Charles Ramsey, chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), vows to break the bond between his department and the city’s liquor industry, which provides jobs to at least 200 off-duty officers. But the chief may have to institute his own 12-step program to get his foot soldiers to go cold turkey.
Step No. 1 would require a few dirty cops to stand before their fellow officers and admit: I am a police officer and I take payoffs from liquor stores.
Residents of the Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast can certainly attest to the need for Step No. 1. For years, they have complained to police about the loitering, drug dealing, and drinking outside Pete’s Market at Montello Avenue and Oates Street.
In July, two residents say, they saw a police officer on two occasions enter the corner store, go behind the meat counter, and pocket money handed him from the cash register by the store’s owner.
One of these residents, who asked not to be identified, told his story to investigators from MPD’s internal affairs division (IAD). He provided IAD with times and dates of the suspected payoffs and a detailed description of the officer pocketing the money.
Then he waited for the sting. And then he waited a little longer. Finally, a jump-out squad of officers hit the offending store a few days later, making a highly visible show of force and scaring off the drug dealers and loiterers. The squad made no arrests.
The jump-out episode angered those involved in forcing the IAD investigation. It was a signal that MPD would rather protect its own than protect its constituents.
“They get on the problem by scaring the lowlifes away rather than going after the corrupt cop,” says a member of the chief’s Citizens Advisory Council (CAC). “Maybe they wanted to give him a warning. From the information given, they clearly have to know who this officer is.”
“The ol’ boys in the department are still looking out for each other,” this source said. The accused officer has not been seen at the store since, according to the resident interviewed by IAD.
In discussions with CAC members, Ramsey at first dismissed the jump-out episode as merely a coincidence. After all, jump-outs are a common occurrence in the Montello Avenue drug corridor. But CAC members have since persuaded him that it could represent something much more sinister, and the chief has launched his own internal investigation, according to a CAC source.
Once Ramsey ferrets out under-the-counter money, he can start going after the legit money paid across the bar.
Judging from the logic of mayoral hopefuls Kevin Chavous, Harold Brazil, and Jack Evans, 82-year-old At-Large Statehood Councilmember Hilda Mason has a better claim to the mayor’s office than their opponent, front-runner Anthony Williams. Mason’s credentials? She has lived in the city for nearly 50 years.
And by that standard, former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Williams should be campaigning for nothing higher than advisory neighborhood commissioner. “Mr. Williams has impressive credentials. The difference is none of that was done in D.C.,” Evans claimed during a candidates forum last weekend, dismissing his rival’s achievements as a city official in St. Louis, Boston, and New Haven, and his tenure at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In other words, it’s more laudable to accomplish nothing in D.C. than to do something elsewhere.
Last Sunday’s long-awaited Washington Post poll results demonstrated how poorly that logic has played with District voters. All three councilmembers have been losing ground since the Post last polled in the spring. Chavous has slipped from 26 percent to 19 percent, and Evans and Brazil have sunk into single digits.
Voters just aren’t buying Ward 7 Councilmember Chavous’ hard-sell argument that his stewardship of the council’s Education Committee is turning the schools around. They don’t accept At-Large Councilmember Brazil’s boast that his lone council votes against spendthrift budgets and taxes add up to leadership.
And voters don’t regard Ward 2 Councilmember Evans’ stewardship of MPD as proof of his political savvy, particularly since his reform effort is stuck in first gear.
But LL thinks the three councilmembers deserve a little sympathy here. After all, they face a much tougher sell than Williams, whose feats as the city’s first CFO have voters excited about exercising their limited democratic rights.
The three mosquitoes must convince voters that Williams deserves none of the credit he is given for balancing the city’s budget and reaping huge surpluses, getting tax refund checks out within weeks instead of months, and bringing order to the chronically chaotic and mismanaged Department of Finance and Revenue.
“Make no mistake. Mr. Williams didn’t balance the budget; the council did that,” Chavous said with a straight face during last Sunday’s appearance by the four contenders, plus restaurateur Jeffrey Gildenhorn, on WRC-TV Channel 4’s Viewpoint program.
But Chavous, Evans, and Brazil, once leaders of the reformist “Young Turks” on the council, can’t even agree on who gets to claim credit for the surplus.
During that same program, Evans pointed out that Chavous and Brazil voted against President Bill Clinton’s D.C. rescue package, which accounts for $201 million of the city’s current $350 million surplus.
Chavous claims last spring’s increase in student test scores resulted “largely from my prodding.” During the Aug. 20 televised debate on D.C. Cable Channel 16, he was even more shameless, taking full credit for the upswing. Perhaps Chavous could also “prod” the prostitutes out of Logan Circle, the drug dealers out of public housing, and the dysfunction out of the Department of Public Works.
