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An endorsement from Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. last year proved about as useful to aspiring city politicians as an illegitimate child. But that hasn’t stopped candidates in the upcoming Ward 6 council race from jockeying for the diminished mayor’s political blessing, hoping that it will translate into votes and campaign workers.
Imani Temple Archbishop George Stallings’ secret meeting with Barry in mid-January has forced rival candidates to throw their political weight around in hopes of preventing a Barry endorsement of the controversial breakaway Catholic priest. University of the District of Columbia Urban Studies Chairman Howard Croft, after learning of the Stallings-Barry powwow, requested a meeting with Barry to ask him to stay neutral in this race.
After all, Croft has been a longtime supporter of the mayor, who last year appointed him to the D.C. zoning commission.
But LL doubts that Barry will be able to remain on the sidelines of this political fight no matter what he professes publicly. Stallings is backed by Union Temple Baptist Church’s the Rev. Willie Wilson, who has been urging his Anacostia parishioners to vote for Stallings. Wilson is a Barry ally, and has even stronger ties to Cora Masters Lady MacBarry.
Stallings and Wilson are pursuing Barry’s 1994 strategy of registering and energizing new voters and are shunning established political groups and civic organizations as “part of the problem.”
Some candidates, including Croft and Capozzi, also complain that WOL talk-show host Mark Thompson has been using his show to solicit votes and campaign workers for Stallings. Stallings is running under the banner of the Umoja party, founded by Thompson in 1993, which preaches the same message of black self-determination that earned Thompson 6 percent of the vote in last November’s at-large race.
If Stallings’ opponents feel that Thompson is shamelessly exploiting his access to the airwaves to plug Stallings, they can take their complaints to station owner Cathy Hughes. Problem is, Hughes has a history of using her station to promote her own black nationalist agenda, which dovetails with Umoja politics. But the WOL “family” represents a very narrow slice of the electoratea caucus of conspiratorialists who see a plot lurking behind every Korean grocery store and control board edict.
The April 29 special election will fill the vacancy left by six-year Ward 6 Councilmember Harold Brazil, who won a promotion last November to an at-large council seat. But that doesn’t mean the race lacks an incumbent. Rob Robinson, former top aide to Brazil, last weekend announced his candidacy before a predominantly African-American audience of some 50 supporters. The crowd also included substantial numbers of elderly residents, who will constitute a formidable voting block in the contest.
Robinson, who was described last Saturday by Ambassador Baptist Church’s the Rev. Roy Settles as Brazil’s “feet and hands in the community” over the past six years, is the campaign’s quasi-incumbent.
Rival candidates aim to staple Brazil’s missteps in his six years as the ward’s council representative to Robinson. Croft and Stallings in particular are expected to call on Robinson to explain why he never stood up for Ward 6 residents in Anacostia during Brazil’s years on the council. Croft says he is ready to buy lunch for the first person who can remember seeing anyone in Brazil’s constituent services office on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE.
But Robinson also enjoys the advantages of incumbency, as last weekend’s announcement demonstrated. Restaurateur Paul Cohn, former Alcoholic Beverage Control board chair Mary Eva Candon, and political fund raiser Kerry Pearson turned out to hear their candidate’s opening salvo. With the help of this well-connected trio, the Robinson campaign should have little problem amassing a $100,000 campaign war chesta threshold only incumbents normally reach. Watch for the kind of full-color campaign posters, Metrobus ads, and radio spots that catapulted Brazil to victory in his at-large race.
“I’m running because I’ve spent 20 years of my life trying to figure out how to make a somewhat dysfunctional government work,” Robinson said, referring to his service as a council staffer and an aide to Mayor Barry.
After two decades of trying, Robinson thinks he has come up with some solutions. But his laundry list reads like Brazil boilerplate. He pledges to get government agencies to “eradicate the conditions that allow crime to thrive in this community,” cut taxes, coax fleeing residents and businesses back into the city by making the government more responsive to their needs, improve city services, forge a better “partnership” with Congress, and stop harassing nonprofits like Fannie Mae, which are exempt from paying D.C. taxes.
“The reality is, we don’t need to figure out how to tax more people. We have an embarrassment of riches here,” said Robinson, doing his best to parrot the positions taken by Brazil last fall.
The tax line was a slap at John Capozzi, who has been leading the political fight against Fannie Mae, the profitable federal mortgage giant.
If anyone still doubts that politics is not for the weak or fainthearted, just ask peripatetic candidate Capozzi. As Capozzi was pounding the campaign trail last Wednesday, he happened upon a street crime in progress and came away with a broken nose.
This isn’t the first time Capozzi has strapped on the cape of crime crusader. While hanging campaign posters for his unsuccessful at-large council race last May, Capozzi witnessed a purse snatching and chased down the culprit. With the help of a passer-by, the snatcher was subdued until police arrived, and Capozzi seized the opportunity to solicit a vote from his fellow crime fighter.
The most recent episode in the adventures of the Caped Capozzi happened last week. He had just finished campaigning door-to-door in a Capitol Hill neighborhood when he spotted binoculars, papers, a checkbook, and “other stuff that just shouldn’t be there” in the street near the intersection of 10th and D Streets NE. Capozzi stopped his car and got out to investigate.
