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When Office of Management and Budget Director Franklin Raines trekked up to Capitol Hill on Monday night for a town meeting with D.C. residents, he had one objective in mind: promote the Clinton administration’s plan for reviving the District, which calls for a federal takeover of D.C. courts, prisons, Medicaid, and other functions. But the crime-weary residents at the meeting apparently mistook Raines for Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Larry Soulsby, badgering the federal budget director about crime stats and demanding that the feds deliver a better police department by any means necessary, including a federal takeover.
And as long as the federal government is studying which parts of the District government to annex, other speakers urged that it might as well stuff the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) into its portfoliobefore the school loses its accreditation.
In a city that has long borne a maniacal love/hate relationship with its federal overseersordering them to stay out of District affairs one day and scolding them for their indifference the nextresidents are sending early Valentines to the White House.
D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who convened the town meeting with Raines, noticed the trend and called a halt to attempts to make Raines the new police chief.
“It really isn’t fair to beat up Frank Raines on what the mayor and city council have or haven’t done,” Norton lectured the 200 or some restless audience members.
Added Raines, “I’m certainly getting a lesson in the top priorities people have for their local government.” But federalizing MPD, he said, has been deliberately excluded from Clinton’s rescue plan.
Residents want Raines and Clinton to pry the department from the grip of Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. But Barry places a high priority on keeping control of MPD and its budget.
While senseless violence mows down churchgoing senior citizens and veteran D.C. cops, critics charge that Barry continues to play politics with the police force. MPD is currently authorized to place up to 3,800 blues on the streets, but actual staffing levels fall well below that mark. Two weeks ago, Barry advanced an ill-conceived plan to cap MPD at 3,400 officers. Not surprisingly, the proposal drew an outraged response from cowering city residents. So Hizzoner backtracked, claiming last week that he’ll keep the department at its current level of 3,600 officers through 1998.
But even in his fallback position Barry can lay no claim as the District’s public-safety crusader. The 3,600 level, after all, is 200 officers shy of the department’s maximum deployment. Instead of shelling out more taxpayer dollars to fill the slots, however, Barry wants to save his ever-shrinking budget allocations for other priorities, like feeding development projects to his political base in Southeast.
Some of the crime-conscious residents bombarding Raines Monday night were supporters of Ward 6 council candidate Henry “Sandy” McCall, who picked up his election petitions three days after securing the endorsement of the District’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). FOP President Ron Robertson, a staunch advocate of MPD federalization, hopes to turn the Ward 6 election into a minireferendum on a federal police takeover.
Robertson and McCall are trying to put an attractive spin on their proposal by dubbing it “localization” of the department. Their plan calls for the mayor, the president, and Congress to appoint a three-member commission to run MPD for five years. During that period, the feds would provide $280 million annually to the department, up from the current $240-million outlay. The money would go directly to MPD, bypassing the mayor.
But Robertson may have inadvertently derailed his plan just as it was about to pick up reinforcements. FOP only interviewed three Ward 6 candidates, all white, before endorsing McCall.
“I think that is absolutely outrageous in a city that is majority African-American, and with a police force that is majority African-American,” responded Ward 6 contender Howard Croft, a former member of the D.C. parole board. Croft is also the coordinator of MPD programs at UDC.
Robertson shrugs off the attack: “They call us, we don’t call them,” he says, regarding FOP’s endorsement process. “They know who we are.”
With an attitude like that and an unknown political novice carrying FOP’s federalization banner in Ward 6, don’t expect to see FBI agents walking the beat in your neighborhood anytime soon.
WARD 6 POTPOURRI
Former D.C. Council staffer Sharon Ambrose proved during the first month of the Ward 6 special council election that she can outdistance her many rivals in the race for campaign cash. Ambrose raised $10,000much of it from D.C. Republicans and from the insurance and beverage industriesand filed the only complete and decipherable campaign finance report to date.
Although 20 candidates have picked up petitions to run in the April 29 special election to fill the vacancy created when former Ward 6 Councilmember Harold Brazil won an at-large seat last year, only six filed campaign finance reports, which were due Jan. 31. Three candidates have already withdrawn from the race, and several more dropouts are expected before next Tuesday’s deadline for filing petitions.
The Republican contributions in Ambrose’s report reflect her campaign strategy of targeting the ward’s oft-ignored GOP voters in the special election, which is open to registered voters of any party affiliation. Ambrose, a Democrat, advocates cleaning up the District’s corrupt politics by switching to nonpartisan elections for mayor, the council, and the school board.
In the overwhelmingly Democratic District, elections begin and end with the critical Democratic primary races. Republicans, independents, and third-party voterswhose main role is to lend legitimacy to a skewed political processare left to cast meaningless ballots in the general elections.
Congressional Republicans argued for nonpartisan D.C. elections during the 1973 home rule debate, but their concerns got elbowed aside by the then-Democratic majority on Capitol Hill and in the District.
Imani Temple Archbishop George Stallings, who collected $6,585, is shadowing Ambrose in the Ward 6 fund-raising derby. However, the breakaway Catholic priest failed to disclose the occupations and addresses of his 52 contributors, as required by D.C. elections laws. To fill in the blanks, Stallings might consider checking one of Barry’s old fund-raising reports, for his donors’ club features a number of prominent Barryites, including boxing promoter Rock Newman, who shelled out $500, and former Ward 7 Councilmember H.R. Crawford, who gave $400.
