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Even when it appeared obvious that her campaign had no chance against the runaway bandwagon piloted by upstart Anthony Williams, mayoral hopeful Carol Schwartz stood before the press and voters to declare that she deserved to be the next tenant on the 11th floor of One Judiciary Square: “In your heart, you know it’s my turn.”
Of course, it’s a time-tested ploy among flailing politicians never to acknowledge the futility of their efforts.
The difference is, Schwartz really believed voters would come to their senses and pick her over a little-known newcomer.
Losing was hard enough for the Republican at-large councilmember. The margin of her drubbing, though, was a knockout blow: She got only 30 percent of the vote on her third and final run for the mayor’s office. Although Schwartz refuses to discuss her feelings about the race, friends say she took the loss especially hard because the overwhelming rejection by the voters made her feel “unappreciated.”
Stung by the defeat, Schwartz considered quitting the D.C. Council in the midst of her current term and ending her long political career. If her early exit wouldn’t have saddled city taxpayers with a $350,000 special election next year to fill the council vacancy, Schwartz admits she might have succumbed to “the emotionalism of the moment.”‘
“I’ve always been trying to save the city money. I sure didn’t want to cost it money, now,” she told LL this week.
The city’s premiere Republican, whose career on the council and the D.C. school board spans the past three decades, was the fourth veteran councilmember turned aside by Williams in his march to the mayor’s office. The fact that Williams had toiled less than three years in District politicsas the city’s first chief financial officerbefore snatching D.C.’s top political prize particularly galled Schwartz.
“That was a job I had prepared for my whole life,” she says.
And listening to Williams tout his governing agenda only deepens Schwartz’s grief. As far back as 1986, Schwartz was harping on the need to get D.C. employees to answer the phones promptly and be more courteous and responsive to District residents. Twelve years later, Williams is making that same goal a priority for his first six months in office.
Saddam Hussein would be wise to hire any D.C. employees fired by Williams for poor phone manners. With experienced obstructionists like them around, U.N. chemical warfare inspectors would never get the answers they’re looking for.
The rout by Williams appeared to hit Schwartz harder than it did her fellow losers: Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous, and At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil.
Chavous, convinced he was going to be the city’s next mayor simply because he appealed to Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. and his vanishing political base, pouted for a few weeks after losing the Sept. 15 Democratic primary and withheld his endorsement of the winner. But Chavous finally came around and campaigned with Williams to defeat Schwartz in the run-up to the Nov. 3 general election.
Chavous now seems intent on holding on to his Ward 7 council seat. Two weeks ago, he chaired a council hearing that exposed unfit, substance-abusing drivers behind the wheels of D.C. public school buses. A few days later, schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman fired 19 drivers for all kinds of misconduct. Further displays of diligent oversight could dispel the second-term councilmember’s reputation as a lazy and truant lawmakeran image that hurt him during this year’s mayoral campaign.
Evans, who campaigned harder than his rivals and was the most gracious in defeat, is also scrambling to retrieve his political career after being hammered in his home ward by Williams. Despite winning three council races in Ward 2 this decade, Evans pulled only 1,994 votes in the ward against Williams, who racked up nearly 5,000 votes in handily winning the ward in the Sept. 15 Democratic primary. In his home Precinct 5 in Georgetown, where voters supposedly know him best, Evans got only 19 percent of the ballots cast, losing to Williams by a 4-to-1 margin.
“He has abandoned the average guy in this ward for the developers,” claims one of Evans’ disaffected constituents. That’s funnyLL thought the average guy in Evans’ neighborhood was a developer.
The councilmember has already revealed his intent to seek a third term in Ward 2 in two years, instead of switching to an at-large seat and jettisoning his ward critics and headaches. Evans is currently grabbing every speaking opportunity to try to calm his disgruntled constituents and repair the damage from this year’s mayoral defeat.
Brazil, embarrassed by his single-digit blowout in the Sept. 15 Democratic mayoral primary, has refused to shoulder the blame for his own political collapse. Instead, he has pointed the finger at his council staff, asking them to resign en masse in a shake-up he hopes will bolster his chances of holding on to his current at-large seat in 2000.
Schwartz won’t reveal her plans for 2000, when her current at-large term expires. For now, she’s too busy with what’s shaping up as the most dramatic council power struggle since January 1993. That’s when councilmembers John Ray and Bill Lightfoot publicly feuded over who would get oversight duties over utilities and the city’s Public Service Commission.
At stake in this fight is the council’s Committee on Public Works, which oversees the city agency often named as the No. 1 villain in the city’s history of substandard municipal services. Vying for the chair of the committee are Schwartz and Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose. Until two weeks ago, Ambrose seemed to have the committee post locked up without opposition. Then Council Chair Linda Cropp revealed that Schwartz also wanted the post.
Even though Democrats hold 11 of the 13 council seats, Cropp informed Ambrose that she planned to give the chairmanship to Schwartz.
