City Paper is not for tourists
Ward 1 Councilmember Frank Smith’s constituents complain they still don’t know what their councilmember stands for after four terms on the D.C. Council. But LL has surmised two of the commandments that guide the councilmember: One, don’t let your political rival testify before the council in an election year. Two, if you can’t get him banned from the council chambers, then turn his appearance into 30 minutes of sheer political hell.
The frantic incumbent demonstrated Moses-like devotion to these two commandments at the March 18 council oversight hearing on D.C. General Hospital and the city’s public health clinics. When Smith scanned the witness list prior to the hearing, one name jumped out at him—Whitman-Walker Clinic director Jim Graham, who has spent the past year revving up an effort to take Smith’s seat this fall. Graham was slated to testify at the hearing as a board member of the city’s new Public Benefit Corporation (PBC).
Smith promptly lobbied PBC chairman John Fairman, head of D.C. General Hospital, to expunge Graham from the panel of witnesses. Fairman ignored the pressure, so Smith, although not a member of the council’s human services committee conducting the hearing, rushed to the council chambers to grill his rival.
When Fairman’s panel members took their seats at the witness table, the posturing began. Seated at the council dais, Smith demanded to know why Graham, as chair of PBC’s buildings committee, had recommended closing the Adams Morgan Clinic, located in the Marie Reed Learning Center.
The clinic, Smith argued, was one of the most heavily used in
the city—a fact that Graham would have learned if he had only checked its patient rolls, snapped Smith. The councilmember declared that the clinic’s scheduled closing would deprive the ward’s bursting Latino population of access to badly needed health services, and he blamed the closing on Graham’s “negligent recommendation.”
Smith supporters and some council observers scored the confrontation as a knockdown by the incumbent in the opening round of the bout for the Ward 1 council seat.
Graham, though, showed no signs of grogginess. “He’s in desperate need of an issue for the Latino community, but it’s not going to work,” says Graham. “Frank has known about this for approximately a year and never said anything. I don’t think he ever visited the Adams Morgan Clinic until just a few days ago.”
Graham notes that the doctors, supplies, and equipment at the Marie Reed clinic will be dispersed to four other clinics around Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, and Upper Cardozo. For instance, the dentist at the cramped Adams Morgan Clinic will relocate into a more spacious dental suite at the Upper Cardozo site.
“That’s a big gain,” he claims. And if his initiative really screws Latinos, asks Graham, why did it win enthusiastic backing from the Council of Latino Agencies?
Smith may try to harvest more political hay from the clinic’s closing when he conducts an “issues forum” on Monday, April 6, at the Urban League’s office on 14th Street NW. But the councilmember had better come prepared for a pop grammar quiz from constituents. A three-paragraph letter the councilmember sent out last week inviting residents to the forum contained at least a dozen spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors.
Here is a brief sample:
“The Chief Fiancial [sic] Officer (CFO), Anthony Williams, reports to my committee, and by now our city reportod [sic] a $10 million revenue surplus at the end of Fiscal Year 1997.” Apparently Smith hasn’t equipped his office computers with vintage ’80s technology: spell check.
Smith’s letter sparked a sarcastic reply from Mount Pleasant resident Michael Beer.
“Your cover letter, dated March 23, 1998, is replete with more typographical errors than my lawn has weeds,” Beer wrote his councilmember this past Monday. “I appreciate your attempt to promote economic development and to involve the community. However, your garbled addresses, error-filled letters, and vacuous fact sheets are an embarrassment to this city and this ward. In your letter you state, ‘This illustrates the current thinking of the govemement [sic].’ I sure hope not.”
As a frequent consumer of documents produced by various parts of the District government, LL knows that this isn’t the first time the English language has been punished beyond repair by local elected officials, but most of them have learned to clean up their act when election time rolls around.
MPD CHIEF: AN INSIDE JOB?
This winter’s bungled search for a new D.C. police chief has proved once again that District officials can turn a simple task into a beast that no one can control.
When Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. set up his 30-member search committee last December, the target seemed clear: an outsider with integrity to come in and clean up the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Hizzoner parroted the mission at every police district roll call he attended over the last three months. An overwhelming majority of officers told the mayor that only an outsider could get the job done.
Earlier this year, Barry asked members of MPD’s Citizen Advisory Council to canvass each of the city’s seven police districts to find out what residents wanted. The same message came back: over 90 percent wanted an outsider with impeccable credentials.
Somehow Barry forgot the message when he maneuvered to get his choice—New Orleans Police Superintendent Richard Pennington—to return to D.C. and take control of the department he had toiled in for two decades.
Pennington, who left MPD for the Big Easy nearly four years ago, was hardly the outsider residents and rank-and-file officers are seeking, but his selection seemed a done deal at the beginning of this week.
“He’s lazy. And he’s already known to have his own inside clique at the department,” says a former deputy police chief.
Perhaps that’s why North Carolina Sen. Lauch Faircloth this week threatened to block the city’s budget if it contained the hefty pay raise promised to Pennington. The threat effectively disqualified Pennington, who bowed out of contention on Monday. Although Faircloth’s declaration may have trodden on D.C. home rule, it spoke for rank-and-file police officers and most D.C. residents, who still want an outsider.
