Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. can be forgiven if he seems a bit lightheaded these days. In a bizarre twist that runs counter to all trends in D.C. politics in the past year, the financial control board is looking to vest Hizzoner with authority that it spent two years trying to strip from him. On Dec. 10, control board vice chairman Stephen Harlan returned the fox to the henhouse when he ordered Barry to hire his own inspector general to root out corruption in the dysfunctional Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).
Yes, this is the same control board member who distrusts Barry so deeply that he won’t even let the mayor settle a Georgetown parking dispute, let alone run a police department. This is also the same mayor who drafted MPD brass as silent partners in his own impressive run of corruption and mismanagement all over town. But Harlan appeared to have forgotten Barry’s past as he stood before the TV cameras last week, handing the beaming mayor back some of the power the control board had wrested from him in March. Harlan’s announcement was perfectly timed for Barryjust as the field of candidates for next year’s mayoral race was taking shape.
For his part, D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans thinks he’s succeeded in climbing onto a bandwagon that threatened to run him over just a few weeks ago, when former MPD chief Larry Soulsby tipped over. Last Monday, LL stopped by Evans’ office, and the councilmember looked absolutely giddy as he pointed to Monday’s Washington Post editorial calling on him to lead a council investigation into police corruption in the District. But the mayor said he viewed the paper’s Dec. 15 editorial bouquet to his chief rival as a setup for Evans, creating expectations that the two-term councilmember could never meet. After all, Evans had presided over three lengthy council judiciary committee hearings into police corruption during the past 10 weeks and failed to follow up on the headline-grabbing revelations each one produced.
The councilmember seems about as suited to leading a hard-hitting investigation as Soulsby is to assessing real estate values.
Harlan gave Barry a role in fumigating MPD in spite of a front-page Post story that very morning disclosing that four D.C. police officers had collected 68 hours of overtime pay one day last July for driving to Newark, N.J., to conduct a security sweep of the airport before the mayor and first lady Cora Masters Lady MacBarry arrived on a return trip from South Africa. Barry insisted with a straight face last week that he had no idea why those police officers had greeted him and Lady MacBarry at the Newark Airport, and why they had hauled the mayoral couple’s pile of luggage back to D.C. in their police cars.
While Harlan read about the continuing saga of Barry’s abuse of police officers for his elite corps of bodyguards, he apparently was more upset to read Barry’s call for an independent commission to investigate police corruption. Harlan was still fuming when Barry arrived at his office later that morning for a scheduled meeting of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Partners, the MPD management consultant team that Harlan chairs. Harlan chewed out the mayor and Evans, another MOU partner, for publicly calling for a commission independent of the control board, and the two quickly backed down.
Harlan feared that such a commission would veer out of control. “We don’t need overkill on the problem,” he said publicly before the meeting.
They already have it. MPD now has more outside investigators than beat cops. Among those holding a magnifying glass to the troubled department are the MOU Partners and the control board, interim police chief Sonya Proctor, the U.S. House District oversight subcommittee, the council, and now an inspector general to be named later.
Harlan’s foremost concerns seem to be territorialhe clearly doesn’t want to deal with another entity that could compete against the board for control of MPD. During his swearing-in as the city’s newly elected at-large member of the D.C. Council this past Monday, Republican David Catania said the control board now seems more interested “in the accumulation of power” than in fulfilling its original mission to reform District government.
The alienation of such natural political allies as the conservative Catania shows how far the control board has slipped since it came to power amid high expectations in the spring of 1995.
To avoid “overkill” on police corruption, Harlan told Barry last week to hire an acting inspector general, with the approval of the council and the control board, to conduct the investigation. Barry must have thought he was looking at Santa Claus instead of the control board vice chairman many city pols and residents are learning to loathe.
Evans, chair of the council’s judiciary committee, concurred with Harlan’s decision. He blasted the U.S. Attorney’s office for failing to pursue allegations of police corruption. Turning a blind eye to MPD’s follies, however, certainly didn’t hurt former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder, who got promoted to the No. 2 job at the Justice Department this year and is now on the U.S. Attorney General track.
Police department watchdogs, including Carl Rowan Jr. and Dorothy Brizill, gasped at Harlan’s move to bring Barry to center stage. Barry, they say, is the root of the department’s corruption, mismanagement, and inefficiency, not the kind of person who should be charged with picking an investigator who could end up knocking on his door at 1 Judiciary.
Harlan’s support for an acting inspector general caps two years of schizophrenic reversals by the board. Last January, the board forced out Angela Avant, the city’s first inspector general, because she was seen as too close to Barry and his cronies, and hesitant to go after corruption if it might tarnish the mayor.
But after getting rid of Avant, the board let Barry dawdle for six months over the selection of a replacement. After the mayor nominated former federal criminal fraud investigator Bob Thomas in July, the control board took another four months before deciding two weeks ago to reject Thomas. That move means the office could be leaderless for several more months.
