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During her four terms as the city’s watchdog on Capitol Hill, D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has stuck to her policy forbidding D.C. residents “two bites of the apple.” That’s Norton’s term for refusing to let her constituents come to Congress seeking redress after they have lost battles with the District government.
Norton has decided that citizen forays on the Hill violate home rule and trample on local democracy.
Beth Solomon and the small, ragtag group who are still fighting the new convention center’s location at Mount Vernon Square claim they were unaware they’d lost their right to petition Congress when they carried their losing battle to Capitol Hill two weeks ago. After failing to block the controversial $650 million project during a stormy D.C. Council session last month, Solomon sought help from U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who chairs the House Oversight Committee’s subcommittee on District affairs.
But Davis supports the convention center as proposed, in no small part because District taxpayers will foot the bill for a new convention center that will clearly benefit his Northern Virginia constituents.
Solomon claims that Davis had agreed to let opponents testify at the July 15 hearing on the rising costs of the project, but then had a change of heart. A staffer informed her five days prior to the hearing that she first had to get Norton’s approval. That’s like telling her she had to swim the Potomac handcuffed and blindfolded.
When Solomon contacted Norton’s office July 10 seeking permission to try to throw another bomb at the project before Davis’ subcommittee, Norton aide Donna Brazile exploded.
“We’ve never allowed District residents to come testify after the bill passed the council,” Brazile said later. “I told Beth, ‘You want us to become Lauch Faircloth,’” referring to the crusty North Carolina Republican senator’s notorious penchant for overruling decisions made by duly elected District officials.
Solomon was unimpressed by Brazile’s home rule tirade, and last week, she and some 15 allies stormed Norton’s office on July 14, Bastille Day, to confront the delegate over her refusal to let them testify before Davis’ subcommittee.
Solomon said Norton had aided and abetted the dreaded Mount Vernon Square project by obtaining federal funds for a Metro station that put the new convention center on the fast track.
“We don’t need a paid representative in Congress to restrict our access to democracy,” Solomon said this week. “I think that’s hypocritical.”
After an hour of shouts and insults, Norton left, and the group staged a sit-in, quickly making signs condemning the delegate and waving them before TV cameras. Sensing that the demonstrators hoped to get arrested to revive their dying cause, Brazile kept Capitol Hill police officers at bay for another hour, until the demonstrators finally dispersed. Solomon and her cohorts may have gotten a little air time, but her arguments never made it before Davis’ committee.
“She played it all wrong,” Brazile said afterward. “Beth wanted to be a martyr, and we didn’t make her one.”
There may have been a paradigm shift in District politics, but when it comes to getting on the D.C. government gravy train, who you know is still much more important than what you know.
During the D.C. financial control board’s first three years of existence, board watchers decried the multi-million-dollar consulting contracts flowing to KPMG Peat Marwick as a sign that the government-by-cronyism of Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. was continuing with a new set of cronies. Control board Vice Chairman Stephen Harlan previously had worked for Peat Marwick, and although Harlan recused himself on all decisions involving his former firm, that didn’t stem the flow of dollars to the consultant.
Now that Harlan is expected to leave the board as soon as President Clinton settles on his replacement, board critics claim a new species of cronyism may be emerging. They point to the recent $215,000 contract awarded to the law firm of Arnold & Porter to draft regulations for implementing regulatory reforms and streamlining the business licensing and permit process. (Sources suggest there will be more, a lot more, where that came from.) Arnold & Porter is the former law firm of board counsel Dan Reznick, who resigned his partnership to take the control board job three years ago. Reznick recused himself from the control board’s deliberations that led to the award to Arnold & Porter, but there has still been much grumbling among the also-rans that the deal was wired from the start.
The firm beat out Holland & Knight, which earlier this year got an $800,000 contract to study regulatory reform and draft the proposals Arnold & Porter lawyers now will write regulations to implement. The Holland & Knight team bidding on the latest contract included Doug Patton, who headed up the mayor’s regulatory reform commission last year. Many of the proposals Holland & Knight adopted in its earlier study came out of the Patton commission’s report, so its bid was powered by a lot of recent history and expertise.
“I’m surprised [Arnold & Porter] were even in the hunt,” says a losing bidder. “They don’t have a track record in this area.”
Arnold & Porter also beat out the law firm of Wilkes, Artis, Hedrick & Lane, which for years had a lock on all zoning matters coming out of the mayor’s office and city agencies. Wilkes, Artis maintained its supremacy over the years by regularly hiring former city zoning regulators and lawyers from the Office of Corporation Counsel.
Seems like Arnold & Porter caught on to the secret of Wilkes, Artis’ success: Last year, Arnold & Porter lured Nate Gross away from the city’s Office of Planning, and Peter Szegedy-Maszak from his job as assistant corporation counsel. The move seemed to pay quick dividends when the six-figure contract for implementing zoning and regulatory reform came down the pike.
“There’s absolutely nobody in the city who has written as many zoning regulations as I have. Nobody even close,” explains Gross, responding to criticism that his firm received favorable treatment.
“Maybe that’s why [current D.C. regs] are all messed up,” quipped one of the losing bidders, adding, “They didn’t give this thing to them because of Nate Gross.”
But others say the reaction from the losers is just the sourest of grapes. Control Board Executive Director John Hill points out that Arnold & Porter was the low bidder, as well. And after all, the board tossed a few crumbs to Wilkes, Artis, giving the firm $130,000 worth of business on the contract. Holland and Knight got even less, only $90,000 worth of business.
