When he launched his mayoral bid on May 2 at the East of the River Shopping Center, Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous was looking to mount a show of force in his own back yard. While some 175 supporters politely applauded his proclamations, though, 70 or so of his constituents assembled in the Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter on the other side of Ward 7 to cheer on their Candidate X incarnate: Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Anthony Williams.
At the time, Chavous had little to fear from the cocksure bean counter. Williams, after all, had already disqualified himself from the race, and even his supporters suspected his candidacy would splinter the reform constituency and ensure the return of Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr.
All that changed last
Hizzoner’s announcement that he would not seek another term boosted the draft-Williams campaign, which is guided by onetime Chavous supporter Paul Savage and Ward 1 activist Marie Drissel.
While Williams has not yet acknowledged their efforts, his candidacy would spark renewed media interest in a drama that last week lost its leading player. With his nonstop metaphors and quick wit, the CFO would at least add some zip to a campaign that now has all the inspiration of a zoning board meeting.
The three announced candidatesChavous, At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil, and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evansare regarded as nonperformers on the D.C. Council, where they have served an average of six years. The political career of each seems to be guided by the same principle: If you encounter pesky constituents in your ward, get them off your back by running for citywide office.
Brazil did just that two years ago, heeding the advice of then-At-Large Independent Councilmember Bill Lightfoot, now Brazil’s campaign manager and law partner. Lightfoot reminded the second-term councilmember from Capitol Hill that citywide members of the council face fewer meetings and annoying constituents than ward reps do.
Brazil, irritated with angry Capitol Hill residents confronting him about crime and lack of services, switched to an at-large seat in 1996 and positioned himself to run for mayor this year without giving up his council job.
After Councilmember Sharon Ambrose succeeded Brazil in the Ward 6 seat last year, she was stunned when Ward 6 residents stopped to thank her for being out in the community working away on their problems. “They hadn’t seen that before. They were blown away,” says Ambrose, who has frequently feuded with her predecessor.
Chavous faces the same rap as Brazil. His Ward 7 constituents knock him for failing to back economic development projects such as the new Good Hope Marketplace on Alabama Avenue SE and redevelopment of the deteriorating Skyland Shopping Center.
“Instead of being perceived as proactive, oftentimes he’s seen as more reactive,” says Hillcrest advisory neighborhood commissioner Vincent Spaulding.
In Ward 2, Evans has made an overt gamble to propel his mayoral candidacy: stiffing neighborhood types in favor of contributions from merchants and developers. The strategy has allied Evans with developer Herb Miller in a Georgetown land-use dispute, the restaurant and hotel lobby in the convention center debate, and hostess extraordinaire H.H. Leonards in Dupont Circle’s defining row over liquor licenses. Evans will kick off his campaign this weekend.
Last week’s Washington Post poll anointed Chavous as the heir apparent to the Barry vote. Hizzoner’s exit, according to the poll, vaulted Chavous from third place to first in citywide support.
While Chavous may pick up a few Barry voters, Brazil appears to be picking up the best pieces of the Barry machine: former Barry political strategists Marshall Brown and Anita Bonds, veteran Barry fundraiser David Wilmot, and longtime Barry confidante Ivanhoe Donaldson, who will settle into his role as Brazil’s Dick Morris.
Chavous gets the Barry castoffs: Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen and political strategist Bob Bethea, who broke with the mayor following his 1994 campaign; and former D.C. Police Chief Ike Fulwood, who headed the Metropolitan Police Department during Barry’s 1990 cocaine bust.
Evans can take heart that he still has a shot at boxing promoter Rock Newman, the Rev. Willie Wilson of Union Temple Baptist Church, and dethroned Department of Human Services Director Vernon Hawkins.
STILL MAYOR FOR LIFE
With the news that Barry will turn out the lights at 1 Judiciary Square, LL keeps getting asked, “What are you going to call him now? Mayor for the Rest of the Year?”
No. He’s still Mayor-for-Life, and probably will be as long as the sweat pours from his brow. As Hizzoner warned us last week, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Perhaps Barry has signed up a new political adviser: Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Just because he won’t hold the title come January doesn’t mean that Barry won’t still try to run the city from the sidelines.
