We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
When Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. leaves office in January, he certainly won’t miss tussling with Congress and listening to residents gripe about rude city employees. He will, however, have trouble parting with his club seats at Wizards and Redskins games, the photo-ops with sports mogul Abe Pollin, and his ringside vantage point at D.C. Armory boxing matches.
So much trouble, in fact, that Hizzoner has found a way to hold onto those precious perks for another four years.
Last July, while mayoral longshot Anthony Williams was marching in Independence Day parades, glad-handing picnickers, and withstanding fierce attacks from Democratic rivals, Barry was quietly extending his 16-year run of mayoral privilege. He reappointed himself to the D.C. Sports Commission, along with current members Joseph Gildenhorn, Cornelius Green, and Bill Lucyall will serve four-year terms that will coincide with Williams’ mayoral tenure.
Barry filled a fifth vacancy with Adam Clayton Smith, a nomination sure to please Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis, whose council committee oversees the Sports Commission. Smith, a lawyer, once worked on Jarvis’ council staff.
Politicalmeister Barry may have lost much of his power to the financial control board, but he still knows how to play the D.C. Council like a church organ. Although Jarvis held a council hearing on the nominations, she failed to schedule a vote in time to block the appointments before Oct. 22, when they became effective without council confirmation. Jarvis insists her inaction was not a going-away present for Barry.
“I was given to understand by candidate Williams that he had no objections to the appointments,” Jarvis told LL this week. “If Mayor-elect Williams has an objection to the appointments, I will reconsider.”
Throughout his successful mayoral campaign, Williams courted Barry and his most visible allies. Lest he fray the fragile coalition, Williams sidelined his objections to Hizzoner’s Sports Commission nominations. Hizzoner’s buzzer shot, in effect, deprives the incoming mayor of a seat on the commission until another vacancy opens up in 2000.
“That’s Williams’ seat,” Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans noted in disbelief at the coveted post Hizzoner snatched from his successor. But he may have to enlist the help of Minnesota Governor-elect Jesse “the Body” Ventura to wrestle it away from Barry.
The outgoing mayor currently serves as the commission’s chairman, and LL won’t be surprised if Barry twists his appointees’ arms to hang onto that perk during the Williams administration. His Sports Commission perch provides Barry power over a $10 million annual budget, as well as control over RFK Stadium and the D.C. Armory. It also guarantees him an invite to sit in Pollin’s box during Wizards’ basketball games, and good seats at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium to watch the Skins.
As head of the Sport Commission, Barry would also retain a powerful voice over efforts to build a baseball stadium downtown and lure Major League Baseball back to the nation’s capital. This week, Williams plans to announce his own downtown economic development plans, but he may have to contend with his predecessor when implementing his vision.
Calling the shots at the D.C. Sports Commission is not the only coup Barry has engineered on his way to the dustbin of history. Last Thursday, two days after Williams’ victory, Hizzoner flooded the council with 62 nominations. His commission padding includes such critical panels as the Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals, which settles business and residential property tax disputes; the Board of Appeals and Review, which handles government contract disputes; and the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority Board of Directors, which gives the District a voice in running Reagan National Airport.
Over the last two months, Barry has also sent the council his choices for vacancies on powerful panels such as the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, the Health and Hospitals Public Benefit Corporation, the Commission on Aging, and the Board of Zoning Adjustment. Hizzoner’s list of cronies is long enough to supply nominations for obscure panels like the Board of Funeral Directors, the Board of Psychology, and the Barber and Cosmetology Board. In all, Barry has 138 nominations to 33 boards and commissions pending before the council.
The list of appointments reads like a Who’s Who of Barry loyalists being granted final favors for their years of devotion. Former campaign treasurer Carrolena Key got an appointment to the D.C. Commission on Women; Michael Hodge, who headed a not-so-independent Political Action Committee critical to Barry’s 1994 comeback victory, received the political plum of a nomination to the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority Board; restaurateur Paul Cohn, a past campaign donor, received reappointment to the Washington Convention Center Authority Board of Directors; and longtime Barry aide Gwendolyn Hemphill got the nod for the Office of Employee Relations.
Despite his rhetoric hailing the mayor-elect, Hizzoner has gobbled up the Cadillac board appointments, leaving a few clunkers for Williams’ legions of supporters.
“Midnight appointments” are a common ploy of departing presidents, governors, and mayors. But the pace of Barry’s hail-Mary nominations, which shifted into high gear following last week’s elections, has caught the attention of councilmembers and the next mayor.
“There is a lot of concern on the part of the mayor-elect about this,” says a Williams staffer. “He has talked to the council chair and members of the council about his concerns.”
Last week, council chair Linda Cropp suggested that the council kill all of Barry’s nominations by withholding confirmation and let Williams make his own appointments. But Jarvis argued for acting on the nominations that Williams supports.
