The chances of finding former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly on the same side as political enemy and nemesis Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. would seem about as remote as catching House Speaker Newt Gingrich napping in the Lincoln bedroom. But the former mayor and the current mayor who sent her into political exile appear to be allies in a covert campaign to get renegade Catholic priest George Stallings elected to the D.C. Council in Ward 6.
Stallings’ latest fund-raising report reads like a who’s who of Barry cronies, and the Kelly connection is as clear as the bulletproof glass she had installed in her mayoral suite at 1 Judiciary Square. James R. Kelly III, the former mayor’s husband, gave Stallings $500, and his communications company kicked in another $500.
The Kellys’ backing of Stallings puts them in the same camp as longtime Barry insiders such as former D.C. Medicaid contractor John Clyburn, whom Sharon Pratt Dixon/Kelly flailed against, during her successful 1990 mayoral bid, as one of the bunch who dragged down D.C. for personal gain. Clyburn, whose business empire is in bankruptcy, gave Stallings a paltry $200.
When asked about her husband’s sudden political interests, former Mayor Kelly said this week, “I’m sure his reasons are very clear, but you should ask him.” However, quizzing former first gentleman Jim was out of the question this week, she said, because her husband was away on business.
Since being banished from District politics by the unexpected return of Barry in 1994, Kelly has repeatedly echoed the Greta Garbo refrain, “I vont to be alone.” “I’m out of public life and enjoying it thoroughly,” she said when contacted at her Shepherd Park home this past Monday. “I wish everybody the best, but I don’t want to make any comments.”
Kelly saved her public statements for the voters of Brazil (the country), where she traveled last week as part of a Fulbright Commission-sponsored junket to promote “new voices in the democratic process” and emerging political parties. An interesting topic for someone from a one-party town.
Stallings’ latest campaign finance report, filed March 10, is peppered with other recognizable Barry backers, including Elijah “Baby” Rogers, city administrator during Barry’s first mayoral term, attorney Scott Bolden, communications businessman John Oxendine, and medical malpractice attorney Jack Olender. Olender, his wife, and his law firm contributed a combined $1,500 to Stallings.
These men are part of the core group of donors Barry has constantly turned to for campaign cash for himself and his allies. The Barry connection helped Stallings raise $12,265 during February and the first week in Marchdouble the amount he collected in December and January.
If he can’t wrangle a public endorsement from Hizzoner, Stallings, founder of the African-American Catholic Church after his break with Roman Catholicism seven years ago amid allegations of pedophilia, is hoping at least to gain covert support from Barry and his political network. Judging from his most recent campaign finance report, Stallings’ hopes are being fulfilled.
“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that some of the same people who have supported the archbishop over the years have also supported Barry over the years,” said Stallings campaign spokesperson William Marshall. “But we are not seeking any endorsement. This is an issue-oriented race.”
At least two other Ward 6 candidates can make a stronger claim than Stallings to Barry’s endorsement. Former University of the District of Columbia professor Howard Croft has spent much of his three decades in D.C. politics flacking for Hizzonertravail that earned Croft an appointment to the D.C. parole board during Barry’s third term and to the D.C. zoning commission during the current term.
Even Croft can’t match Rob Robinson when it comes to credentials as a Barry loyalist. In December 1987, Robinson pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree theft after writing checks totaling $1,500 against the mayor’s ceremonial fund to settle an unpaid bill for a fur coat purchased by then-first lady Effi Barry. Robinson served as Barry’s chief office administrator and handled the office accounts during the mayor’s second term. He testified in federal court that he wrote the checks without Barry’s knowledge and then reimbursed the city with his own money.
His guilty plea was viewed by many at the time as an act of loyalty that let the embattled mayor escape yet another legal entanglement and political embarrassment. Robinson was sentenced to one year’s probation and 100 hours of community service.
The issue has not surfaced publicly in the Ward 6 special election to fill the vacancy created when Robinson’s most recent boss, Councilmember Harold Brazil, switched to an at-large seat in the November elections.
So far, the candidate forums have supplied more prescriptions for crime prevention than attacks on the qualifications of the 12 candidates in the race. With the exception of Henry “Sandy” McCall, who regularly gets portrayed by fellow candidates as the villain “polarizing” the fragile Ward 6 community with his anti-crime crusade, the contenders are reluctant to take each other on publicly.
Even when they sit face to face in a grudge debate. Last week, Crime Dog McCall and AIDS activist Steve “ACT UP” Michael met at Eastern Market in front of a crowd of 40 to hash out divisive issues that have popped up in the forums. Michael had called for the one-on-one debate to prove that McCall, a public safety crusader, was advocating a police state for the city. Even though Michael was clearly over his head on the crime issue, McCall constantly threw his opponent a lifeline.
In a response to questions from the audience, McCall touted his policy of “zero tolerance” for anti-social and anti-community behavior and his priority list of prosecutable crimes, which currently includes pissing in public, behaving in an unruly manner in parks, lying to the council, and cheating and fraud by city government employees. (McCall wants to seize the retirement benefits of convicted employees to reimburse the city for their malfeasance.)