During his forced sabbatical following his 1990 misdemeanor cocaine conviction, Barry took a page from the book of notorious drug lord Rayful Edmond. From his jail cell, Barry called on his loyalists in the D.C. bureaucracy to stymie the reform efforts of Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly.
The cheering crowd of several hundred D.C. employees who packed the council chambers last week to witness Barry’s swan song demonstrated that his loyal allies remain.
Anyone who believes Hizzoner will be content in private life hasn’t been paying attention these past few weeks. Barry’s fondness for the media spotlight, the chauffeur-driven city limo, and all the other trappings of the mayor’s office was on display as he joyously manipulated the public’s obsession with his career plans for all the attention he could reap.
So LL will continue using our 11-year-old honorific title, although we may add another modifier or two, to make, perhaps, Mayor-for-Life-in-Exile. The title became acceptable among the media only after Barry’s performance in the January 1990 Vista video, which depicted him as a crack-smoking klutz fumbling with the button to his pants as he flirted with a seductress participating in an FBI sting.
Since then, “Mayor for Life” has entered the public domain and has been plagiarized by media personalities ranging from the Washington Post’s Tony Kornheiser to ABC’s Sam Donaldson.
LL can tolerate the intellectual property infringement as long as its poachers take it seriously: Barry’s not going anywhere.
Heads turned when At-Large Statehood Party Councilmember Hilda Mason walked into the May 13 Capitol Hill reception promoting the “reunion” of the District with Maryland. After all, if the reunion drive succeedssupporters have dropped the term “retrocession” as too cumbersome and backward-soundingMason’s dream of christening the District as the state of New Columbia will vanish forever.
Attendees of the event should have known better than to read anything into Mason’s appearance. The octogenarian councilmember, whose 21-year tenure in her current office has provided the only life support for the tiny Statehood Party, had no idea what she had stumbled into.
Spotting her former at-large D.C. Council colleague, Betty Ann Kane, in the crowd, Mason strolled over and exclaimed to Kane, a reunification supporter: “I’m so glad you’re finally for statehood.”
She casts her council votes with the same clarity and understanding.
Just moments before, D.C. congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton had delivered the eulogy for D.C. statehood. The cause officially died last year, after the city returned many of its costly state functions to the federal government as part of President Bill Clinton’s rescue plan for the District. Norton has not even bothered to offer a D.C. statehood bill in the current session of Congress.
While the delegate made it clear she does not support the reunification of D.C. with Maryland, she welcomed all ideas that would hasten full democratic rights and representation in Congress for District residents. Members of the Committee for a Capital City, including Kane, preach that the quickest way to bring democracy to the nation’s capital is the re-annexation of D.C. by the state from which it was separated from at birth nearly 200 years ago.
Such a move, committee leader Larry Mirel and others argue, would immediately give District residents full voting rights in the U.S. Senate, a fully empowered member in the House of Representatives, and a state legislature to help the city out financially. And, unlike statehood, reunification would not require a constitutional amendment and the impossible hurdle of ratification by 38 states.
The committee and Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) hosted the congressional reception two weeks ago to promote Regula’s bill, which would return all of D.C.save the federal core and Andrews Air Force Baseto Maryland.
Statehood and home rule activists quickly dismiss talk of reunification, which has the backing of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), as nonsense because of Maryland’s longstanding unwillingness to take on the District and all of its problems. But reunification proponents believe the political climate has shifted with the federal government’s move last year to take some of these nagging problems off the backs of local officials, as well as the pending departure of the notorious Mayor Barry.
Political pragmatism may also make reunification more appealing.
Maryland could face the loss of a congressional seat or two early in the next century to fast-growing Western states. Annexation of the District would guarantee that the state’s congressional delegation remains at least at its current size.
The Greater Washington Research Center is undertaking a study that reunification advocates hope will demonstrate that Maryland would reap a huge revenue windfall by taking in D.C.’s increasingly affluent taxpayers.
Supporters concede that the reunification drive could stall this fall if Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening gets thrown out of office. They expect Glendening to take up their cause in his second term. That hope could give likely Republican rival Ellen Sauerbrey another issue to batter the incumbent with in the fall campaign.
But at least she no longer can hang Barry around the governor’s neck.CP
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