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Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous seemed as uninspired as the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team in his yearlong warmup to the 1998 mayoral Olympics. But now that Chavous is in the race, he is looking more like durable Austrian skier Hermann “the Hermanator” Maier.
Three days after the waffling Chavous filed as a candidate Feb. 10, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) interim chief Sonya Proctor handed him his first hot-button issue of the campaign by abruptly firing three of the city’s seven police district commanders. The mayoral wannabe, defying criticism that he lacks the political instincts needed for a successful citywide run, quickly seized the opening to define his candidacy and put distance between himself and one of his rivals, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans.
Within 24 hours of Proctor’s Feb. 13 ouster of 3rd District Commander Winfred Stanley, 5th District Commander Reggie Smith, and 6th District Commander John Daniels, word circulated among local activists that Chavous planned a news conference to denounce the actions. The Feb. 17 event outside police headquarters on Indiana Avenue NW attracted some 40 residents and turned into a full-scale rally against the chief. Chavous and the crowd called for reinstatement of the three commanders.
But Proctor steadfastly defends her action, saying she is not about to submit personnel decisions to a community referendum. The uproar, she says, is a product of the political season.
In his mayoral run, Chavous doesn’t intend to target Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr., who has occupied the mayor’s office and dominated city politics for 15 of the last 19 years. Chavous covets Barry’s east-of-the-river political base and has found a unifying target for his rhetoric.
The second-term Ward 7 councilmember wants to run against the overseersthe District’s financial control board, which has dragged the city back from the brink of financial demise to a welcome $186-million surplus. And Chavous particularly wants to smart-bomb the group of insiders known as the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Partners, who were appointed by the control board to supervise the dysfunctional police department.
Evans, as head of the council’s judiciary committee, is an MOU Partnera perk that has rankled Chavous and other D.C. councilmembers who have been denied accession to the privileged circle. But now Chavous is trying to turn his exclusion from the MOU circle into a political asset for himself and a liability for Evans.
Proctor, Chavous contends, is a puppet of the MOU Partners and control board vice chairman Stephen Harlan, just as former Police Chief Larry Soulsby was. The councilmember claims Proctor was blindly following orders from the MOU Partners when she fired the three commanders.
“[Proctor] wouldn’t make these kinds of moves without having the blessing or encouragement of key MOU Partners,” Chavous says. “This clandestine MOU partnership that’s operating behind closed doors is making decisions that are not in the best interest of the city.”
He insists he is not opposed to a strong police chief, an extinct breed in the District since Barry came to power in 1978.
“All agency heads, including the police chief, are selected for their judgment,” Chavous adds. “We just have to be sure their judgment is their judgment. It was clear that a lot of Soulsby’s moves were moves that were made at the behest of other folks.”
As proof of his conspiracy theory, Chavous points out to his audiences that Proctor called members of the MOU group before even notifying the commanders that their careers were about to come to an end. Evans has acknowledged being consulted by Proctor before she acted, and Chavous wants voters to remember that on Election Day.
Evans got more warning than Stanley, Smith, or Daniels.
Proctor ordered the dismissals Friday the 13th and then jetted off to a conference of police chiefs in Las Vegas, leaving the dirty deed to family and subordinates. Following Proctor’s departure, her husband, Police Lt. Joseph Freeman, summoned the three doomed commanders to a meeting with assistant police chief R.C. White. Freeman also performed such duties for former chief Soulsby.
White offered Stanley, Smith, and Daniels a choice they couldn’t negotiate: retire or be fired. The three were given two hours to clean out their desks.
Some Proctor supporters see another conspiracy in the turmoil. Under their theory, Chavous’ outrage is not so much the newfound conviction of a leader on the rise as the agenda of former police chief Ike Fulwood, Chavous’ campaign chairman. Fulwood is close friends with Smith and with assistant chief Rodney Monroe, whom Proctor removed from the coveted job of patrol services chief just four days prior to the Friday the 13th massacre.
“My political moves are my political moves,” Chavous insists. “It’s not Ike directing the show.”
MPD watchers speculate that Proctor will have to act quickly and show she is tough enough to tame MPD’s entrenched old-boy network to remain a contender in the search for a new police chief. Proctor is reportedly among seven or eight finalists for the job, but no one on this short list has impressed the mayor’s recruiting committee, and the search could be widened again.
That might be a good idea. Proctor’s bungling of her most important decision since succeeding Soulsby three months ago has outed her as a graduate of the Saddam Hussein School of Public Relations. The first woman to lead D.C.’s police stepped into the job last November basking in accolades from politicians and community groups who had worked with her when she was 3rd District commander.