When Federal Reserve Vice Chair Alice Rivlin takes the control board reins in September, she may bring in her own set of pals. The board could be even more dependent on outside contractors in the Rivlin era, since she wants to shrink the board’s staff to around 15 and move to One Judiciary Square after the mayoral elections. Hill will be among those making the move with Rivlin; his tenure seems to be secure under the new chairwoman.
Labor leaders, meanwhile, are more worried about keeping a union supporter on the board than they are about the board’s contracting procedures. Unable to convince current control board member Constance Newman to accept appointment to a second term on the city’s ruling body, local labor leaders have been lobbying to get former Public Service Commission Chair Patricia Worthy put on the board.
Worthy received favorable reviews from union leaders during her last stint in government, when she served as chief of staff to former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. The time she spent cleaning up after Kelly’s wayward broom may have impressed unionists, but any association with the failed Kelly administration should be enough to disqualify Worthy from consideration by the White House.
At-large D.C. Council candidate Phil Mendelson touts his leadership role at McLean Gardens, and his involvement in the 1970s successful struggle by tenants to purchase the sprawling Ward 3 complex, as proof of his skills as “a coalition builder.” But Mendelson now needs to display some skills at coalition mending among his alienated colleagues on the nine-member McLean Gardens condo board.
Board members are upset that the candidate, or one of his supporters, gained access to the condo’s 31 buildings to put up posters touting a recent “meet and greet” for Mendelson hosted by a fellow board member. Board members are forbidden from having master keys, which allow entry not only into each building, but also into each of the 720 privately owned condos.
The issue came up at the July 15 condo board meeting, and Mendelson didn’t win any converts with his defense that he didn’t know how his campaign posters got placed in the stairwells of each building. “The board was concerned about how the posters were put up,” Mendelson said this week. “I don’t know how they got put up. I didn’t put them up.”
Unconvinced, board members gave Mendelson until this week to come up with a more believable explanation. On Monday, he had campaign supporter Andy Vogt contact the board and ‘fess up to placing the posters in each building, along with turning in a master key that he mysteriously possessed. But that move may not calm jittery board members. The sensitive issue is expected to come up again at this week’s meeting.
“It’s a minor issue,” Mendelson insists, maintaining he is in no danger of losing his condo board seat. He views the whole furor as an effort to embarrass him politically.
Mendelson is enjoying better success at coalition building among the District’s labor unions. Last week, he picked up the coveted endorsement from the Metropolitan Washington Labor Council in the crowded Democratic primary for an at-large council seat.
The D.C. Democratic party has re-ignited its 25-year war against provisions of the home rule charter that reserve two of the four at-large council seats for non-Democrats. Congress imposed these restrictions to encourage the growth of minority parties, including the Republican party, in the Democrat-dominated District. But local Democratic leaders, perhaps chagrined by Republican councilmember David Catania’s surprise triumph in the at-large special election, want to have a shot at all 13 council seats. The party currently holds 10 council seats, but only one of the four at-large seats, one less than it is entitled to under the charter.
Under the charter, any political party is barred from nominating more than one candidate when two at-large seats are on the ballot. Last week, the D.C. Democratic State Committee filed suit in U.S. District Court seeking to overturn this restriction as unconstitutional.
Democratic Party General Counsel Don Dinan argues that all political parties have a constitutional right to nominate candidates equal to the number of council seats on the ballot. He has asked for an injunction blocking the D.C. Board of Elections from printing the Sept. 15 primary ballots until the issue is resolved.
Longshot mayoral contender Jeffrey “I-am-not-a-politician” Gildenhorn pulled off a coup last week. While his rivals clashed before some 300 District voters in the Shaw community at a forum sponsored by the United House of Prayer, Gildenhorn had 150 seniors all to himself at a Ward 3 forum sponsored by the Freedom Terrace senior housing complex.
By the time mayoral candidates Jack Evans, Harold Brazil, Tony Williams, and Kevin Chavous arrived nearly 90 minutes late from the Shaw forum, Gildenhorn and moderator Eva Woodson had worked the audience into such a frenzy that they soundly booed each candidate upon his entrance. That is, at least the few dozen still remaining at that time did. Most had left by then, and some of those remaining pointedly walked out as the main contenders entered.
“They were really steamed,” Gildenhorn said gleefully.
The United House of Prayer forum had been scheduled before Freedom Terrace residents decided to hold theirs. Evans, Brazil, Williams, and Chavous had promised to show up as soon as the other forum was finished, but that detail was never conveyed to the miffed seniors.
Instead, Woodson assured them that all candidates had promised to attend on time.
Gildenhorn’s controversial proposal last week to legalize prostitution in D.C. as a way to clean up and control the city’s flourishing flesh trade apparently wasn’t on the seniors’ minds. “They’re too old to talk about that,” said the 55-year-old restaurateur, who is still sore at LL for once describing him as elderly. Instead, the seniors wanted to talk about gun control, crime, and public safety issues, and Gildenhorn gladly obliged without interruption or challenges from his missing rivals.
Gildenhorn’s free ride didn’t go beyond the forum. Police Chief Charles Ramsey joined the fray this week, telling johns to “go to Vegas,” where prostitution is legal.
“That’s ridiculous,” Gildenhorn responded. “It costs $2,500 to go there for 30 minutes of enjoyment. Who’s going to pay that?”CP
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