Stallings is actively courting an endorsement from the mayor. Failing that, however, he is determined to tap into Barry’s political network.
The Stallings campaign is haunted by the ongoing investigation by U.S. Attorney Eric Holder of an Imani Temple parishioner for the drowning death of an infant last year during a baptism ceremony at the Capitol Hill church. The candidate hastily scheduled a Jan. 30 news conference at Potomac Avenue Metro stop to hail the end of Holder’s investigation but was forced to cancel the event when Holder’s office announced that no such decision was imminent.
Former Brazil aide Rob Robinson suffered his second major setback when he failed to stay abreast of Ambrose and Stallings in the dash for campaign cash. After working under Brazil on city affairs for six years, Robinson is trying to prove he’s more than a mere clone of his former boss. However, he has done a poor job of replicating Brazil’s flair for fund-raising and political glad-handing.
Robinson raised a paltry $5,280 during January, $1,000 of which came from H.H. Leonards and her controversial Dupont Circle bed-and-breakfast, known as the Mansion. Brazil last year sponsored council legislation that cleared the way for Leonards to reapply for her yanked liquor license, against strong community resistance.
Robinson was also banking on the endorsement of FOP, which backed Brazil last fall in his at-large council bid. But FOP lined up behind dark-horse candidate McCall.
Peripatetic candidate John Capozzi’s door-to-door campaign blitz may resonate with Ward 6 populists but has failed to impress that critical constituency with disposable income. Capozzi has already sunk $2,410 of his own money into his Ward 6 bid but has collected only $1,755 from donors. His failed at-large council quest last year ran on $19,000 of the candidate’s personal funds.
Former Stanton Park Neighborhood Association president Tom Hamilton invested $2,000 of his own money in his uphill campaign and raised another $1,900. Anacostia resident Charles Day reported raising $900 but didn’t disclose his donors. Other candidates, including AIDS activist Steve Michael, didn’t even bother to file, even though they are handing out brochures and hanging campaign posters.
UDC Urban Studies chairman Croft was the only major contender who failed to meet the Jan. 31 campaign finance report filing deadline. A campaign spokesman said the report would be filed this week.
Croft entered the race for the Ward 6 council seat Feb. 1 to represent “the ordinary people.” And he certainly turned out more of them than any other contender for his official kickoff. Over 100 Ward 6 residents poured into the former Capitol Hill home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass to watch as Croft, who has toiled in city politics for 30 years, formally opened his first try for elective office.
“I’m an old-fashioned guy,” he told his enthusiastic followers. “I still believe that government can and must play a role in making life better for ordinary people.”
His campaign kickoff had the feel of a civil rights rally, complete with spirituals and folk songs. But Croft, who usually lurks on the left side of Democratic politics, picked up an endorsement from Carl Cole, a conservative black Republican who backed Goldwater during the civil rights era and Reagan in the last decade.
“This is not about labels,” Cole said. “This is about caring and compassion. We have to look for fresh minds, and a new intellect.”
Croft, who has held several appointed posts during Barry’s tenure as mayor, also secured the backing of shoe repairman John “Peter Bug” Matthews. Candidates seek Matthews’ endorsement in every election because he lives in a voter-rich precinct and can turn out youth from his “shoe-repair academy” to work the streets.
Croft pledged to clean up the ward’s trash-littered alleys and streets, make the Anacostia River “the jewel that it once was,” transform UDC into an institution D.C. residents proudly think of as their “state university,” lobby for the redevelopment of H Street NE and the Anacostia Gateway project, push for community policing and rapid response “in every neighborhood,” and back pay hikes for police officers.
No one in Ward 6 will take issue with Croft’s sense of priorities. However, he still has to convince Ward 6 voters that he has the political skills to transform his rhetoric into reality. After all, many ward voters can still recall Croft’s leadership role in D.C.’s disastrous constitutional convention of the early 1980s. Croft and other statehood die-hards expected the convention to produce a groundbreaking declaration for the state of New Columbia. Instead, the divided convention spat out a proposed constitution that won only derision from the national press and Congress.
Near the end of the mayor’s Feb. 3 news conference to unveil his budget plans for next year, Chief Financial Officer Anthony Williams tried to sneak out of the room to avoid the likelihood of reporters crowding around him in search of searing criticism of the Barry plan. But Williams’ exit sucked many of the journalists out of the room in his wake.
“Hey, where’s everybody going?” an obviously displeased Barry said from the podium, interrupting his presentation. “I’m going to drop a bomb any minute now.”
Afterward, Barry Campbell, the mayor’s chief of staff, angrily confronted Williams in the hallway outside. The CFO explained that he had tried to leave early so that his presence wouldn’t “upstage” Barry at his own news conference. But his effort failed miserably.
“I made a mistake. I’m sorry,” Williams told Campbell before stalking away. Campbell looked unconvinced.
Williams and Barry had clashed days earlier, when the CFO objected to the gaudy, multicolored cover on his budget book depicting “economic growth” lifting into the atmosphere. The cover was toned down after Williams said that it looked like efficient government being consumed in an inferno. CP
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