But Proctor turned those natural allies into enemies by committing a cardinal sin in the District: putting substance and action above process. Since D.C. has had little experience with democracy, it has become obsessed with the process by which decisions are reached. The process is often regarded as more important than the outcome, if any.
Evans, Proctor’s stoutest defender, intends to hold a council hearing examining how the chief reached her decision regarding the three commanders. After his long romance with Soulsby, Evans is gaining a reputation for sticking with embattled police chiefs.
Whether she acted boldly or recklessly, Proctor has managed to alienate department watchdogs like Carl Rowan Jr. and Dorothy Brizill, who advocate bringing in an outsider to make the kind of tough personnel changes that Proctor just made. Rowan, Brizill and others insist Proctor should remain essentially a caretaker at MPD until the next chief is chosen.
“I can’t find anyone from any of the communities who has even met with Sonya Proctor since she became police chief,” claims Brizill.
Last week, Proctor appeared at Chavous’ monthly meeting with his Ward 7 constituents and confronted critics. But the room appeared to be equally divided between supporters and detractors of the chief. The meeting ended with Hillcrest resident Dennis Logan walking up and shaking her hand.
Proctor had met with Ward 7 advisory neighborhood commissioners and residents, including Logan, on Jan. 17 to listen to complaints about Daniels and the paucity of 6th District police officers in their community.
“We did not like the service that Commander Daniels was offering the Hillcrest area,” Logan recalled this week. “We wanted her to move him. She said she would take care of the problem.” She supported us, and I felt she deserved our support for doing something, not that I agreed with the way she did it,” Logan added. “But she did do something.”
That’s almost unheard of in District politics.
Residents of the 5th District have voiced similar complaints about Smith. They say he seldom returned phone calls and was frequently unavailable to meet with them.
Shortly before the massacre, Evans held a meeting in his office with Stanley and Proctor to address concerns from members of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) about poor community policing. The meeting became so heated that the councilmember, Stanley, and the chief briefly walked out of the room to let DCCA members cool down.
The unsuspecting Stanley came unprepared to field the questions fired at him, according to a DCCA source. Afterward, Evans told the chief he was unhappy with the commander’s performance during the meeting. The incident may have spurred Proctor’s decision two weeks later to give Stanley the boot.
Proctor apparently violated another District protocol: She failed to return calls from Washington Post MPD reporter Cheryl W. Thompson. Frustrated in her attempts to reach Proctor by phone at the Las Vegas police conference during the four days following the controversial ousters, Thompson hopped a plane and headed for the gambling capital to grill the chief face to face.
But Proctor had decided to cut her trip short and return to D.C. to confront the controversy head-on. She was landing at National Airport just as the Post reporter was steaming alone in the desert. Thompson did not get back in time for Proctor’s Feb. 18 news conference, at which the chief dodged most questions about the dismissals.
Thompson did make it back to D.C. in time to attend the Feb. 19 community meeting hosted by Chavous. Perhaps still smarting from Proctor’s snub, Thompson reported that the crowd was overwhelmingly anti-Proctor, even though several attendees, including Logan, say it was evenly split.
In her profile of the turmoil last Sunday, Feb. 22, Thompson wrote that Proctor has “irked journalists by what some call her inaccessibility.”
Who would know better than Thompson?
Gender, race, and complexion also appear to be fueling opposition to Proctor, a light-skinned African-American married to a white man. Her ascension to chief has rekindled remarks about the city’s “high yella,” middle-class black families that were prevalent during the reign of fair former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly.
Even before Proctor’s removal of the three district commanders, Shaw activist Leroy Thorpe, who has close ties to some police officials, was warning community groups that the chief was waging a vendetta against black males within MPD. “Sonya Proctor has a problem with black males,” Thorpe stated in the Feb. 14 Post.
But others fault black males for the rift. “I think black males feel very threatened,” says a member of the chief’s citywide Citizen Advisory Council. “They’re looking at whites and females taking over the city.”
In a reflection of the current demographics of the District, women now occupy the offices of D.C. congressional delegate, D.C. Council chair, U.S. Attorney, police chief, and the city’s first chief management officer. Men currently cling feebly to the mayor’s office and the chairmanship of the control board.
But At-Large Republican Councilmember Carol Schwartz is a leading contender to break the male hold on the mayor’s office in this year’s mayoral sweepstakes. And control board member Constance Newman is being pushed by some to replace unpopular chairman Andrew Brimmer.
That’s all fine with LL. Just don’t bring back Mayor Kelly.CP
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