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When mayoral candidate Anthony Williams barnstormed through the District last summer, rival campaigns and the local media scrambled to expose scandals and missteps that would slow down the newcomer’s ascendant campaign. They didn’t find much. The best that the anti-Williams crowd could muster was that the former D.C. chief financial officer had been discourteous in firing 165 D.C. government employees and hadn’t been around for the bad old daysattacks that no doubt helped pad his generous margins at the polls.
Now that Williams clutches the Seal of the District of Columbia, however, he seems intent on parading his mistakes before the public.
On Jan. 4, the newly elected mayor called a press conference to introduce appointees to his operation on the 11th floor of One Judiciary Square. Behind most of the faces in the inner circlefor instance, chief of staff Reba Pittman Evans, congressional liaison Warren Graves, and planning aide William Highsmithlurk multi-page CVs rich with municipal management experience.
There’s one obvious exception: Henry Sumner “Sandy” McCall, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff for external affairs. McCall’s appointment is the first sign that the politics of patronage have elbowed their way into an administration obsessed with portraying itself as an elected meritocracy.
If Williams’ minions didn’t already have misgivings about McCall, they should have developed a few when it came to putting his résumé in black and white. Just one line sums up the professional experience McCall brings to the Williams machine: “Sandy McCall has been a private investor in companies, real estate and securities since 1980.”
By that criterion, LL also qualifies for a plum post in the new administration.
In an interview with LL, McCall said that he had “been around the block. I’ve had companies, and I’ve been in campaigns.” LL later asked for a list of those positions but received no response.
Williams appeared as impressed with McCall’s genes as with his knack for picking stocks. He touted McCall as a product of the progressive politics of his uncle, former Oregon Gov. Tom McCall, who pushed through the country’s first bottle bill and secured public ownership of all Oregon beaches. Although McCall himself never worked in his uncle’s government, he claimed to have served as a “conduit” between the governor and a group of young lefty Democrats who championed environmental causes.
But at least credit the new mayor with the foresight to hand McCall a portfolio commensurate with his experience. The new appointee will supervise such bureaucratic heavies as the Office of Asian/Pacific Islands, the Office of Diversity, the Office of Religious Affairs, the Commission on Women, and the Office of Latino Affairs. The only meaningful slot under his jurisdiction is the Office on Aging, and people who know their way around 441 4th St. are already predicting that its well-respected director, E. Veronica Pace, will find a way around McCall.
Although the appointee may be the greenest manager in the new administration, he can speak with authority on résumé padding. His administration biography claims he earned his degree from “Harvard College,” the very designation used by graduates of the country’s most prestigious school. However, an official at Harvard’s undergraduate registrar’s office said he could find no records of McCall in the school’s database.
As it turns out, McCall’s connection with Harvard comes through the university’s extension schoolthat is, night classes. According to Harvard Extension School clerk Dennis Mallinson, McCall’s degree “probably would have read, ‘Harvard University, Division of Continuing Ed,’ or something to that effect.” McCall claims the extension school is the same as Harvard College. Except that, oh, yeah, entrance requirements for McCall’s alma mater consist of proof of immunity to measles, rubella, and mumps, according to the school’s Web site.
McCall’s admission to Williams’ staff required a bit more work. The Ward 6 anti-crime firebrand “threw everything I had” into the Williams campaign, ferrying the candidate around town in his red convertible, “plugging [the campaign] into my ward organization,” and raising “a couple hundred grand” for the race.
McCall said his conversion to the bow-tie cause occurred when he witnessed an hourlong meeting in which lawyer Max Berry questioned Williams on his plans for the city. “I was already for him,” said McCall, “but when I saw how he responded to the cross-examination of a big-time lawyer, I was absolutely enchanted.”
Enchanted is also how McCall sounded in his brief remarks at the press conference. After comparing the administration’s predicament to the Allies’ landing at Normandy, McCall said he “never would have gone into politics for anyone other than Tony Williams.” That sounds impressive, until you consider the list of pols who’ve offered McCall jobs. Following the press conference, McCall told LL only that he had been approached by “several Oregon senators, whom I will not name.”
Of course, there’s one other politician McCall would gladly work for: himself. In 1997, McCall ran in a special election to fill the Ward 6 D.C. Council seat vacated by At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil. A virtual unknown outside his neighborhood, McCall managed a fourth-place finish in a field of 12 by talking about crime and nothing else. “He had no record on anything except for crime,” says a Ward 6 activist of the candidate dubbed “Crime Dog.” Perhaps he should change his name to McGruff.
In that campaign, McCall brandished the demagogy that he no doubt spared Williams in their convertible rides. In addition to calling for the federalization of the Metropolitan Police Department, McCall advocated trying juveniles as adults. When pressed by LL, McCall responded that he had proposed merely “debating” federalizationa recollection that rankles several of his Stanton Park neighbors. “I had to back out of working with him because he had become a one-man band for federalization,” says former Stanton Park Neighborhood Association Chair Linda Eichmiller.
And McCall said he didn’t remember talking about lowering the age for adult offenders. “He said it. What can I say? I was there. The issue was that we were at 16, and he said it should be lower,” says John Capozzi, who finished behind McCall in the special election.
Crime Dog’s exploits in the Ward 6 race garnered a smattering of press attention, but apparently not enough to make him a familiar face among the city’s political establishment. The lumpen mass of D.C. political junkiedom did a collective double take on the morning of Jan. 5, when McCall and five other appointees were featured in a Washington Post photo taken at the press conference. Four of the six appeared white, although oneDeputy Chief of Staff for Operations Noel Bravois Hispanic. “It was a freakout, a total freakout,” says a Williams supporter, who requested anonymity.
