Eight years ago, Sharon Pratt Dixon swept into the mayor’s office on a reform pledge to “clean house.”
Four years ago, Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. rose Lazaruslike from the political dead to reclaim his old job with a pledge of inclusion and redemption: “Everyone matters.”
Last weekend, At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil unveiled what he hopes will be this year’s winning mayoral model, running on a boastful reminder: “I told you so.”
The 1998 mayoral race is still stuck in first gear, but LL feels safe in predicting that “Na-na, na-na, naaa-na” will not become this year’s electrifying campaign slogan.
As he launches his second citywide campaign in two years, Brazil is seeking to portray his tendency to cast the lone negative vote on council legislation as a mark of political courage. The third-term councilmember claimed in his lengthy mayoral announcement speech last weekend that he consistently had the guts to break ranks with the pack and vote against unbalanced budgets, higher taxes, and bigger government.
“They didn’t listen. They passed unbalanced budgets anyway, and now we have a control board,” he told some 200 supporters and onlookers assembled in the Watkins Elementary School auditorium last Saturday. “I have the dubious distinction of saying, ‘I told you so.’”
Brazil used one of his many no votes last year to oppose President Clinton’s rescue plan for the District. Others, including D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, tout that bailout package as the greatest presidential action toward the District in history, the reason for D.C.’s sudden return to financial health. Brazil, however, continues to blast it for “shortchanging” the District on funding for the courts and corrections, and in the annual federal payment.
“We have lost control, and now we haven’t solved these problems,” he said. “I hate to say it, but I told you so.”
Perhaps Brazil didn’t get the news: The city recorded a $186 million surplus last year.
Brazil’s Clintonesque announcement speech showed that he has been studying speech-writing at the feet of the master: It went on too long, it was filled with tough talk about corrupt government and insensitive bureaucrats, and it contained enough policy jargon to make a wonk’s heart flutter.
The mayoral wannabe, however, could have used a teleprompter; he mangled many of his crafted sound bites. For instance, as Brazil lurched toward a dramatic conclusion, he declared, “I say no shame, no disillusionment, no failure.” That line left the crowd puzzled over just what he was saying. The text of the speech read, “I say no to shame, no to disillusionment, no to failure.”
But even though Brazil couldn’t match the First Speechifier on delivery, he copied the Clinton White House’s time-tested mantra: Make everyone happy. For those on the right, Brazil, author of the law sending first-degree murderers to jail for life, vowed to get tough on carjackers and robbers and to keep violent felons jailed until trial. He pledged to clean up the Metropolitan Police Department; fire incompetent D.C. workers; push vouchers and school choice; and cut taxes on businesses, personal income, sales, and property by $800 million to $1 billion in three years.
Brazil could have dubbed that recipe for red ink the Control Board Perpetuation Plan.
For those on the left, Brazil threw out a few juicy nuggets: wringing even more aid from the federal government while somehow restoring home rule, creating a statelike department of education to take over the city’s troubled public school system, and finding real work for the city’s elected school board, which got elbowed aside in the November 1996 takeover of the school system by the D.C. financial control board.
And on the employment front, Brazil promised to do 2.5 times better than his predecessor, Barry. Whereas Barry in his 1994 campaign promised to create 10,000 jobs for D.C. residents, Brazil pledged 25,000. To reach that goal, Brazil may have to build a new Ronald Reagan building in every ward.
Brazil must have stopped reading newspapers about a year ago. Otherwise, he would know that the mayor’s office has been stripped of the power to accomplish most of what he proposes to do in his first term.
Despite his rhetorical stumbles, Brazil’s well-orchestrated announcement and idea-heavy speech pumped momentum into his mayoral quest. Of course, Brazil didn’t have to do much beyond show up and open his mouth to get a leg up on Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous, whose event was long on rhetoric and short on ideas and enthusiasm.
The game of mayoral one-upmanship now falls to Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who will officially announce his mayoral bid May 30.
Brazil’s announcement contained its share of hackneyed rhetoric, like proposing to forge a better working relationship with Congress, the White House, and the control board, create a regional partnership with Maryland and Virginia, and organize citizens groups to lobby Capitol Hill. Hizzoner pushed that lobbying plan during his 1994 comeback but abandoned it as soon as the votes were tallied.
Brazil, though, sprinkled specific initiatives in with the filler. Stealing a page from Depression-era President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Brazil outlined a plan for his first 100 days in office, which includes personally inspecting every D.C. public school, firing government managers who don’t produce, increasing spending for drug treatment, providing relief from “predatory parking practices,” and ordering the police to impose “roadblocks and dragnets to get the guns off the streets.”
Brazil even managed to maneuver around Barry, who held a closed-door meeting with friends and supporters last Saturday to steal the media spotlight from the councilmember’s mayoral announcement. Hizzoner’s ploy worked, and he dominated the Sunday headlines. But Brazil met with the Washington Post’s editorial board on Friday, the day before his announcement, and garnered two days of news coverage for his kickoff.