Michael preaches maximum tolerance and blames societynot craven perps and lazy copsfor the city’s crime scourge. “This seems so much like sucking up to this Congress, like just bending over,” he said of McCall’s get-tough approach. “We haven’t lived up to some fundamental issues and taken responsibility as a society.”
But that stand is to be expected from a militant who harbors a deep distrust of authority and who allegedly trashed his 14th Street NW apartment two years ago when his landlord began eviction proceedings after Michael refused to pay his rent. Apparently, the landlord had failed to live up to some “fundamental responsibilities” that overrode Michael’s responsibility as a tenant, and justified what the landlord said was $10,000 in damage Michael and his roommates inflicted upon the property.
Listening too closely to what the candidates are saying can be hazardous to rational voter reasoning. All the candidates rail against the inefficiency and incompetency of the District government, but all, with the exception of Republican Pat Merkle, advocate more government, not less.
Nearly all candidates endorsed the creation of a new D.C. department of environmental protection during a March 4 forum hosted by the city’s fledgling Green Party. Croft also wants to revive the dormant Human Rights Commission and elevate it to a cabinet-level agency. Robinson wants a regional authority to oversee expansion of the subway system and the coordination of bus routes.
At a March 4 forum hosted by the city’s gay and lesbian organizations, former council staffer Sharon Ambrose gave this prescription for a council revival: work harder and hold more oversight hearings, but meet less often, and work full-time but take a part-time salary. None of her rivals pounced on the contradictions in her statement, with the possible exception of newcomer Tom Hamilton.
“I will accept a salary equal to Tom Sherwood’s,” Hamilton said, referring to the WRC-TV reporter who moderated the forum. “And whatever that is, I’ll earn it.”
AVANT’S LAST STAND
When Chief Financial Officer Anthony Williams expressed support for Inspector General Angela Avant during a meeting with reporters and editors at the Washington Times three weeks ago, the embattled IG thought her job was saved. After all, she apparently reasoned, with powerful political allies like Williams, who dubbed her “Angela the Avenger,” the financial control board wouldn’t dare fire the highest-ranking black woman in the D.C. government.
“He made it worse for her because she thought she could fight,” a control board staffer said of Avant, who was forced to resign March 13.
After his comments were published in the Times’ March 3 edition, Williams quickly told the control board that he had been misquoted and that his words had been taken out of context. He informed control board members that he was merely trying to be supportive without going to bat for Avant. But he also hired away Bob Thomas, Avant’s director of investigations, which left her team of investigators in turmoil.
If the control board hadn’t moved, though, Avant’s very own investigators were plotting her demise from within. The plan, according to an IG source, was to launch an investigation targeting a close ally of Mayor Barry. Staffers expected Avant to kill the investigation because of her loyalty to the mayor, providing them with a smoking gun for the control board.
“She and her investigators did not get along. There was a lot of strife,” the control board staffer said. One investigator confirmed the report.
But before the rebels could act, Avant stepped down last week to avoid removal by the control board. Control board members were unhappy that she had failed to pursue allegations of contract fraud involving D.C. department heads and their cronies fed to her office by the board.
Avant was also getting mixed signals from the board during her final weeks. While criticizing Avant for conducting shoddy and trivial investigations, the control board appeared to accept her conclusions that the city’s recycling contractor, Eagle Maintenance Services, had overcharged the government by $1.2 million. (After the council’s public works committee challenged her conclusion, Avant cut that figure in half last week.)
Avant recommended that these claims not be paid, and suggested that Eagle’s contract, set to expire Feb. 1, be sent to the council for review and changes before it was renewed.
Barry, under advice from the corporation counsel’s office, sent Eagle’s new contract to the control board in early January for review, instead of to the council. Three days after the board received Avant’s report on Jan. 27, it acted just as she had recommended and sent the new contract back to the council for needed changes.
But only one day remained before the recycling contract was set to expire, and the board’s recommendation never reached the council in time. Once the old contract ended Feb. 1, the council could not renew it, and council officials say the city has to solicit new bids to restart the program.
The mix-up between the mayor’s office and the control board has many D.C. residents wondering why they must suffer from the same bumbling and fumbling from the new power structure that they had to endure for so long under the old one.
THE 800-POUND SILENCE
#When D.C. councilmembers sat down with the control board March 13 for a closed meeting, they watched the specter of the “800-pound gorilla” controversy now dividing Prince George’s County flash before them. While pleading for a new computer system for the D.C. Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas commented, “That’s an Amos ‘n’ Andy computer over there,” according to councilmembers who attended the meeting.
An awkward silence gripped the room until control board member Stephen Harlan offered an ice-breaking quip. “You know, I’m really glad I didn’t say that,” Harlan reportedly said, prompting relieved laughter.
Prince George’s County school desegregation monitor Bob Shoenberg set off a recent turmoil when he jokingly referred to the county’s African-American school superintendent as “my 800-pound gorilla.”
When a participant at last week’s meeting began to question Thomas as to what he meant by the remark, control board member Constance Newman allegedly cautioned, “Don’t go there!” No one did. CP
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