Aside from looking white, though, they all looked like strangers. But if the establishment really values familiarity in Williams’ appointees, allow LL to suggest a few: John Clyburn, Ivanhoe Donaldson, Vernon Hawkins, and Joe Yeldell.
McCall himself explained the new administration’s approach to filling key positions: “No one is going to get a job simply because they worked on the campaign.”
From now on, that is.
COMMITTEES OF THE HOLE
When North Carolina Congressman Charles Taylor last year stripped funding from the District budget for the city’s 37 advisory neighborhood commissions (ANCs), city leaders responded with predictable outrage: The initiative, said critics, was just another diss on home rule by a meddlesome Southern Republican.
With strong backing from the White House, D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton restored the $573,000 required to fund the commissions.
Too bad she didn’t get another $100,000 to police the commissions.
The latest evidence of ANC malfeasance comes wrapped in a Dec. 11 report on the Shaw ANC by the D.C. auditor. The report documents numerous examples of such would-be shockers as….ANC calls
to 900 numbers! Missing bank statements! Undocumented disbursements!
Of course, foul-ups like those no longer merit media attention. Few ANCs properly manage the approximately $15,000 in discretionary funds they receive each year.
The missteps of the Shaw ANC, however, go a bit beyond general-ledger items. According to the auditor, the ANC accepted donations from land-use law titan Wilkes, Artis, Hedrick & Lane at times when the firm was seeking the commission’s support for its clients’ various development initiatives, including zoning designations for the former Woodie’s building, the construction of Bible Way Church’s Golden Rule Plaza project, and the closing of a portion of L Street to make way for senior citizens’ housing. Wilkes, Artis donated $400 in fiscal year 1996 and another $400 in 1997.
“A lot of people wondered why [the ANC] supported the convention center and a lot of downtown projects that didn’t benefit the residents of Shaw, and I think the report offers an explanation,” says activist and former commissioner Beth Solomon, who has butted heads with ANC members over the new convention center at Mount Vernon Square.
The auditor argues that acceptance of the donations constitutes an apparent violation of D.C. conflict-of-interest statutes, which prohibit public officials from using their perches for personal gain. The ANC split each contribution from Wilkes, Artis into $100 tranches and disbursed them to the commissionersallegedly to purchase Christmas gifts for “the needy.” No records exist to document any such charity, although commissioners have some stories to tell.
Commissioner Leroy Thorpe handed auditors a handwritten receipt for a pair of used binoculars to assist the SWAT types in his community policing brigade. And the cost? “A hundred dollars,” Thorpe told LL in a phone interview. Thorpe will be the first invitee to LL’s next yard sale.
Commissioner Torrence Henighan said he had used his allocation to purchase turkeys and candies for kids in his neighborhood. “I had [receipt] slips, but I don’t know what happened to them,” says Henighan.
Chairman Lawrence Thomas failed to return a call from LL. In addition to administering the Wilkes, Artis donations, Thomas is fingered in the report for having issued himself a $500 loan from commission funds and for having written a $400 check to assist a family dislocated by a fire. The report says Thomas had no records of the check’s disposition and “did not recall the name or address of the family.”
Wilkes, Artis partner Norman “Chip” Glasgow insists the firm’s outlays violated no D.C. laws because they fell within a $400 cap on donations and were directed to the indigent, not the commissioners. “I’ve known the needs of that community, and it certainly has a lot of needs,” says Glasgow, who donated an additional $300 of his own money to the ANC. Glasgow concedes that he never checked to see that the donations had trickled down to their intended beneficiaries. “You make contributions that are permitted, and you assume that the money is being used in accordance with the law,” he says.
Assumptions like those may work for Amnesty International and Catholic Charities, but here we’re talking about a dysfunctional ANC, one that has clones in every quadrant of the citybands of like-minded folks who are stealing or mishandling public dollars under the guise of representative government. Taken individually, their miscues are petty; taken cumulatively, they’re an outrage.
“It’s a real shame when people sell themselves for so little,” says Solomon.
The auditor’s report has been referred to the Office of Campaign Finance.
•The draft-Williams movement began in the Ward 7 Hillcrest community.
•Hordes of Hillcrest activists spent day and night on the Williams campaign.
•Hillcrest is an east-of-the-river neighborhood short on economic development and long on promises of better times from the powers that be.
In case Mayor Williams had forgotten any of those points, he got a forceful reminder on Saturday morning, when he visited the Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter for a meeting of the Hillcrest Community Civic Association.
Civic association First Vice President Vince Spaulding kicked off proceedings with a long-winded summation of the past eight monthsan oration that catalogued the contribution of every local Williams supporter from Roscoe Grant to Dennis Logan to Kathy Chamberlain to, well, you get the idea.
And when it came time to introduce Williams, Spaulding said, to thunderous crowd approval, “Remember, Tony, it started here.”
It was the mayor’s first visit to a community group since his inauguration one week earlier. He arrived on time. He gave a thoughtful and quite boring dissertation on the city’s priorities. And he showed affection for Hillcrest.
None of that, though, appeared to matter to cranky draft-Williams movement founder Paul Savage, who all but implored the mayor to put his community’s agenda before all other business. “The issue is that we are never part of the discussion,” said Savage, who is asking that city planners consider east-of-the-river sites for the new Department of Employment Services building. “How do you plan to embrace people east of the river?”
On cue, Williams droned on about “regular office hours” for all citizens, “satellite appointments” in Ward 7 and elsewhere, and “customer surveys” on city services. Perhaps sensing the boredom among the pews, he left out the boilerplate on total quality management. CP
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