Many of Barry’s nominations, if not acted on by the council, will die when the current council term ends Jan. 2. But some, including nominations to the Convention Center Board and the Taxicab Commission, will automatically become effective before year’s end unless the council votes against confirming these appointments.
Lucille Knowles, Barry’s chief of boards and commissions, insists her boss does not have her burning the midnight oil to rush his nominees to the council. Knowles claims that Barry, off on another junket to West Africa, is acting responsibly because “appointments have to be made or these boards cannot function.”
She noted that former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly ignored her duties and failed to fill many of the 2,400 boards and commissions slots under the control of the mayor’s office, the majority of which don’t require council confirmation. After Barry succeeded Kelly in January 1995, Knowles says “it took us almost two years to get these boards appointed up.” The lack of quorums on some boards, she adds, jeopardized federal funds available to the city.
A showdown between Barry and Williams could come over who gets to pick the mayor’s appointments to the new Sentencing Commission and the National Capital Revitalization Commission created as part of President Clinton’s 1997 financial rescue of the District.
Barry may want to appoint himself to these panels, even though the sinecures won’t get him free tickets to the Bulls-Wizards games. At least he’ll still get to go to the White House after he’s no longer Mayor-for-Life.
•Georgetown bar and restaurant owners recently got a taste of police tactics usually reserved for drug stings, and the M Street and Wisconsin Avenue businessmen are still spitting mad over their brush with the law. The undercover operations in September and October netted nearly 57 arrests for underage drinking and selling liquor to minors without checking IDs. The arrests included a bartender and Potomac Liquors owner Steve Feldman, who later had the charges against him dropped, but not before spending six hours in central lockup.
The business owners cried foul over police methods of arresting and handcuffing offenders on the spot. “It drives away business when police officers storm into your place and start arresting people right in front of other customers,” noted an M Street restaurant manager.
Some of the victimized Georgetown nightspot operators also claimed undercover officers entered with women who looked older than they were, or who were known to bartenders as prior customers who had produced IDs showing they were at least 21, the legal drinking age in the District.
In the case of Potomac Liquors, Feldman said an undercover officer came in at closing time, accompanied by a woman who looked “at least 25,” and, in the last-minute rush of customers, he admits he failed to check her ID. “I figured there was no way this girl was under 21,” said Feldman.
Second District Police Lt. Pat Burke, in charge of the liquor sting, denies any attempts to deceive liquor sellers. He says the sting used American University students who “obviously looked young and hadn’t been down on M Street before.” He also says that the operation hit nearly every night spot in Georgetown popular among college students and didn’t target any particular place. As proof, Burke cites an arrest made at Fresh Fields grocery after a minor purchased beer there using a false ID.
Nervous nightspot owners will be relieved to know that the operation is not ongoing. Burke said he was able to conduct the sting using unspent money from the Metropolitan Police Department’s overtime budget, but that the money ran out on Halloween Eve, when the last arrests were made.
•Chief Management Officer (CMO) Camille Cates Barnett ranks among the biggest losers in last week’s elections. Not only is Barnett getting a new mayor and boss in Tony Williams, who doesn’t have a high opinion of her job performance, the city’s first CMO lost her biggest protector, Sen. Lauch Faircloth, who fell to the nationwide repudiation of GOP politics on Nov. 3.
Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.), who may hang onto his chairmanship of the House D.C. appropriations subcommittee in the next Congress, doesn’t share his defeated North Carolina colleague’s high regard for Barnett. Taylor has set the General Accounting Office loose on Barnett’s office and would relish a good reason to get rid of her. Congressional sources say Rep. Tom Davis, chair of the House D.C. subcommittee, has also lost respect for the CMO.
Barnett has recently irritated control board staffers by pushing for her office to be put under the control of the next mayor. Control board chair Alice Rivlin has planned for months to restore powers to the new mayor, and many see Barnett’s posturing as an attempt to claim credit for an idea she knew was inevitable.
•Despite their drubbings in this year’s mayoral contest, Ward 2 Councilmember Evans, At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil, and Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous are already sounding like candidates for re-election to their council seats in two years. Brazil has asked for the resignation of his entire council staff in an effort to make his council office more responsive to constituents.
One source close to Brazil claims he can’t afford to leave public office because his law practice fell apart during his less-than-mediocre mayoral campaign, and he needs the $80,000 annual council salary to live on.
Evans said this week he intends to seek another term, and Chavous has given no indication of quitting, despite his bitter loss to Williams.
Even Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis, president of Southeastern University, denied reports she plans to leave in two years and will promote her son for the job. “I assure you my son has no interest in the Ward 4 seat,” Jarvis told LL this week. “I love the work I’m doing in the ward, and I wish to continue doing it.”
Many Ward 4 voters might wonder just what Jarvis is referring to, considering the condition of Georgia Avenue and other dilapidated commercial strips in her jurisdiction.CP
Got a tip for Loose Lips? Call (202) 332-2100, Ext. 302, 24 hours a day. And visit Loose Lips on the Web at www.washingtoncitypaper.com.