In the summerlong mayoral Democratic primary, candidate Anthony Williams milked his endorsers for everything they were worth. He roved east of the river with boxing promoter Rock Newman in a shiny red Corvette convertible, appeared at a packed church service with Union Temple Baptist Church’s the Rev. Willie Wilson, and greeted the lunch crowd at Georgia Brown’s with first lady Cora Masters Lady MacBarry.
Perhaps sensing that the public is tired of the same old chauffeurs, Williams on Monday trotted out some fresh faces at a press conference.
“You’re going to see probably the greatest turnaround in the performance of municipal government in the last 20 years in the United States,” said Williams supporter Ralph Nader.
Amid that kind of fanfare, Williams signed a pledge that his administration would be open and accountable, setting the highest standards for integrity. “I envision an administration under which our citizens no longer have to fight city hall,” Williams declared during the Monday event. “Citizens will be able to put their confidence and trust in city hall.”
Anyone who witnessed the event’s hyperbole and gimmickry might have detected a confidence deficit in the Williams campaign. Most Democratic voters in last month’s primary backed Williams, and rejected three veteran councilmembers as a tether to a disgraced past, because they believed he already stood for the goals he pledged allegiance to outside the Reeves Municipal Center this week. The media event had the look and feel of a defensive candidate trying to shore up his core support for the final two weeks of the campaign and convince shaky voters that he really will do what he says.
“That’s not fair,” Williams said in response to a query from LL. “Part of a campaign is repeating the message.”
That’s true. And the message that Williams managed to repeat on Monday was that he’s an out-of-stater with shallow local ties. The candidate surrounded himself with relics from his Connecticut days as a New Haven city councilman, including Nader, who lives in D.C. but still votes in his home state of Connecticut, and former Connecticut Rep. John Monagan, who, like many former congressmen, took up D.C. residence after retiring from Congress.
D.C. government watchdog Dorothy Brizill insisted she was participating in the event not as a Williams supporter but as “a witness” to his pledge to end cronyism and bring sunshine into the netherworld of District government.
She was one of several activists who signed the pact as witnesses after the candidate inked his pledge.
“Too often, the fix has been in and the deal has been made behind closed doors,” Brizill told reporters. “Too often, we have had to beg and demand that government officials provide us with information. Too often, we have been denied that information.
“Today, Anthony Williams has pledged that he will institute a number of specific reforms to end those abuses, if he is elected as mayor,” she noted.
If he succeeds, he’ll make the crotchety Nader a happier man. The vaunted consumer advocate noted that an intern in his office made 33 phone calls to D.C. agencies in an unsuccessful effort to get his pothole problem addressed. Imagine his distress. Faced with such pervasive put-offs by D.C. employees, Nader said city residents have given up trying to hold their government accountable.
During the news conference, Williams campaign officials Marie Drissel and Paul Savage, two of the original leaders of the draft-Williams movement, announced that they will reorganize the draft committee to serve as a Williams watchdog group that will periodically grade the next mayor on his performance. Williams couldn’t ask for more lenient judges than his campaign treasurer and one of his dearest political advisers.
Despite the defensive air of Monday’s event, the Williams campaign will crush Republican rival Carol Schwartz on Nov. 3. Internal campaign polling shows Williams leading Schwartz 2-1, a figure that seems to have spurred Williams to work even harder to turn out his vote on Election Day in hopes of forging a mandate.
Discarding his early aloofness on the campaign trail, the candidate now glad-hands everyone in sight and maintains eye contact. His newly honed candidate skills were on display at a Pennsylvania Avenue NW rooftop fundraiser this past Monday as he noshed and gabbed with bankers, developers, and real estate lawyers who claim the lion’s share of credit for the redevelopment of downtown. Part of the reason that Williams found nothing but hugs and kisses in the roomful of industrial captains probably has something to do with his retreat on the gross receipts issue, a measure that’s anathema for business.
The mayor-in-waiting got a big lift last weekend when Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. escorted him through Wards 7 and 8, where Williams had received his lowest primary vote totals. With Barry at his side, the candidate got a much warmer reception, especially from black males, many of whom asked for his autograph as though he were Mike Tyson on the comeback trail.
“He took a lot of hits in the primary, and when you take a lot of hits and show strength, they admire you,” notes top Williams campaign strategist Cheryl Benton.
Benton, however, admits that black women haven’t warmed up as quickly to Williams, who suffers from acute cold-fish syndrome. Both candidates are targeting women voters during the final days of the campaign. In addition, Schwartz, who has done no polling, is hoping for a huge “hidden vote,” especially among black Democrats on the city’s east side, where she is better known than Williams. The Schwartz campaign has declined to reveal whether this hidden constituency is the same block that vanquished Democratic hopeful Harold Brazil was counting on in the primary.
The GOP contender picked up a key endorsement last week from the Missionary Baptist Ministers Conference, which represents some 400 metropolitan-area churches.
