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Since his return to power three years ago, Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. has fumed helplessly as Congress and the D.C. financial control board have whittled away most of his control over the government he created. This year, a Republican-led Congress has cut his prized security detail from 35 D.C. police officers—a number equivalent to the staff of the control board now running the District—to a mere 15 bodyguards. That may explain why Hizzoner is being coy about running for a fifth term next year: No sane glitterato would feel safe with only 15 D.C. cops for protection.
Now Barry has some more reasons to think very carefully about another grab for the ring—namely, the defections of his top loyalists and strategists to the camps of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil, both of whom hope to take control of the praetorian mayoral guard in January 1999. Campaign consultant David Abramson, a longtime Barry fund-raiser and political ally, has signed on to help guide Evans’ campaign. Super lobbyist David Wilmot, one of Barry’s most trusted confidants, is heading up Brazil’s mayoral exploratory committee, which was unveiled at a Dec. 4 fundraiser on Capitol Hill.
Abramson and Wilmot are also working on other fronts to dismantle the Barry regime. Along with other business types, the two are trying to raise $1 million–plus to found a think tank/job program to entice the mayor to step down. With the mayor still on the fence, the defections appear designed to push him into the private sector and spare the city another four years of buck-passing, phony transformation plans, and senseless junkets. All the proactive efforts to lock the door on Barry have some of Barry’s opponents feeling mighty bullish about their own futures.
“The mayor’s team is disintegrating,” Evans notes, with obvious satisfaction.
The councilmember, who officially declared his candidacy on Halloween, seems to be picking up most of the early defections. Franklin Bank president Bob Pincus, chair of Evans’ campaign finance committee, last week hosted two private luncheons in his corporate boardroom for 50 or so of the city’s deepest pockets.
Judging from the confab’s attendance lists, you might think Evans’ campaign platform featured a program of spiritual rejuvenation for reformed Barry addicts. There were real estate lawyer and former Barry ally Abraham Greenstein, Wilkes, Artis, Hedrick & Lane lobbyist Chip Glasgow, who backed Hizzoner in 1994, lawyer Doug Patton, chair of the mayor’s business regulatory reform commission, lawyer Donald Dinan, general counsel to the D.C. Democratic Party, and downtown developer Steve Goldberg.
“I looked around that room, and I saw some big boys placing some huge bets that [Barry] is not going to win again,” said a D.C. political figure who attended the luncheon.
If it had the wherewithal, the group might also try to put together another retirement package—for the financial control board. D.C.’s bottom liners view the control board as a wasteful layer of overseers in the bureaucracy-heavy District. “Businessmen don’t like chaos, and that’s what we have now,” said one of those in attendance. “These guys can’t make money in chaos.”
But unlike Barry’s, the control board’s term in office is congressionally mandated. During the two luncheons, several of the businessmen warned that D.C. would never be free of the control board as long as Barry remains in office. And Barry could just stick around for nine more years, since the city’s two-term-limit law took effect after his last election.
Even though Evans cozies up to the control board when it suits him, he changed his message before the business leaders. The disarray in the D.C. public schools, noted Evans, pointed up the failure of D.C.’s experiment with multilayered appointed government. The councilmember emphasized that the schools are presently governed by an elected school board, an emergency board of trustees appointed by the control board, and school chief Gen. Julius Becton.
“And nobody thought of fixing the roofs [before the schools opened],” Evans reminded his elite group last week.
Rhetoric aside, fixing the roofs was one of the Becton regime’s early priorities—it just took too long to do it. But the heavy hitters at Evans’ table lapped up the strategic invective, in part because they aren’t fond of the control board’s contracting practices. They have watched chairman Andrew Brimmer & Co. steer lucrative consulting contracts to scads of non-District businesses. And they grouse that the Florida-based Holland & Knight lobbying/law firm recently received a $750,000 control board contract to replicate the work of Patton’s regulatory reform commission. Patton claims his panel spent less than $30,000 on its study, which was issued in September.
“[Control board members] just don’t seem to trust anyone in the District,” Patton notes.
Evans and Pincus encouraged each of those in attendance to contribute to the control board’s early retirement by raising $20,000 apiece for the two-term councilmember’s bid to unseat Barry. Evans has set a fund-raising goal of $1 million, a figure he won’t admit publicly for fear his campaign will be judged as floundering if he fails to reach that mark. And indeed, the starched suits may balk at dishing out such generous donations. After all, the most any D.C. mayor—Evans, Brazil, or Barry—can promise any group these days is better swing sets in D.C. parks and sharper No. 2 pencils at D.C. libraries.
But Evans and his finance team hope to raise close to half of their $1-million goal by the Jan. 26 deadline, when declared candidates must file their first campaign finance reports. Evans’ campaign strategists hope that when Brazil and Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous read about their fund-raising prowess in the Washington Post next February, they will act like the famed groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, and scurry back into their holes to sleep out the mayor’s race.
