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Whenever Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. jets off on one of his frequent overseas trips, the city’s self-titled “international ambassador” returns with an enhanced title and list of duties, which is a happy coincidence, because he comes home to a job that Congress and the control board keep shrinking.

When Barry traveled to West Africa in May 1995, he and Cora Masters Lady MacBarry came home bearing the title of king and queen of an Ivory Coast town. In return for the honor, Barry was expected to lead delegations of American businessmen to the town. Senegalese officials apparently only looked at Barry’s ride-along during the go-go ’80s. Otherwise they would have asked him to return the crown.

When Hizzoner traveled to China last fall, he came back forecasting an invasion of new restaurants serving up Peking duck and new trinket shops peddling Chairman Mao caps—the better to bring new tax dollars and jobs to town. But Barry’s forecast has proved less reliable than a fortune cookie. Since the trip, Chinatown has added a new arena and a couple of sports bars, but none of the stores promised by Hizzoner.

On his return from Nigeria last week, Barry outlined yet another role for himself: flack for African dictators. He sneaked off to Nigeria to attend a conference of mayors financed by that country’s repressive military regime. His overriding purpose, he said, was to help dispel American stereotypes about African countries.

“Not only the political image of Nigeria, but there is a view that people over there are in the bush eating people, shooting people, and people are just wild,” Barry told reporters upon his return Nov. 20.

The mayor’s remark about Africans “eating people” didn’t appear in the official transcript of last week’s session with reporters, even though his comments were captured on several tape recorders. The mayor’s office apparently had that comment stricken from the record before releasing the transcript to the media. Barry said last summer that he had been forced to hire a stenographer, at taxpayer expense, to record his weekly news briefings because, “The Washington Post can’t get it right.” Is it the live version of Barry or the edited one the Post can’t get straight?

The mayor claimed he had planned to skip the Nigerian conference because of the military regime’s human rights violations but changed his mind after receiving a visit Oct. 29 from “29 or 30” newly elected Nigerian mayors. He said with a straight face that those mayors came to talk to him about how to run their own jurisdictions and were not “pawns” of the military leaders.

“I could not help but be moved by their seriousness, their strong desire to learn from persons such as myself,” he said upon his return.

The mayor dismisses complaints from critics of the Nigerian regime that he was duped into going to the conference by Nigerian military leaders seeking to restore their own credibility. While there, Barry decried “the rape of democracy in D.C.” but said nothing about the murder of democrats by his hosts. Barry is just the sort of polite guest—the kind who ignores the dust on the mantel and the bodies in the back yard—Nigeria will want to have come back again and again.

CATANIA FOR COUNCIL

Next Tuesday’s election to fill an at-large vacancy on the D.C. Council has been the best-kept secret in this town since Barry’s inner circle managed to keep the lid on Hizzoner’s crack habit during the last decade. Perhaps as few as three in every 100 registered voters will wake up Dec. 2 realizing it’s election day in D.C. and proceed to cast ballots for one of four contenders seeking election to serve out the final year of Linda Cropp’s at-large term. Cropp vacated her seat in July after she won a special election—in which fewer than six out of every 100 registered D.C. voters trudged to the polls—to serve out the final 17 months of late council chairman Dave Clarke’s term.

Former council chairman Arrington Dixon entered the race in August anticipating a cakewalk back to public office after a 15-year absence. After all, voters citywide at least knew his name, while they had never heard of his two main rivals, Republican David Catania and newcomer Phil Heinrich, a self-styled “new Democrat.”

The local Democratic establishment’s embrace of Dixon should be enough evidence in and of itself that voters should consider only political newcomers Catania and Heinrich on Tuesday. Of the two, Catania has been the more impressive in the short but spirited council race.

The young attorney and chairman of the two-member Sheridan-Kalorama Advisory Neighborhood Commission has dominated candidate forums with his bull’s-eye attacks on Dixon’s prior council record. Catania also exhibits in-depth knowledge and valuable instincts about the failures of the D.C. government.

And he is dusting off some worthy ideas discarded during the 1973 creation of home rule, like a locally elected attorney general in order to restore accountability and credibility to the District’s broken and diminished system of self-governance. Regular election of a local prosecutor, Catania rightly contends, would force a public debate every four years on the lack of enforcement of local laws and could provide a needed check on public corruption, which raged out of control during Barry’s first three terms as mayor.

Unlike most District pols, Catania has also refused to run away from taking stands on tough issues. He supports capital punishment for the killing of a police officer and an end to rent control—positions that rankle many voters.

Catania’s brand of Republicanism may be too bitter for many of the city’s die-hard Democrats to swallow, in which case they can turn to Heinrich. But by dividing their ballots between Catania and Heinrich, voters all but cinch Dixon’s return. Heinrich, a management consultant who moved to the District only last year, still seems to be feeling his way around local issues, even though he campaigns on a pledge to “Fix D.C.” and lugs around a 9-foot replica of a wrench to dramatize his pledge.

Heinrich’s wrench reminds some D.C. voters of Sharon Pratt Dixon’s shovel, which became the symbol of her surprise ascendancy to the mayor’s office in 1990. LL doesn’t have to tell you how that turned out.