“The fact that there were seven or eight people on the street, I was lured into a sense of, ‘There are people out here,’” Capozzi recalls. Thinking there was safety in numbers, Capozzi started poking around, but quickly realized he had made a mistake. “In reality, they were all working together,” he says.
Capozzi had interrupted a van burglary in progress, and the looters were none too pleased with the boyish-looking intruder. One approached, pretending to be friendly, and then punched Capozzi in the face, breaking his nose. The others joined in the chase as Capozzi retreated to the intersection and flagged down a passing motorist.
Capozzi says he begged the driver to call the police, but the driver told him, “I don’t live in this neighborhood and I can’t call the police.” He sped away, leaving Capozzi to face his pursuers.
At that moment, a D2 Metrobus stopped at the intersection, and Capozzi jumped on board, pleading with the driver to call the police. But the bus driver said his radio was broken. “I can call when I get to the end of the line,” the driver offered, according to Capozzi.
Deyanira Barrios, an aide to Ward 1 Councilmember Frank Smith, happened to be on the bus and immediately recognized the panicked newcomer with the bloody face. Another passenger with a cell phone called the police.
But the other passengers quickly grew impatient and urged the driver to get going. So Capozzi, Barrios, and another woman acquaintance on the bus got off to await the arrival of the police, with the predators still hovering nearby. Within minutes, a firetruck arrived, and the firemen remained until the police showed up, about 25 minutes after being summoned. By then, the interrupted burglars had scattered.
Capozzi later learned that he had stumbled onto a street corner that has been targeted by an anti-gang task force set up by U.S. Attorney Eric Holder. The gang members are well known to neighborhood residents. When Capozzi described the man who slugged him, a nearby resident replied, “Oh, that’s Pinky.”
After the police arrived, Capozzi went to D.C. General Hospital, where his broken nose was treated in less than four hours. “They did a great job. We’ve got to keep that hospital open,” he said.
Despite the broken nose, Capozzi may have a tough time convincing opponents that he’s not milking his misadventure for political gain. (He was featured at the top of WJLA-TV Channel 7’s Jan. 24 11 o’clock news broadcast about crime on Capitol Hill.) Some rivals roll their eyes when they hear about his latest crime-fighting caper.
Capozzi’s campaign recently conducted a poll that forecasts a two-way race between him and Stallings, with everyone else lagging far behind. That poll prompted lesser-known contender Tom Hamilton to quip last week, “I’ve done an informal poll. I woke up three guys sleeping on benches in Stanton Park. Two are going to vote for me, and one is going to vote for Ernie Postell. I am 2-to-1 ahead of my closest rival, and no one else is making my poll at all.”
To which Capozzi responded, “They can make fun of my poll all they want. But they have to change the reality that no one knows who they are.”
Perhaps his rivals will have to resort to chasing down purse snatchers and burglars to boost their name recognition. If that happens, politicians would finally be doing something useful to reduce crime in this city. And if Capozzi survives long enough to bring some of his impressive crime-fighting instincts to bear on his political future, maybe this hardy perennial will finally bloom.
Former D.C. school board member Valencia Mohammed was spotted in line at the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES) Jan. 16 applying for unemployment benefits. LL didn’t even know that losing a political race in D.C. qualifies the loser to collect unemployment compensation.
It doesn’t, say DOES officials. But they wouldn’t say whether Mohammed is actually getting unemployment.
Mohammed gave up her seat on the school board last year, after only one term, to run unsuccessfully for an at-large council seat…
When residents of Capitol Hill’s squad car Beat 25 received their “Beat 25 News” report last week, all they got were two half-pages with no masthead for the newsletter. The purged portion contained an article claiming Capitol Hill cops were hanging out at adult video stores and writing parking tickets instead of chasing criminals. Also clipped off was a screed by newsletter editor Ted Howard against the cops who walk Beat 25 in the neighborhood between the Library of Congress and Eastern Market.
“They were walking along, obviously overweight and looked physically out of shape,” Howard wrote in his censored editorial. “I thought, ‘Gee, I hope I don’t need them.’”
The printed newsletter was intercepted by Beat 25 leaders Suzonna Moore and Peter Garcia, who excised the offending portions before the newsletter landed in the hands of Capitol Hill residents. Moore and Garcia insist they have the right to edit the newsletter.
Garcia informed Howard that Beat 25 leaders “will not distribute a newsletter that contains an editorial that is objectionable to us in style, tone, or substance.”
Howard insists that he was entitled to opine in each issue and has quit in protest…
The decision by Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous to replace his entire staff and hire former police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr. to run his operations is a bold move that only a future mayoral candidate would make. Chavous’ former staff was good enough to steer him to re-election last year, but apparently not good enough to move him up to the next level.
The popular councilmember’s mayoral prospects dimmed last year when he was criticized for his absentee record and apparent lack of interest in his current job. But Chavous has suddenly thrust himself back into the 1998 mayoral picture with his staff shake-up. And since his appointment to head the council’s education committee, Chavous is spending more time in the District Building.
Chavous’ sudden dedication to his council duties is part of a promising trend in D.C. politics. Along with Brazil and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, Chavous senses Barry’s deepening vulnerabilities and is struggling to compile a council record to tout to city voters in 1998. It’s the sort of trend the city has rarely seen in the 22 years of home rule.CP
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