To mitigate the unbearable whiteness of his being, Evans has surrounded himself with a largely African-American campaign team, including campaign chairman Bill Jarvis, nephew of Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis, campaign manager Warren Graves, the mayor’s former communications director, deputy finance chairman Kerry Pearson, who recently raised $10,000 for the mayor’s constituent services fund, and campaign treasurer Walter Beach, who is coming off his stunning success as campaign treasurer for Arrington Dixon, who was upset in last week’s special at-large D.C. Council race.
Campaign consultant Abramson, citing unreleased polling data, told the group that Evans can win next year on the strength of the city’s white voters. But he warned that a sizable segment of Ward 3 voters will have to be won over, since they still feel the predominantly black city should be governed by an African-American. Abramson also claimed that the polling data showed that 15 percent of the city’s black voters would not cast their ballots for a white mayoral candidate, while 37 percent said they do not feel strongly that the next mayor must be African-American.
Perhaps spurred by Evans’ early entry into the mayoral sweepstakes, Brazil turned a Dec. 4 fundraiser for his constituent services fund into the unveiling of his mayoral exploratory committee. The committee includes Wilmot, Washington restaurant association head Bill Lecos, public relations guru Art Schultz, former D.C. Council chairman Sterling Tucker, and H Street Community Development Corp. head Bill Barrow.
The most notable figure present was real estate executive Michael Hodge, who directed the supposedly independent business political action committee that backed Barry three years ago. After the 1994 elections, Hodge’s PAC paid a secret fine to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance for flagrantly violating election laws barring it from coordinating its activities with Barry’s election campaign.
Like Evans, Brazil stressed the need for a more business-friendly city during his event at the Reserve Officers Club last week. “Other people talk that line, but I vote that line,” he boasted to 60 or so supporters and donors.
Just before Thanksgiving, Brazil introduced a hefty bill to revise and simplify the city’s regulatory labyrinth. Brazil’s staff said the councilmember wanted to get the bill out to prevent the control board from using the council’s inaction as an excuse for awarding the contract to Holland & Knight. The consultants are duplicating work previously done by Brazil’s council committee on consumer and regulatory affairs.
Tenant activists and environmentalists upset by a provision in the bill to phase out rent control and eliminate the city’s environmental impact law disrupted Brazil’s Nov. 26 news conference on the legislation. But both Evans and Brazil no longer fear the city’s cadre of activists, since the candidates they backed enthusiastically in recent elections have all gone down to defeat. It’s got Brazil rubbing his hands together at the thought of a private-sector putsch wresting control from the civil rights has-beens who control D.C. right now.
When Capitol Hill resident Nelson Rimensnyder last week suggested the slogan, “The business of government is business,” Brazil responded, “Oh, I like that.” But his expression went blank when Rimensnyder told him the slogan had originally been coined by Calvin Coolidge.
“The president,” Rimensnyder reminded Brazil.
“Oh, yes,” he responded.
So much for the lessons of history.
THE PRESIDENT DOESN’T GET RELIGION
Both President Bill Clinton and Metropolitan Baptist Church minister Beecher Hicks Jr. seemed to tiptoe around their messages during the president’s much-heralded and now heavily criticized appearance at Hicks’ church last Sunday. Although the visit was initially billed by local officials as Clinton’s long-awaited message to the disenfranchised populace of the nation’s capital, the president seemed intent on remaining much more aloof from the District than he had in prior local appearances. It was a bad time for him to suddenly begin acting so presidential.
Clinton appeared content to let local officials and residents read as much, or as little, as they wanted to into his remarks about the federal government “becoming a better neighbor” and his expression of belief “in the independence of Washington, D.C….to run its own affairs.” It’s the kind of generic claptrap D.C. residents have come to expect from 1600 Pennsylvania, regardless of who is living there.
White House officials said later that Clinton was uncharacteristically brief because he wanted to hear Hicks preach. The fiery pastor certainly went on longer than Clinton, but he cloaked his message in biblical allegories from the Book of Revelation about passing from “tribulation to triumph.” He encouraged African-Americans to remember their past but not to dwell on it and to stop using racism as an excuse to shun personal responsibility.
His message about politicians forgetting those who helped them rise to the pinnacle of power seemed directly aimed at Barry, Office of Management and Budget Director and former Barry aide Franklin Raines, and Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, a fixture in local political circles. Hicks even mentioned Raines by name during this part of the sermon.
Raines, architect of the president’s rescue plan for the District, was seated in the audience, along with Herman, Slater, and nine of the 13 D.C. councilmembers. Barry and councilmembers preferred to interpret this part of the sermon as aimed at Clinton, who rode into the White House on the strength of a large black vote, instead of at the home team. Barry also claimed with a straight face that Hicks’ warning against “wink[ing] at mismanagement” was not a slap at his 15-year reign as the city’s mayor.
Although local politicians wanted the president to tell them how he plans to restore home rule and give the city voting rights, Clinton got the biggest response from the congregation, most of which has now moved to Maryland, when he mouthed some tried and true adages about curbing violence, saving schools, and making city neighborhoods safe again. Pretty controversial stuff. LL found the Metropolitan choir a lot more inspiring than the visitor standing in front of it. CP
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