In public, City Administrator Michael Rogers and Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. appear as compatible as Bill Clinton and Al Gore. But in private, they act more like Al and Peg Bundy.
Rogers has what Chief Financial Officer Anthony Williams calls “the toughest job in the government.” The city administrator must team up with Williams and the control board to reform and reorganize the hapless D.C. government, which is largely the creation of his boss, the mayor.
Displaying larger-than-the-galaxy pride in his own creation, Barry has steadfastly resisted calls to change his government much beyond a new job title here or an agency reshuffle there. And he often prefers resistance to cooperation, which leaves Rogers in a scrum with Barry, Williams, and control board Executive Director John Hill. In the eyes of Barry, Chief of Staff Barry Campbell, and Cora Masters Lady MacBarry, Rogers’ exact loyalties are as elusive as a balanced D.C. budget.
According to administration sources, Barry is quick to blame Rogers for lingering mismanagement problems within city agencies and the failure of his so-called transformation plan to leap from glossy mayoral pamphlets and press releases into city life. Hizzoner is just as quick to hog credit for those rare occasions when the mayor’s office does something useful.
Take the procurement plan that Barry introduced April 3. At an event to showcase the plan, Barry talked about his vision for streamlined contracting, his leadership on the issue, and his understanding of how the city government works. What he failed to mention, however, was that Rogers just about killed himself piecing the plan together amid constant bickering with the mayor. In unveiling the plan, Barry announced that he would take control of procurement reform, which had previously been Rogers’ responsibility. “It clearly was a slam at Michael,” said a control board staffer.
When asked about his fraying relations with Barry, Rogers responded, “That’s between the mayor and me, but we are fine.”
“It’s difficult to know whether Rogers can’t manage the city or whether he can but can’t because of Barry,” said one top city official. “I think the mayor would like to get rid of him.”
He may not have the pleasure. Rogers last year interviewed for the city manager position in Miami, and in December he was a top contender for a post with Philadelphia’s regional transportation authority. He claims he didn’t pursue the openings after getting a firsthand look at them. For the time being, the humorless Rogers has been telling colleagues he’d like to stay another year to “surprise everybody and get something done,” in the words of one of his colleagues.
Rogers, however, isn’t the only top-level appointee in the mayor’s doghouse. D.C. health czar Harvey Sloane, one of the mayor’s prize catches upon his return to office two years ago, has also been left dangling. The appointment of the respected former mayor of Louisville helped bring the new Barry government much-needed respectability. But Sloane fell out of favor with Barry when he sounded the alarm over the city’s drinking water supply just before last summer’s July 4th weekend.
In a nakedly political gesture, Barry overruled Sloane and declared the water safe, a rash decision that forced the federal Environmental Protection Agency to step in and take control.
Now Barry is blaming Sloane for an initiative by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to strip the mayor of his power to pick employees of the newly created D.C. Department of Health. The plan would allow the department director to make all personnel decisions, a bone HHS wants in return for picking up another $170 million of the city’s annual Medicaid costs.
Barry’s attempts to frame the dispute as a home rule issue are a laugh riot. Somehow, Barry equates trusting his handpicked health director with hiring power with a violation of self-government. And just in case Sloane and everyone else don’t get the message, Barry is refusing to name him permanent director of the department, leaving him on “acting director” status in perpetuity.
WARD 6 POTPOURRI
Anacostia residents might have wondered why former first lady Effi Barry was traipsing about their neighborhood last weekend to campaign for Republican longshot Pat Merkle in the April 29 Ward 6 D.C. Council election. As it turns out, she was just repaying a debt. When the third Mrs. Barry needed a place to recuperate after her husband’s 1990 cocaine conviction, Merkle was the one who took her in.
According to Merkle, the two had not known each other beforehand, but the connection was made through a mutual friend. She was escorted to Merkle’s home one day in early 1991 by two security guards, who were performing their last official act of duty for the District’s departing first lady. After dropping her off, the security guards left, never to return.
It was an ignominious end to Mrs. Barry III’s uncomfortable turn in the D.C. political spotlight. During her husband’s final, turbulent year in office before heading off to serve a six-month federal prison sentence for cocaine possession, Effi was feted at a well-attended Georgetown gathering organized and hosted by irrepressible WOL radio station owner Cathy Hughes. But as soon as Effi lost the trappings of power, Hughes and the others went off in search of new power brokers.
The former first lady said last weekend she has taken a sabbatical from her teaching duties at Hampton University in Norfolk, Va., and is moving back to D.C. to be close to her son, Christopher, during his senior year at Wilson High School.