While Heinrich still needs to figure out where the fixes have to be made in District government, he has demonstrated that he knows how to pull together an impressive campaign in a short time. Heinrich has managed to win over some Democratic stalwarts, including Ward 6 Democratic state committee member John Capozzi, despite threats by party leaders to punish State Committee members who back a candidate other than Dixon.

Party stalwarts are expected to pay fealty to Dixon because he won a contested appointment by the 70-member state committee on the fifth ballot in August to serve as Cropp’s interim successor until the Dec. 2 election. That earned him the designation as the party’s “official nominee,” according to Dixon and party leaders. But few voters realize that he has been on the council for the past three months, contradicting his claim that he will be a more aggressive and effective councilmember the second time around.

In a clear sign of desperation, the Dixon campaign is accusing both Heinrich and Catania of racism in their attempts to paint Dixon as a Barry crony. Dixon loyalist Phil Pannell raised the ugly specter during last Saturday’s candidates’ forum sponsored by Ward 8 Democrats.

To back up his allegation, Pannell pointed to Heinrich’s campaign postcard mailing, which features a circle of recycled politicians—two photos of Barry (1982 and 1994), one of Dixon, and one of former Mayor Kelly—beneath the caption: “D.C. Recycling Incompetence.”

Catania was barred from the event because the forum’s organizers apparently felt that exposing Ward 8 Democrats to the views of a Republican might cause them to suffer genetic damage and endanger their future unborn. But Pannell tagged him with the race card as well, waving around a letter Catania sent to the city’s 23,000 registered Republican voters depicting “my principal Democratic opponent” as “another FOB (Friend of Barry).”

“I know racism when I see it,” Pannell contends, claiming that Dixon is no friend of Barry, even though Hizzoner appointed Dixon to the National Capital Planning Commission last year and Dixon hosted an affair for Barry during the 1994 mayoral campaign.

What Pannell is mistaking for racism is the time-honored campaign practice of linking opponents to unpopular political figures. The support of civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot has helped the Heinrich campaign deflect Pannell’s accusations, which even earned him a mild rebuke from Dixon during the forum last Saturday.

But at a candidates’ forum on the Georgetown University campus the following day, Dixon said he saw racism behind attempts to link him to Barry. And during a Nov. 18 forum in Chevy Chase, Dixon delivered an impassioned monologue railing against his opponents for tying him to Barry. He offered no criticism of Hizzoner.

“Where do they get this stuff? My ex-wife ran against Barry,” an angry Dixon reminded Chevy Chase residents.

Until that forum, LL thought Dixon was more concerned about his connection to former Mayor Dixon/Kelly than to Barry.

Vote Catania on Tuesday.

POLITICAL POTPOURRI

Although the financial control board and the Department of Public Works (DPW) have promised the return of curbside recycling early next year, don’t plan on putting out your bottles, cans, and yesterday’s newspapers any time soon.

The District’s current budget, signed into law by President Clinton Nov. 19, contains $2.5 million to jump-start the program on a weekly basis, beginning last month. But DPW’s deadline for accepting bids has now been pushed back to Dec. 15. City officials concede that the program couldn’t resume until April at the earliest, because several months will be needed to evaluate bids, award the contract, and maneuver the contract through the council and the control board.

The most recent delay stems from a request by the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) that DPW require collection of recyclables in the rear of homes and businesses in Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Georgetown, and Foggy Bottom. Residents in those areas complained that having to put their old bottles, cans, and newspapers out front made their trendy neighborhoods look trashy.

DCCA’s request prompted DPW to go back to the drawing board and ask potential bidders to submit two cost proposals, one for collections in front of homes and another for collections in back.

And recycling administrators now have to deal with another hassle: the recent undisclosed settlement of a federal lawsuit against the city filed in federal court last year by Recycling Solutions Inc. (RSI) of Prince George’s County.

RSI co-founder Allen Bortnick said terms of the settlement bar him from disclosing the amount the city has agreed to pay his firm. But he confirmed that the settlement is “in excess of $1 million.” If DPW has to use recycling funds to pay the settlement, it may not be able to restart the program until next summer.

RSI submitted the lowest bid when the city launched the recycling program in 1993, but the contract went to Eagle Maintenance Services, which is headed by Richard Tynes, who has strong political ties to the mayor and DPW officials. The city’s Contract Review Board subsequently overruled DPW because evaluations of the bidders had been mysteriously altered to favor Eagle Maintenance.

Instead of canceling Eagle’s contract, the Barry administration appealed the review board’s findings in D.C. Superior Court and the D.C. Court of Appeals. After losing the court fight last year, DPW canceled the program, solicited new bids and—surprise, surprise—awarded another contract to Eagle. The second contract was canceled in February because DPW claimed it lacked money to continue recycling. RSI sued the city in federal district court, and city officials recently agreed to the out-of-court settlement.

When asked whether RSI would try again for D.C.’s recycling business, Bortnick last week replied, “Not in this lifetime.”CP

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