.”
How are you going to get anyone in New York to say that about you? All you need to do now is change your registration to the District and decide which race you want to enter.
In a departure from column tradition, LL hereby provides you a breakdown of the 2000 campaigns and your likely opponents:
* School board. The most logical venue for an education junkie like you, a school board campaign is also one of the most unpredictable phenomena in D.C. politics. That’s because school board vacancies bring out the unknowns—the dedicated activists, wannabe office holders, and kooks of D.C. grass-roots politics. However, you and your inner circle can begin preparing now for at least one opponent: Ward 5 gadfly Bob Artisst, who has run in just about every election since home rule. Last year, the perennial came within 3 percentage points of capturing an at-large seat. The best way to counter Artisst is to campaign against him far from Ward 5. Closer to home, folks already know Artisst well enough not to vote for him.
* D.C. Council. As a Ward 2 resident, you could take on enigmatic council incumbent Jack Evans. Place immediate calls to local activists like Beth Solomon, Deering “Tip” Kendrick, and Debbie Hanrahan. They may not like you too much, but the standard Ward 2 megaphone-wielder would sooner read through the fine print of your health-care package than allow the hated Evans another term. But get ready to fight: Evans knows retail politics as well as Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. Last Saturday, he financed a taxi caravan and a hospitality suite to muster supporters for the Ward 2 Democratic convention and managed to re-elect protegee Linda Greenan to a new term as vice chair of the Ward 2 party organization. You’ll have to organize bigger taxi parades and host bigger hospitality suites.
* Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC). Don’t even think about it. From the White House, you’d have to run against ANC 2A05 Commissioner Dorothy Miller, a legendary Foggy Bottom activist who knows zoning, parking, and public space regulations better than you know billing shenanigans. Miller would make you look like a national wonk with no mooring in the community and too much pride to start out where most politicians do.
Oops—maybe that’s a bit too accurate. So, uh, could LL interest you in one of D.C.’s shadow senator posts?
RING AROUND THE NOT-SO-ROSY
In recent years, the District has slowed its population loss and watched a new retail and residential boom in the heart of town. The boom has brought huge budgetary surpluses and hopes of even better times to come. And D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp is determined to undo it all.
Or so it would appear, on the basis of Cropp’s statements at an early June conference in Alexandria on regional issues. In the presence of such suburban luminaries as Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry and Montgomery County leader Douglas Duncan, Cropp advocated building the dreaded “outer-ring beltway,” a multi-billion-dollar monstrosity that would put another “a” in sprawl and add hundreds of thousands of tract home residents and Mitsubishi Eclipse owners to the inside-the-beltway elite.
“It’s a good idea for us to explore it,” Cropp told LL this week. “In terms of urban sprawl, we’re No. 1 in the country. There is a need for us to look at other ways to cut down on some of the traffic.”
If Cropp is looking to erase the District’s traffic woes—and its commerce right along with them—the outer-ring concept is a fine way to proceed. Take these three fronts, for starters:
* Taxpayers. Why relocate to the District when there’s cheap housing and a new Tysons Corner in Dale City? “It would just cream the city’s tax base,” says Jim Dougherty, a spokesperson for the D.C. chapter of the Sierra Club.
* Businesses. Quick—which site will Wal-Mart prefer: that vacant warehouse in Ward 5, or an undeveloped and suddenly beltway-accessible expanse in Germantown with room for a 2,000-car lot?
* Infrastructure. How will the city pull down federal dollars for bridge and road improvements when billions are being invested in the outer-ring project?
Could the outer-ring project do anything good for the District? “No,” says Laura Olsen of the Surface Transportation Policy Project. “There are some misguided officials in this region, but such a leap is rare when there is no benefit whatsoever to the city.”
Cropp denies supporting the project in deference to the Greater Washington Board of Trade. The business association, a favorite of ambitious D.C. pols, is way behind the outer-ring beltway and its Maryland progenitor, the proposed intercounty connector. “I haven’t even talked to the Board of Trade about an outer-loop beltway,” says Cropp.
“We just need to have some transportation process to get our residents out to where the jobs are,” Cropp says.
With that type of rhetoric, Cropp could be the first D.C. councilmember to gain an honorary seat on the Fairfax City Council.
* When Mayor Williams appeared in March before Rep. Ernest Istook’s House Appropriations subcommittee on the District, he outlined his management-reform strategies and conveyed confidence in the team he was assembling atop the D.C. government. Istook and his colleagues returned the confidence with warm smiles and effusive monologues on the mayor’s vaunted turnaround skills.
LL detected a bit of slippage in that mutual confidence last Wednesday at a subcommittee hearing on the city’s health-care system. After affirming the importance of substance abuse treatment in cutting the crime rate, Istook asked interim D.C. Health Department Director Marlene Kelly how many slots the city had for such treatment.
Kelly had no idea.
“I’ll have to check on that,” said Kelly, falling back on the common refrain of flustered bureaucrats.
Istook rephrased his query, asking if Kelly was sure that the number of slots is “the sort of thing” that required checking. Kelly said yes.
As of this writing, Kelly had not yet supplied the number to Istook’s subcommittee but was scheduled to meet again with the subcommittee next week, according to Istook spokesperson Micah Swafford. In case there’s any confusion, the magic number is 3,217 drug treatment slots—a number provided by Health Department spokesperson Bonnie Rampersaud.
* After Mayor Williams beat all comers in last year’s elections, campaign stalwart Paul Savage insisted he didn’t want any of the spoils that go to the victor. Savage, a retired federal worker, pledged to “keep the mayor honest” from his objective perch in Hillcrest, where he and his neighbors launched the draft-Williams movement.
Two weeks ago, though, Savage accepted an appointment as a deputy director at the Department of Housing and Community Development. “There were a lot of discussions about how to get Paul involved in the administration, and this was the opening that worked,” says mayoral flack Peggy Armstrong, who noted that the mayor himself picked Savage to fill the economic development position.
* D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton angered city Republicans last week when she decried “an attempt led by the House Republican majority to wreck local D.C. gun control laws” in a June 16 press release. The most hostile of the week’s gun-control-gutting laws came from Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode, a Democrat.
LL occasionally announces job openings for D.C. government agencies, but only when their needs are extremely dire.
WANTED: Proofreader and general counsel in the D.C. Department of Recreation and Parks. Duty: Check official documents to minimize liability for department functions.
LL urges prospective applicants to forward their resumes and cover letters as quickly as possible, for the rec department is ginning up some costly mistakes these days. Witness this waiver language on a registration form for a youth summer tennis camp:
“I, the undersigned parent/guardian grant permission for the above named child to participate in this recreational event. It is also agreed that neither the D.C. Department of Recreation and Parks not [sic] its agents or sponsors are not [sic] responsible for any injury or illness sustained by my child during or traveling to and from this activity.”
Rec department spokesperson Larry Brown attributed the double negative to a master of linguistic trickery: Barry. “That’s an old form,” says Brown. “I don’t know where that form came from.” CP
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