Concern that the Pennington train had already left the station prompted some to try to resurrect the candidacy of Prince George’s County Police Chief John Farrell. Farrell got high marks for reducing crime in neighboring P.G. County and for working effectively with federal law enforcement task forces.
But he got short shrift in the search process here because, after the debacle of former MPD Chief Larry Soulsby, folks aren’t ready to see another white guy under the chief’s cap.
Chief Management Officer (CMO) Camille Cates Barnett rode into town in December on a mission to instill good management in District government—a tall order in a city where no management has existed for decades. But Barnett appears to be replacing mismanagement with a new municipal scourge: overmanagement.
Two weeks ago, Barnett canceled the recycling contract recently awarded to Waste Management, the world’s largest trash hauler, to resume picking up old newspapers, bottles, and milk jugs later this month. The CMO said the Waste Management deal would cost the city too much.
Waste Management had submitted the winning bid of $2 million to pick up recyclables from in front of two-thirds of the city’s houses and from the alleyways behind the other third. Barnett, however, concluded that more residents would get into the recycling habit if they were asked to put their cans, bottles, and newspapers in the same place they put their garbage each week—out back in the alley next to the trash bins.
Currently only 14 percent of D.C. households separate recyclables from their food scraps, coffee grinds, and cigarette butts. That’s a dismal record, especially when compared with nearby Takoma Park, Md.’s. Half of that city’s households practice recycling as religiously as the militant vegetarians who once sliced chicken from the menu of the long-gone-but-not-forgotten Takoma Park Cafe.
The Department of Public Works (DPW) is currently soliciting new bids for a more expensive program that would collect recyclables in the rear of most D.C. homes. The modification, some experts calculate, could cost more than the $2.5 million currently in the city’s recycling budget. Alley collection is more expensive because recycling trucks cannot navigate the alleys as easily and quickly as city streets, even with all the potholes.
Recycling experts say Barnett could have gotten a better deal for the city simply by encouraging more residents to recycle. The canceled contract with Waste Management carried a fixed rate, no matter how many or how few beer bottles and discarded editions of the Washington Post were collected.
The CMO is still promising the return of recycling by early June. But recycling experts insist that it won’t be back until July at the earliest. Barnett may be bringing new management flair to District affairs, but the resultant delays seem like more of the same old D.C. doo doo.
Now that the District’s appointed reformers are beginning to fall like dominoes—with D.C. financial control board chairman Andrew Brimmer and embattled school chief Julius Becton announcing their departures within a six-day period—speculation is focusing on who will drop next. DPW director Cell Bernardino, whom the control board rescued from the unemployment heap after Mayor Barry tried to fire him last September, is a heavy favorite to follow Brimmer and Becton off the plank.
DPW watchers and council staffers say Bernardino has gotten buried in the abstractions of management reform and departmental reorganization without actually improving his agency. He is so preoccupied by meaningless re-engineering minutiae that DPW employees mockingly refer to Bernardino as “the professor.”
Bernardino may have sealed his fate last weekend, when he declared that DPW did not intend to refund any of the $17.8 million the city had overcharged motorists on citations prior to 1996. That reportedly didn’t sit too well with Barnett, who is trying to get D.C. agencies to treat residents like VIP consumers instead of lepers.
After all, the city has been pursuing motorists who have dodged past tickets as if they were fugitives on the FBI’s most wanted list. So it’s hard for Bernardino to justify keeping the money when his agency’s parking enforcement officials have overcharged.
“I think he’s in deep shit,” says a local environmentalist who works closely with Bernardino and DPW. “It’s too bad. We backed him; we thought he would be good.”
That’s a reckless presumption when it comes to D.C. officials.
Peggy Cooper-Cafritz, the grand dame of D.C. arts, wasn’t being too artful when she disrupted last week’s rally to preserve the field next to Duke Ellington School of the Arts for community use. Mayoral constituent services aide John Fanning, standing on a flatbed truck with microphone in hand, was pledging his boss’s support for saving the field from developers when Cooper-Cafritz began drowning him out, according to sources at the event.
Cooper-Cafritz, who bankrolls numerous arts programs in the D.C. area, practically yanked Fanning from the truck and then got into a tussle with a rally organizer over the mike. That prompted the organizer to pull the plug—which didn’t stop Cooper-Cafritz. She jumped up on the flatbed truck and shouted to the crowd of 100 or so, mostly Ward 3 residents, “This field belongs to the school, and why is the school always getting shut out of use of its field? It’s called Ellington Field for a reason.” Cooper-Cafritz says the school system currently leases the field to the Police Boys and Girls Clubs, which trades use of the field for free gym time at local private schools.
Complaining about current community use of the field didn’t go over too well. Cooper-Cafritz lost her audience completely when she declared that school officials hope to use the field to expand Duke Ellington one day. The chorus of boos that ensued sounded like the fourth quarter at a Wizards game.