Ambrose has defied that decision and has lined up six of the seven council votes needed to take control of the public works panel over Cropp’s objections. But at least one of Ambrose’s supporters, Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen, is reportedly wavering under pressure from Cropp.
Schwartz’s bid has the support of Cropp, Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis, fellow At-Large Republican Councilmember David Catania, and Brazil. As is typical of Brazil’s flip-flopping style, the eight-year councilmember has told Ambrose he would like to back her but is bound by an early commitment to Cropp.
Ambrose is trying to break that commitment, even though she and Brazil have agreed on the issues as frequently as Yasser Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu.
The committee fight has made life uncomfortable for newly elected Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, who is under more pressure than a moderate Republican congressman facing this week’s House impeachment vote. Graham, lobbied intensely by both sides, reportedly sees no benefit in defying chairman Cropp and is expected to side with Schwartz. Newly elected At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson and Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent Orange apparently don’t share Graham’s anxiety about defying Cropp on their first vote after being sworn in Jan. 2.
Both Mendelson and Orange are counted in the Ambrose camp.
That leaves the swing vote in the hands of Chavous, who has not yet tipped his hand.
Newcomers Mendelson, Graham, and Orange, as well as veterans such as Ambrose, have been pushing a compromise that would reserve all committee posts for the council’s Democratic majority. The compromise would exclude Schwartz and Catania from any leadership roles in the next council.
If that compromise prevails, Schwartz, who currently heads the council’s regional affairs panel, may reconsider her decision to stick out her current term just to save city taxpayers some dough.
D.C.’S TRANSITION ANXIETIES
Instead of dispatching all of the wonks on his transition team to study problems in city government, Williams should direct them to gather all the dusty consulting reports compiled over the years by previous transition teams, the council, and the control board.
The current transition lineup includes many of the same ol’ faces that populated prior transition teams for Barry and then-Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon. And the likelihood that they’ll shed light on the decades-old problems in District government is slim.
So why is everyone so anxious about this year’s reports?
Because Williams, unlike his predecessors, is expected to read the reports and actually implement some of the recommendations.
“I served on a blue-ribbon panel on the arts and economic development for the ’86 transition,” notes a current city official, recalling Mayor Barry’s transition from a second to a third term, in which Hizzoner shunned mere coronation for deification of himself. “Nobody even looked at it. Certainly not the mayor.”
Under pressure to conduct numerous interviews and come up with proposals by this weekend, the Williams team is counting on the next mayor to take its work seriously. Although many team leaders grouse about having to produce their reports in just three weeks and then simplify each document to a single page for quick gurgitation, the transition teams plan to submit hefty supplemental documents with the expectation that Williams will look beyond the summaries.
“What Williams wants is two to four quick ideas that he can do in every area to look good, and then some longer-range goals,” says a public safety transition team leader. “But people are getting so much information so fast that no one knows yet where they are heading.” The quick fixes proposed in the public works plan call for filling potholes on 48-hour notice and smearing the city with graffiti-resistant coatings. That ought to please 3M Corp., the maker of the coatings.
One transition team member shunning the one-page approach is former D.C. financial control board Vice Chair Stephen Harlan, who has submitted a report on the future of the Crime Coordinating Council currently running the Metropolitan Police Department. The tome is weighty enough to deck a would-be mugger. The coordinating council, formerly known as the Memorandum of Understanding Partners, came under Harlan’s watch during his control board tenure, and he envisions expanding the body into a quasi-public safety commission.
His report, however, doesn’t address one of the main criticisms of the secretive bodynamely, the lack of community representatives on the council. Harlan did recommend that the new mayor and the next chairman of the council’s Judiciary Committee play a greater role in the coordinating council to give it more political clout. That means At-Large Councilmember Brazil, a frequent critic of the group, could get a seat at the table.
Brazil is expected to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee when the new council re-organizes in January.
The transition group studying relations between the District government and the U.S. Attorney’s office won’t have much trouble reducing its report to a single page, as instructed. U.S. Attorney Wilma Lewis has refused to share any of her plans with the incoming administration until her proposals have been cleared by Congresswhich won’t be any time soon.
D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey got inundated with interview requests from transition team members wanting to know his philosophy about various police operations. The chief ended the deluge by restricting access to only two public safety transition team leaders.
If transition team members are anxious about getting their reports in on time this weekend, city agency heads and employees are equally nervous about what the teams have in mind for their future employment and working conditions.
“The fear is these reports may say something without any real analysis,” says one agency head, who claims he’s not jittery about his own future. “The changes may not be realistic, or they may be ones that certain people had preconceived ideas about.”
While his transition teams have been cramming to meet their Dec. 20 deadline, Williams has just ended a cross-country, four-city fact-finding tour aimed at coming up with ways to save the District money while streamlining government.
That’s probably the only way to gather fresh ideas on fixing this ailing city. CP
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