New D.C. Council chair Linda Cropp promised “bold leadership” when she threw her hat into the ring last May for the chairmanship vacancy created by the death of Dave Clarke. But Cropp failed to consider that before she can lead she needs to find some followers.
Cropp convened her colleagues Sept. 5 for a highly bureaucratic exercise: splitting up the council’s Committee on Human Services and creating a new Committee on Health. The move was designed to appease freshman Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose, who would chair the health committee. Freshman Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen would take control of the remnants of the Human Services Committee.
Cropp, who led the overloaded committee until her July 22 election to serve out the remaining 17 months of Clarke’s unfinished term, figured there were plenty of spoils to spread around for both Ambrose and Allen. After all, the panel currently oversees one-fifth of the city’s $5-billion yearly budget, so carving it up to lighten the workload on the committee’s chair made good political sense.
Or so Cropp thought.
Once Cropp tossed out her proposal during last week’s closed-door meeting, it became painfully clear that the new chair hadn’t done her homework, and that Allen had. The Ward 8 councilmember said she had no interest in dividing up the powerful committee, and she had lined up a majority of the council’s 13 members to support keeping the panel intact with her as chair.
Cropp’s failure to count her votes beforehand produced an awkward, embarrassing setback in her first attempt to fashion the council in her own image. Her misstep also invited unfavorable comparisons to predecessors Clarke and John Wilson, who would never have trotted out a proposal without knowing whether they had the votes to push it through.
“It was leadership by disarray,” says a councilmember who backed Cropp’s plan. “It was certainly a very painful meeting. I hope we don’t go through anything like that again anytime soon.”
The new council chair tried to claim a face-saving victory when her colleagues sided with her in dumping At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil as council chair pro tempore and restoring the deputy slot to Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis, who previously held the post. But censoring Brazil isn’t a tough trick to turn on this council. “Nobody supports Harold, so that was an easy one for Linda,” observes one councilmember.
Now Cropp is trying to sound like Barbara Streisand singing “The Way We Were” in spinning last week’s setback as merely a return to the form the council had under Clarke. But LL has seen Streisand, and Cropp is no Streisand.
When bitterly divided Georgetown residents beseeched Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. in May to mediate a resolution of the parking problem that was threatening civil war in their serene community, Hizzoner saw another opportunity to perform the task-force shuffle. During Barry’s nearly 15 years as mayor, D.C. government offices have accumulated dust-covered reports by consultants and task forces that have given the appearance that the Barry administration has been a force for change. In fact, the ancient city of Pompeii, buried by a volcano more than 1900 years ago, has experienced more change than D.C. during the period.
Barry pounced on the parking crisis to buttress that false image heading into his 1998 re-election campaign.
The controversy started with a proposal by Georgetown activists Westy Byrd and Don Crockett to restrict one side of each Georgetown street to residents-only parking. The activists promised Barry that his support would double or even triple the 3-percent of the vote he drew in Georgetown in 1994. For a mayor who has built a political career playing the margins, increasing his support in an area of the city where voters despise him more than the British royals detest the paparazzi proved irresistible.
Hizzoner also couldn’t pass up an opportunity to invade the turf of his only announced rival, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who has been running from the parking dispute like a motorist fleeing an approaching D.C. meter maid. Byrd & Co. say Evans sided with them when he ran for re-election in 1996. But as soon as the campaign ended, they contend, Evans switched sides. One source reported that Evans told him he had been “enlightened” by Georgetown’s resurgent business community.
The business community no doubt enlightened Evans on another point as well: his reliance on its money to mount a challenge against Barry next year. Georgetown merchants fear that residents will end up taking both sides of the street, not just the one reserved for them, and drive away customers from an area where parking spaces are already as scarce as D.C. politicos in August.
Evans claims he never promised to back the Byrd proposal but said he would try to sell it to the business owners, which he admits he couldn’t do.
Enticed by Evans’ apparent retreat, Barry marched into hostile Georgetown in June and announced the formation of an unwieldy task force, which included just about every resident and business owner who had ever pronounced on the volatile issue. The task force on July 14 issued a report that favored Byrd and Crockett’s proposal for residents-only parking.
That recommendation alarmed and enraged the business community, which immediately bombarded Barry. Within a couple of days, task force chair Paul Cohn, a Georgetown restaurateur, hosted a private dinner for Barry at which the report got roasted. Georgetown resident Tim Hanan claims that a revised report suddenly appeared July 18 and endorsed one-side parking only as a last resort. The final draft proposed replacing 900 missing parking enforcement signs in the community and creating at least 400 new parking spaces by shortening the zones for bus stops, among other measures.