Brazil’s campaign is being guided by his law partner, former At-Large Councilmember Bill Lightfoot, who waged a short-lived bid for mayor four years ago until being scared out of the race by Barry. Lightfoot has apparently promised not to quit and run in the midst of Brazil’s campaign, even if Barry decides to seek a fifth term.
Despite Brazil’s effort to pad his speech with something for everyone, he will face tougher audiences on the campaign trailan inhospitable place where you can’t fill all the seats with your supporters.
D.C. voters have heard their elected leaders repeatedly spew out rosy promises and visions, only to watch them fail to deliver each time. They are the ones who can lay claim to Brazil’s campaign slogan: “I told you so.”
SMITH’S WARD 1 STUMBLE
Ward 1 Councilmember Frank Smith, facing a tough Democratic primary challenge from Whitman-Walker AIDS Clinic Director Jim Graham, decided to flex some political muscle last weekend and show just who controls the ward. The answer he got must have shocked him.
Smith, a 16-year veteran of the council, made a bold move to take control of the ward’s wing of the Democratic party. The councilmember leaned heavily on Dee Hunter, a candidate for chair of the Ward 1 Democrats, to publicly commit to him before last weekend’s election of party officers. Hunter, a Ward 1 activist and aide to Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen, refused.
“I ran an independent campaign for chair,” says Hunter. “I thought it was very important that whoever was chair would stay neutral until the organization endorses.”
Snubbed by Hunter, Smith drafted Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Carolyn Llorente to oppose Hunter for chair. The Graham forces got wind of Smith’s ploy and turned out their troops for Hunter. When the ballots were tallied, Smith’s candidate got clobbered by a vote of 83 to 32.
“It totally surprised me that it was that overwhelming,” says outgoing Ward 1 Democratic Chairman Peter Schott. “Frank still should be able, after 16 years, to mobilize some people.”
Candidate Graham adds, triumphantly: “This was the first test of showing some muscle, and there was nothing there.”
The above account of last weekend’s political shenanigans was confirmed by everyone involved, except Smith. The councilmember denies he was behind Llorente’s candidacy and that he worked to turn out his forces, despite the presence of such longtime and notable Smith backers as Conrad Smith and Lawrence Guyot, as well as Smith’s current campaign manager, Chris Long.
“The best person won,” Smith said this week. “I hope people don’t make more of this than it is.”
He should have thought of that before he tried his power play.
The councilmember also needs to get a tighter rein on his staff. Smith this month sent out a feel-good newsletter to his Ward 1 constituentsa campaign-year ritual for the embattled councilmember.
On a council known for ducking responsibility, Smith has found a unique way to handle constituent complaintshave them call Brazil. The newsletter’s masthead mistakenly carried the phone number for Brazil’s office instead of Smith’s.
•The movement to draft Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Anthony Williams to run for mayor has embarrassed mayoral candidate Chavous because it began with constituents Paul and Barbara Savage, who live in the Hillcrest area of Ward 7. No wonder, then, that the councilmember wasted no time last weekend in attacking Williams for having “a secret plan” to close D.C. General Hospital.
That attack was sparked by the release of a memo prepared by Williams showing that the hospital needs to cut $76 million in spending during the final four months of the year to avoid a huge budget deficit.
Chavous apparently wanted to give Williams a taste of the political mud-wrestling that takes place outside of the CFO’s 11th-floor offices at 1 Judiciary Square.
•If his financial disclosure report is any indication, Chavous is taking his civic duties more seriously than ever. The second-term councilmember’s reports show that his outside income from his law practice has been dropping steadily, from a high of $161,000 in 1994 to just under $114,000 in 1997. Chavous last year ruled out a mayoral bid but changed his mind over the winter.
Even if he loses, he will reap a mountain-size load of publicity that could help his sagging law practice.
•The financial disclosure reports filed by Brazil show his income from his law practice has risen from $60,000 in 1995 to $96,000 last year. Evans pockets a steady $50,000 from his practice annually, according to his last four financial disclosure reports.
•Evans’ decision to postpone his mayoral kickoff from last weekend until May 30 because of a jogging injury has sparked jokes about how the councilmember injured his foot. The lamest one LL has heard is: Abe Pollin tripped him, and he shot himself in the foot.
Pollin was furious at Evans recently after the council judiciary committee chairman threatened to subpoena records from the MCI Center owner to determine how much D.C. taxpayers are spending to provide police security for events at the sports arena.
•Barry’s carefully orchestrated media event last Saturday appears to have inspired at least one D.C. pol to get off the fence. Imani Temple Archbishop George Stallings Jr., invited to the closed-door session to help Barry decide his future career path, declared afterward that he is ready to challenge Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose.
Stallings lost to Ambrose in a special election a year ago and has been pondering another try ever since. But he reportedly was concerned that his voters would fail to turn out without Barry on the ballot to inspire and manipulate them.
Perhaps Stallings got the word last week that Barry intends to seek a fifth term, and Hizzoner is just keeping the rest of us in the dark to have his fun.CP
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