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D.C. pols may know how to live it up while in office, but Election Day is, apparently, another story: Primary night in the District this past Tuesday was about as upbeat as a postgame Washington Redskins locker room. Supporters of victors and vanquished alike downed cash-bar drinks, sweated, and headed for the exits.
From his election night headquarters at the Washington Hilton, Democratic primary winner Anthony Williams did little to shed his image as a stiff technocrat. The mood was all business, despite a stunning, three-month blitzkrieg campaign that altered the city’s political landscape. Speaker after speaker, including the candidate, reminded the packed ballroom crowd of the difficult task ahead: beating At-Large Republican Councilmember Carol Schwartz in November.
Schwartz supporters were taking that task even more seriously, bagging the celebration to festoon Massachusetts Avenue with campaign posters. The two-time mayoral contender jumped into the fray the next morning, during a joint TV appearance with Williams. “I know my way around this city. I don’t need Rock Newman to drive me through public housing,” Schwartz jabbed, referring to the boxing promoter who served as Williams’ political chauffeur.
Elsewhere Tuesday night, Phil Mendelson, victorious in the Democratic primary for an at-large D.C. Council seat, shut down his celebration before 11 p.m., heading over to the Williams party to glad-hand with the new regime. Jim Graham, who ended the 16-year reign of Ward 1 Councilmember Frank Smith, went home before midnight. And Vincent Orange, who pulled off the biggest upset of the night in defeating Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Sr., could not be found.
After basking in her primary success, Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose made the rounds to offer her congrats to Tuesday’s other winners. Finding few, she gave up and went home.
The evening’s most shameless party pooper, however, was mayoral also-ran Kevin Chavous. Even though he was down by double digits in early vote counts, the Ward 7 councilmember declined to give a concession speechan event the city is still awaiting. Ignoring the message sent by half of the voters trudging to the polls primary day, Chavous dismissed Williams as “an over-hyped media creation.” Chavous said he felt “empowered” by his showing and claimed the mantle of Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. as spokesman for the poor and disenfranchised.
But most of those voters snubbed Chavous on primary day and stayed home, sending a clear message to their new, self-appointed spokesman that he still must earn the right to that mantle. Chavous and his chief adviser, former Metropolitan Police Department Chief Isaac Fulwood, also ignored another clear message sent by one out of every two voters punching ballots on Tuesday: It’s not how long you’ve been in the District, but what you do while you’re here that matters most.
And a majority of voters embraced Williams’ approach to restoring self-government by commanding the respect of Congress and the nation, rather than Chavous’ time-worn tactic of posturing and protesting. “Tony is the only candidate with the credibility to go to Congress and say, ‘Give us our city back. Let us run our own city,’” Williams supporter Ron Linton observed Tuesday night.
Williams may have won, but his campaign hasn’t done much to re-stitch D.C.’s frayed political fabric. The sour primary-night mood and the 59,000-vote drop-off from the 1994 mayoral primary reflect the deep despair within the city’s electorate. One-fourth of that drop occurred among the middle-class voters of Wards 4 and 5, where the decline totaled more than 15,000. Ward 8 suffered the biggest drop, percentage-wise: Tuesday’s turnout fell by 60 percent from four years ago. On Chavous’ home turf in Ward 7, some 7,700 1994 voters stayed away from the polls, translating into a 40 percent decline in voter participation. Williams fund-raiser Max Berry pointed out that voter apathy also spread to Maryland and other states this past Tuesday. “We didn’t get a great vote today,” Berry reminded the Hilton ballroom crowd.
“Our job in November is to turn people back on to the District of Columbia and our political system,” Berry concluded. That may be a much more difficult task than beating Schwartz.
•After crotchety Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas in July bumped the car of Department of Public Works (DPW) employee Katina Robinson and kept on going, DPW officials rushed to his rescue. DPW Director Cell Bernardino and his deputy, Art Lawson, dug into their own pockets to come up with $36enough to cover the difference between Robinson’s repair estimate and the $300 Thomas was willing to pay.
It was the least DPW’s brass could do for Thomas, who chairs the D.C. Council’s public works committee. After all, the 77-year-old Thomas said he couldn’t recall hitting Robinson’s car, and she was threatening to file hit-and-run charges with the police.
Now Bernardino and Lawson may have to pony up the full price for the repairs to save Thomas from further embarrassment. Industrial Bank of Washington refused to cash the $300 check Robinson received from the stubborn Thomas last month. According to Robinson, bank officials said the signature on the check did not match the signature on file at the bank for the councilmember.
And Thomas refused to issue Robinson another check. Instead, he gave her the brush-off by having one of his staffers tell her to try cashing the check at another Industrial Bank branch. Robinson said the check was stamped “refused” after she presented it at the bank’s branch in the Reeves Municipal Center and couldn’t be cashed anywhere.
Perhaps the councilmember will have to switch to the Economic Development Committee, which holds sway over the banking industry.
Fed up with trying to negotiate with Thomas, Robinson has filed a lawsuit against him in D.C. Superior Small Claims Court. The case is set to be heard Sept. 28. “This is pretty pathetic,” she said this week.
This time, her superiors at DPW haven’t even bothered to try to mediate the dispute.
•When the nascent Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID) this year began looking to hire a contractor for its street-cleaning program, the Doe Fund, a New York-based nonprofit, appeared the logical choice. Doe, after all, had submitted the lowest bid, according to Doe Vice President Harriet Karr-McDonald, and had been cleaning Georgetown streets and sidewalks free of charge for nearly three years. And when Georgetown businesses earlier this year needed to demonstrate that a BID could benefit the community, the consortium had persuaded Doe to expand its maintenance program from five to seven days a week and provided $12,000 to defray some of the costs for the three-month experiment.