With two reports in hand, angry residents confronted Barry at an Aug. 6 meeting, and Hizzoner promised, à la King Solomon, to split the baby within a few days. Both sides came away from the meeting declaring victory.
That’s just fine with Barry, but it won’t satisfy Byrd. “He’s got a further announcement to make,” Byrd said this week. “We’re waiting for him. I would say he’s about 30 days overdue.”
“The task force fizzled,” Evans said this week. “I didn’t have any great belief that Marion was going to come out with anything different than what I did last year.”
Meanwhile, Hizzoner has turned his attention to defusing another explosive neighborhood issuekeeping student housing on the Georgetown University campus.
The mayor this week was scheduled to meet withyou guessed ithis task force on a proposal by Byrd & Co. to restrict housing in Georgetown to no more than three unrelated residents per household, a thinly disguised attempt to keep students out of the community.
Barry apparently feels that the task-force dodge is still the best way to duck thorny issues.
MARCHING FOR OL’ D.C.
The demonstrators who turned out at the Capitol Sept. 3 to protest the further erosion of home rule under the feds’ bailout plan for the District had to withstand two hours of civil rights nostalgia and a rewrite of local history.
“The dome on the Capitol was built by the D.C. government under Frederick Douglass in the first really home rule government set up here by the Union Army,” proclaimed Abdul Alim Muhammad, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s representative in the nation’s capital.
Muhammad urged the demonstrators to “shut down the government” their ancestors helped build.
For the record, the District government never had anything to do with constructing the Capitol or its dome, and Douglass was never in charge of the District. When Congressnot the Union Armygranted the nation’s capital self-government in 1870, combining the existing governments of Georgetown, Washington, D.C., and the country surrounding the two then-separate cities, Douglass was one of 22 members of the appointed legislature.
Muhammad must be a graduate of Mary Anigbo’s Afrocentric history course at the Marcus Garvey Public Charter School.
Jesse Jackson led the crowd on a rambling replay of the civil rights legacy, from lunch counter sit-ins to Rosa Parks, which was sprinkled heavily with his most famous one-liners:
“I am somebody. Respect me.”
“Up with hope, down with dope.”
“Keep hope alive.”
When he wasn’t onstage or assembling the crowd for the march on the Senate, Jackson was posing for pictures with elementary-school children, who thanks to Gen. Julius Becton had nothing better to do. Asked whether his son, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), would introduce a D.C. statehood bill in this Congress, Jackson, the city’s first elected shadow U.S. Senator/statehood lobbyist, seemed taken aback.
“One hasn’t been introduced?” he asked with obvious surprise.
Current shadow Sen. Paul Strauss and shadow Rep. Sabrina Sojourner say D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has discouraged attempts to reintroduce a statehood bill, claiming now is not the right time to be pushing this cause.
Norton also addressed the crowd and, amid jeers, implored the demonstrators to stand with her shoulder-to-shoulder in future battles before Congress.
“It has been very lonely under that dome,” Norton said. “I need all of you to help me get home rule back. I need you to be here every dayprotesting, lobbying, fixing the city.”
Norton has adopted her new inclusive approach since coming under fire last month for embracing the congressional rescue plan that stripped Barry of control over nine major city agencies. Prior to being tagged “Benedict Norton,” the city’s lone voice on Capitol Hill preferred to go it alone and often shunned help from other city officials.
After Norton preached solidarity to the crowd, she headed back to her House office, leaving Jackson, now a resident of Chicago, to lead the march to the Senate. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) also shunned the march, but not before urging civil disobedience.
“Now is such a time,” said Waters, head of the Congressional Black Caucus. “We must expand these numbers and come up here and do the stand-ins, the sit-ins, the sleep-ins. Walk to the Capitol and sit down. They can’t arrest us all.”
To which Ward 8 activist Phil Pannell replied, “Yes they can.” Pannell was arrested during a smaller demonstration outside the White House in early August.
Waters apparently did not include herself in the “us.” She headed back to her office after addressing the crowd.
The Rev. Al Sharpton is scheduled to make the trip from New York City to the Capitol later this week for another planned demonstration. LL can’t wait to hear his take on D.C. history.CP
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