When he’s not prodding the city back into shape, Chavous is blaming others for ruining it. For example, don’t saddle him with the unexpected $62 million deficit that hit schools at the end of the last school year. “That’s Mr. Williams’ fault,” Chavous insists.
And don’t lay any of the blame for last year’s school-roof-repairs fiasco, school-closings battle, and the three-week delay in school openings at his Education Committee doorstep. Blame former schools chief Gen. Julius Becton and his right-hand man, Gen. Charles Williams, for those messes.
Chavous is claiming credit for everything and responsibility for nothing. Maybe he would be a fine choice in the tradition of the D.C. mayoralty. Both sides of his mouth seemed to be in fine form as he pledged to bring good management to District government and “fire incompetent managers.” In the next breath, Chavous turns and points an accusing finger at Williams for actually firing 232 D.C. employees while CFO.
D.C. employees, whose unions have endorsed Chavous, get the message: Like former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, who swept into the mayor’s office eight years ago on a pledge to fire 2,000 managers, Chavous doesn’t really mean it. It’s just campaign rhetoric.
Evans, too, has a no-fault approach to his council career. After getting tagged on the campaign trail for his loyalty to blundering former MPD Chief Larry Soulsby, Evans has a new quip for the skeptics: “If you’re going to blame me for Soulsby, you’ve got to give me credit for Ramsey,” he implores audiences. “I hired Chief Ramsey.”
That scripted response leaves out a small detail: Evans favored New Orleans Police Chief Richard Pennington over Ramsey during the search for a new chief, until Pennington withdrew at the last minute. Even Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.) can stake a more credible claim to hiring Ramsey than Evans.
Faircloth, chair of the Senate’s D.C. appropriations subcommittee, forced Pennington’s withdrawal by threatening to take away local control over the police department if Pennington became chief. Faircloth viewed Pennington as part of the problem, since he was a member of the department’s old-boy network before heading to New Orleans earlier this decade.
Brazil also resists blame for the actions by D.C. officials earlier this decade that led to congressional imposition of the control board on the city. Rather than faulting him, Brazil thinks voters should be hoisting him upon their shoulders and parading him straight into the mayor’s office for casting the lone council vote against the budget in 1994, the last year the city had full control over its finances.
At the moment, the beefy candidate hasn’t attracted enough voters to be able to accomplish that feat, physically or electorally.
Gildenhorn, who has a lock on last place in the mayor’s race, constantly rankles Brazil, Evans, and Chavous by pointing out their lackluster council careers.
“You have politicians going back and forth here ‘It was you. It was he. It wasn’t me.’ It sounds like the Three Stooges,” the business owner said during last Sunday’s debate.
Gildenhorn had better hope he won’t need any favors from the District government. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which comes under the jurisdiction of Brazil’s council committee, might suddenly decide that its restaurant inspectors need to spend more time checking the hot dogs at Gildenhorn’s diner.
With their campaigns approaching desperation points, the three mosquitoes have been searching for the silver bullet that will send Williams to his political grave. The campaigns have wasted considerable time trying to chase rumors that Williams received a dishonorable discharge from the Air Force in 1974.
Had they been more diligent readers of this paper, they would have known that Williams got out after three years by claiming conscientious-objector status, and not because he asked, or told. Former Washington City Paper reporter John Cloud obtained copies of Williams’ discharge papers for his July 1996 profile, and nothing was blacked out, as the current rumor mill contends.
The most widely circulated rumor has Williams jumping into the mayor’s race just as he was about to be fired by new control board chair Alice Rivlin because she didn’t view him as a friend of home rule. Rivlin has been refuting that rumor to reporters lately.
But the rumor the Brazil camp would like to nail down is that former Barry administration official and convicted city funds thief Ivanhoe Donaldson sneaks into Williams’ campaign headquarters nightly. There, rumor has it, Donaldson consults by phone with Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. to plot a get-out-the-vote strategy for the candidate.
Donaldson has attended several meetings where Williams has spoken, but he has not been spotted at campaign headquarters and is not a campaign worker, Williams campaign officials say.
In one form or another, the three mosquitoes will give flight to those and other rumors as their campaigns wind down. And they’ll have a tough time changing the minds of their target audience.
“He seems capable,” retired postal worker John Hart said of Williams last Saturday at Fire Station No. 22 on upper Georgia Avenue.
Williams the politician may be a mystery to Hart and the rest of District voters, but most seem content to cast their lot with the devil they don’t know.