While his former wife was campaigning for Merkle last week, Barry was on the phone to D.C. government workers seeking votes for Imani Temple Archbishop George Stallings Jr., according to Ward 6 campaign sources. In the closing days of the campaign, Barry and his political network, including shadowy political strategist Ivanhoe Donaldson and former City Administrator Elijah “Baby” Rogers, are mounting a big push for Stallings.
The election of Stallings appears to be the first phase of Barry’s 1998 re-election strategy. With Stallings on the council preaching the politics of race, Barry can come off looking moderate on race issues and still prey on the polarized electorate he will need to win a fifth term against overwhelming odds…
The uncanny friendship between Stallings and crime dog Sandy McCall in the Ward 6 council race looks more and more like an unholy alliance. Stallings, borrowing a page from his mentor at 1 Judiciary Square, arrived at an April 13 McCall fundraiser in a caravan of five convertibles. The Stallings entourage annoyed nearby residents by double-parking on East Capitol Street near Stanton Park, but Stallings is not apparently counting on many votes in the Capitol Hill precincts of Ward 6.
Stallings stayed at the McCall event for nearly two hours, acting as though he had nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon two weeks before the election than attend a rival’s event. Some of their rivals are speculating about just who is using whom in this strange union.
CROFT IN WARD 6
The Ward 6 special election to fill the vacancy created by the upward mobility of now At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil once again proves the wisdom of switching to nonpartisan elections in D.C. Just like the May 1995 special election to fill a council vacancy in Ward 8, this winner-take-all contest boasts a broader field of talented contenders than city elections generally attract. When the Democratic primary is not used to weed out new talent and protect the party’s old warhorses, the quality and number of office seekers seems to improve dramatically.
The D.C. Democratic party must be mercifully put to sleep, like a crippled old dog that has lived beyond its years, if democracy is to flourish again in the District.
Among the 12 contenders for the council seat, John Capozzi, Sandy McCall, Sharon Ambrose, and Howard Croft deserve a close look from Ward 6 voters.
Although Capozzi often gets dismissed as a political gadfly, his record of tireless work in the community, particularly on environmental issues, makes him a serious candidate in any election. In this campaign, Capozzi has taken the time to scour his ward by foot and meet individually with the voters. He may have the best grip on the mood of the Ward 6 electorate.
McCall deserves full credit for elevating crime, the No. 1 concern of voters in all parts of the ward, to the No. 1 issue in the campaign. Local politicians in the past have perfected subtle strategies for ducking this vexing issue and probably would have done so in this campaign in McCall’s absence. His tenacity has motivated voters who might otherwise have concluded that the election has no impact on their everyday lives.
Ambrose’s well-oiled campaign apparatus bears witness to her outstanding organizational skillsan asset in short supply among current councilmembers. She has also demonstrated a remarkable grasp of the issues gained during her 17 years as a top council staffer to Betty Ann Kane and John Ray. An Ambrose victory in Ward 6 would bolster the citywide trend of staffing the council with moderates who advocate smaller government and lower taxes but cozy up to real estate and development dollars.
But with the death of council Chairman Dave Clarke, city politics needs a strong but clear-thinking defender of the District’s liberal heritage. That voice in this election belongs solely to Croft.
Croft tempers Clarke’s passion for big government with a professorial approach to complex urban problems. He has served for 30 years in academia and outdistances his rivals in community and government service. His thoughtfulness at campaign forums sometimes gets mistaken for excessive caution: He is not a candidate who speaks in sound bites.
As a councilmember, Croft will toss a missing ingredient into the council’s political soup. At a time when the council and the control board are opting for efficiency over compassion in every public policy decision, the city’s downtrodden need at least one energetic voice to safeguard their interests. Plus, Croft is the one candidate who can unite Anacostia with Capitol Hill, a goal that all Ward 6 candidates can agree on.
Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans has removed Ward 1 activist Leroy Thorpe from the advisory committee for the new convention center after a flare-up at a stormy April 8 community meeting on the center. Evans said he was attempting to answer a question from the audience when Thorpe kept butting in. A flustered Evans then reportedly blurted out, “Goddammit, Leroy, let me speak!” Chaos and shouting ensued following that exchange, and the meeting of 150 Shaw residents, many of whom opposed the construction of the new convention center at Mount Vernon Square, quickly broke up.
Thorpe claimed afterward that he is the only community activist who has not been “bought off” by convention center supporters. He said he had been offered money for his pet community projects by the hotel industry and other groups backing construction of the new center on the Mount Vernon site. Thorpe, an advisory neighborhood commissioner, said he refused the alleged charity because it would compromise his standing in the community.CP
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