“Williams, as chief financial officer, was just as autocratic in many ways as [former financial control board chairman] Andrew Brimmer,” says Plymouth Congregational Church Minister Graylan Ellis-Hagler, a staunch home rule defender who is backing Schwartz.
“I’m fearful that, if elected, Williams would not necessarily be that accountable to the voters,” the minister adds.
But the Schwartz campaign appears to be repeating the mistake of Williams’ primary opponents, relying on endorsements and framing Williams as a Johnny-come-lately.
“They don’t know who has moved into this town,” observes a key Williams campaign official. “We see them down at the campaign office. They are totally new voters who don’t care about Schwartz and don’t know her.”
“But they do know that they got their tax refunds on time,” this official adds, pointing to one of Williams’ most acclaimed accomplishments as chief financial officer.
And these new voters are not going to be impressed with Schwartz’s plea to the electorate: “In your heart, you know it’s my turn.”
D.C. Councilmembers Brazil, Kevin Chavous, and Jack Evans also told Williams during the heated Democratic primary that he needed to go to the back of the line and pay his political dues before running for mayor in D.C.
If only politics operated by the same rules as the deli counter.
•Who says a Barry endorsement still doesn’t carry some punch?
After Hizzoner and Hizzallies gathered last week to endorse Umoja Party founder Mark Thompson in the race for two at-large D.C. Council seats, Thompson was stung by revelations that he hasn’t paid D.C. or federal income taxes for the past six years. The biting article in last Sunday’s Washington Post also detailed Thompson’s conviction for beating his wife and his failure to pay child support, and Barry’s rejection of pleas that he not condone such conduct by backing his volatile protégé.
Some observers believe Thompson, considered a long shot in the field of seven contending for the at-large seats, might have escaped these revelations had Barry & Co. not raised his profile with last week’s event.
This week the Rev. Ellis-Hagler called on Thompson to drop out of the racea stunning appeal, considering that Ellis-Hagler and Thompson have stood shoulder to shoulder in home rule battles against the control board and Congress. But Ellis-Hagler has also been counseling Thompson’s abused wife and insists, “This is very much the wrong image to be sending to women.”
“Citizens are very tired of anything goes, that you can be irresponsible, not have things together, and still run for office,” says Ellis-Hagler.
Nor is Ellis-Hagler impressed by Thompson’s defense that he refused to pay income taxes in protest of the District’s lack of full voting rights in Congress.
“That demeans legitimate protest,” the fiery minister declared. “You make the statement up front what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. You don’t come six years afterwards and quietly say it.”
Ellis-Hagler’s desertion of Thompson is significant because the minister was one of the first civic leaders to raise concerns about the council’s possible switch to a white majority for the first time since home rule. White Democratic nominee Phil Mendelson and Republican at-large incumbent David Catania are considered the front-runners for the two at-large seats up for grabs, and Thompson supporters were hoping to rally voters with calls to elect him and preserve the black majority.
But Ellis-Hagler says he is no longer that concerned about the racial makeup of the next council.
“I don’t put all that weight on whether it’s a majority-black council or not as long as it’s legitimate leadership,” he says.
Thompson is following in a long line of D.C. tax dodgers who have used the “no taxation without representation” defense to excuse their aversion to the 1040.
Charles Moreland won election twice as the city’s first U.S. shadow-representative/statehood lobbyist despite revelations that he had failed to pay local or federal taxes for several years. Moreland defused voter anger by claiming he was a tax protester.
Voters rallied around D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton eight years ago following disclosures two weeks before her first primary election that she and her husband had failed to pay their taxes for seven years. And Sterling Tucker, who became the District’s first elected council chairman, had to be pardoned for tax evasion by President Lyndon Johnson before he could be appointed to the first D.C. Council in 1967.
Frank Reeves, whose name appears on the municipal center at 14th and U Streets NW, was also convicted of failing to pay federal taxes for 12 years.
•Retiring at-large school board member
Jay Silberman hotly denied statements by a control board official in last week’s column that negotiations to transfer power back to the elected school board broke down earlier this year after he and other board representatives sought the return of lost perks. Silberman, who is quitting after two terms on the board, said negotiations never got under way and insists the issue of restoring perks never came up in the few discussions that took place. A control board source said this week that Silberman “doesn’t know what’s going on” and that negotiations are nearing a breakthrough.
The control board, the council, and Congress took away the school board’s city-owned cars, slashed salaries, and cut staff two years ago, shortly before the control board stripped the elected board members of most of their powers.
Silberman said former control board member Joyce Ladner and current control board Vice Chair Constance Newman never responded to a proposal he and other board members put forth last winter to transfer power back as a way to entice good school board candidates this fall. He says current board Chair Alice Rivlin also failed to respond to the proposal, despite her express intent to return power to locally elected officials as soon as possible.
At this point, the control board and the school board, which have been battling in court since the control board’s November 1996 coup, can’t even agree on what was put forth by each side during last winter’s meetings.
Perhaps they can agree that they’ve both done a miserable job of fixing the city’s schools. #CP
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