Those credentials, however, failed to impress BID official T. John Steffan and his committee, which recommended awarding the quarter-million-dollar contract to Virginia-based Unicco Service Co., a nationwide firm that cleans office buildings.
What could possibly have disqualified Doe? Hint: It employs homeless people to clean the streets, and Steffan believes that Unicco employees present a better image for Georgetown, according to sources familiar with the recommendation. “That’s [Karr-McDonald’s] opinion,” Steffan notes. “Never was that said.”
Instead, Steffan claims he “tried to marry a business decision and a social decision” by persuading Unicco to give a small piece of the contract to Doe. He also claims that Unicco agreed to hire Doe employees after training. Karr-McDonald, however, rejected the offer.
In a Sept. 11 letter to the Georgetown BID’s board of directors, Karr-McDonald took issue with Steffan’s recommendation. “Today, when there is finally money to support the work we have done for so long for free, we are told that someone else has been selected to be paid for this work….We are told that a ‘professional cleaning company’ is being selected.”
Karr-McDonald argued that Doe’s street-cleaning division, known as the “Ready, Willing & Able” program, is the nation’s largest street cleaning concern, “with more than 500 blocks cleaned in Washington, D.C., and New York City daily.”
Unicco Services Company, she noted, “has no experience cleaning urban streets and sidewalks.”
But the commercial cleaning company has plenty of experience cleaning Georgetown Park Mall, which Steffan manages.
The dispute is threatening to split the business community, whose support is crucial to the future of the Georgetown BID. The Doe Fund’s activities have drawn plaudits from neighborhood heavyweights like Georgetown University, Clyde’s restaurant, and the Georgetowner newspaper.
“The BIDs have been so terrifically successful, and then the first thing they do here is stub their toe,” laments a Georgetown businessman.
Ward 1 Councilmember Frank Smith, chair of the D.C. Council’s powerful Finance and Revenue Committee, likes to take credit for the District’s dramatic financial comeback. On the campaign trail, the embattled Smith has been shamelessly telling voters he deserves praise for the current budget surpluses because his committee has oversight powers over the city’s chief financial officer (CFO), the office credited with producing those surpluses.
Smith’s ludicrous claim infuriated former CFO Anthony Williams to the point that Williams endorsed Smith’s primary opponent, Jim Graham.
Smith certainly wouldn’t have wanted voters to gauge his fiscal savvy by the way he ran this year’s re-election campaign. After squandering nearly $100,000, the Smith cause ran out of money one month prior to this week’s primary, with bills still pouring in.
The campaign cash dried up just as Smith was scheduled to hit the airwaves with three weeks of radio ads touting his “proven leadership for challenging times.” As a result, Graham had the airwaves all to himself in the closing days of the primary campaign.
Not only did the Smith campaign have to cancel $30,000 of air time and print space reserved for the ads produced by Tuesday Solutions media consulting firm, but the candidate also stiffed the firm for nearly $5,000 in costs for producing the radio spots. According to a company official, Smith tried in vain to convince Tuesday Solutions to hand over the finished ads for free, after his cash ran out. At that point, the councilmember was hoping to get businesses in his ward to underwrite the cost of airing the ads. He failed to find a supporter to pick up this tab.
The first ad, scheduled for the third week in August, featured Ward 1 resident Catherine Hill delivering a testimonial about how Smith had focused community attention and police resources on the murder of her daughter on Princeton Place. The timing would have been perfect. That week, the Metropolitan Police Department announced it had charged a suspect with several of the Princeton Place murders, including the Hill case.
The second and third ads featured Ward 1 residents touting Smith’s record on preserving rent control and bringing economic development to the U Street corridor. The final ad featured the councilmember promoting his work on the African-American Civil War Memorial, unveiled this summer.
The only thing these unaired ads accomplished was to turn the owners and employees of Tuesday’s Solutions firmly against Smith.
“That’s not the kind of guy I want for my representative,” said one of the firm’s partners, who lives in the ward.
•At-Large Democratic Council candidate Phyllis Outlaw last week convinced D.C. election officials that she really is a resident of D.C., even though she owns a house in Silver Spring and annually claims a Montgomery County homestead exemption on the property. Neighbors have told LL they see Outlaw at the house almost nightly.
She claimed to LL that she uses the residence as her Maryland law office. Her law license renewal applications on file with the Maryland Bar don’t list a Maryland office, but list the house at 14712 Old Barn Court as her home. She has been licensed to practice law in Maryland since 1986 and in D.C. since 1980. She purchased the Silver Spring house in 1989.
Outlaw produced D.C. tax returns, a D.C. driver’s license, and a D.C. motor vehicle registration to convince Board of Elections and Ethics General Counsel Ken McGhie that she meets the board’s requirements for claiming residency at her mother’s house on Sheridan Street NW. She also produced a phone bill showing an unlisted number in her name at that address.
Since no one had officially filed a protest against Outlaw’s candidacyMcGhie requested the information after receiving an anonymous tipelection officials decided to leave the legitimacy of Outlaw’s homestead tax exemption to Montgomery County officials to decide.
•Mayoral contender Jack Evans looked as if he had just stolen the city’s top political prize following the Sept. 11 mayoral forum at Banneker Senior High School. Evans stomped front-runner Williams by a vote of 256 to 33 in a straw poll of Banneker students, most of whom were too young to cast another vote on Tuesday. He got a standing ovation after explaining why a white man could win election in and govern a majority black city.
“It was a Robert Kennedy-like moment,” a beaming Evans said afterward. “I haven’t had too many of those in this campaign.” CP
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