The control board’s interest in an aggressive IG seemed to wane after Congress last summer handed the office the power to audit control board spending. Control board officials resisted moves by former D.C. Auditor Tony Cooper to get a look at their books on the grounds that they were politically motivated. And the board certainly didn’t seem to want an IG who would be as independent as Thomas appeared to be.
“Unless they get someone who cooperates with them, then they’re not going to be so inclined [to have an IG],” observes a congressional staffer who keeps tabs on the District.
Thomas, Avant’s chief of investigations, sank his own nomination when he refused to select the KPMG Peat Marwick accounting firm to conduct the city’s financial audit. The control board overruled Thomas, claiming his favored firm, New York-based Mitchell Titus and Co., could not handle the job. The board ended up giving Peat Marwick a sole-source contract to do the yearly audit. And then it fired Thomas.
Harlan, a former Peat Marwick partner, says he leaves the room whenever the subject of the accounting firm comes up, telling his colleagues he can’t be involved in the discussion. His footsteps seem to leave a subtle message with his colleagues, though. Peat Marwick has received $12 million27 percentof the $44 million the control board has handed out to consultants. The U.S. Department of Education recently criticized Peat Marwick for its audit of D.C. schools, and schools chief Gen. Julius Becton canceled the audit contract as of Dec. 1.
U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.), chair of the House D.C. Appropriations subcommittee, is preparing to file a complaint with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants claiming Peat Marwick “cooked” its reports to Congress earlier this year to show the District’s budget in balance.
“[Control board members] are doing exactly what Barry did: give contracts to friends,” notes a congressional staffer. “It’s the same circus, just different clowns.”
•Some 25 members of the battered 70-member Democratic State Committee retreatedBarry would say “advanced”last weekend to the grounds of Walter Reed Army Hosptial to reassure one another that they were not to blame for Arrington Dixon’s stunning electoral defeat in the Dec. 2 at-large contest. They concluded that the former council chairman’s anemic campaign allowed former Sheridan-Kalorama advisory neighborhood commissioner Catania to seize the GOP’s second D.C. Council seat.
D.C. Democrats also blame their loss on the fact that the national Republican Party pumped thousands of dollars into Catania’s winning effort. That last time LL checked, that’s what political parties were expected to do: finance winning candidates and campaigns.
D.C. Dems don’t know what it’s like to face stiff competition at the polls because they seldom have any. But their finger-pointing is a good sign that they could be in for more upsets next year, if they try to run the same ol’ faces.
Although Catania won in a citywide election, he polled particularly well in Ward 1a scary development for Ward 1 Democratic Councilmember Frank Smith. Nor does the electorate’s eagerness for new faces provide much aid and comfort to longtime At-Large Statehood Party Councilmember Hilda Mason, who survives every four years with strong backing from local Democrats.
Smith is already facing a stiff challenge from Whitman-Walker Clinic director Jim Graham, and Democrat Todd Mosley, knocked off the ballot four years ago, claims he somehow has found a winning formula for claiming Smith’s office. Mosley was outside Ward 1 polling precincts touting his candidacy during the Dec. 2 special election.
Although Catania has achieved the local gay community’s long-standing goal of electing an openly gay councilmember, the heavily Democratic gay groups don’t regard the election as a breakthrough because Catania is a Republican.
“We have to do some conversion,” longtime gay activist Frank Kameny said at Catania’s swearing-in ceremony this past Monday. Nearly all the city’s gay leaders boycotted the event.
But Catania is used to such snubs.
On election night, when all the councilmembers traditionally beat a path to the victor’s door, only Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen and At-Large GOP Councilmember Carol Schwartz dropped by to congratulate the winner. The rest went to the MCI Center opening.
Last Sunday, when councilmembers trooped up to Metropolitan Baptist Church to hear President Bill Clinton’s long-awaited message to D.C., council secretary Phyllis Jones objected to Catania sitting with the other councilmembers because he hadn’t been sworn in. But D.C. congressional aide Donna Brazile ignored Jones and seated Catania with the others.
•During last month’s well-attended unveiling of the National Capital Planning Commission’s vision for the nation’s capital in the 21st century, Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis was introduced to the Pension Building crowd as Charlene Drew Hunter.
“Sir! Sir! Sir!” Jarvis implored from the crowd, raising her hand like an obedient schoolgirl. “It’s Charlene Drew Jarvis.”
But master of ceremonies Harold Adams, chair of the National Building Museum’s board, was unconvinced.
“It says right here on my paper Charlene Drew Hunter,” Adams protested.
“Well, I assure you it’s Charlene Drew Jarvis,” the Southeastern University president replied.
Adams shrugged and moved on.
Later, Building Museum executive director Susan Henshaw Jones took the microphone to explain that she used to live in the same New York apartment building as former PBS news anchor Charlayne Hunter-Gault and had absentmindedly mixed up the two names.
LL knows Charlayne Hunter-Gault, and she’s no Charlene Drew Jarvis.CP
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