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When Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. last week hinted on WAMU (88.5 FM)’s D.C. Politics Hour that he would run for a fifth mayoral term in the fall of 1998, he sounded like the good ol’ Barry his rivals have long dreaded: cocky, defiant, and politically secure. But challengers who are looking to strip Hizzoner of his mayoral birthright in the next election need look no further than the widely publicized skirmish at the helm of the D.C. lottery for signs that Barry’s vaunted political skills are on the wane.
With all his behind-the-scenes maneuvers over the past month, Barry managed to bungle the internal politics of the badly divided lottery board—and force a showdown with the financial control board, which has beaten the pulp out of Hizzoner in all previous confrontations. Normally, Barry retreats in no-win situations and takes pains to avoid leaving fingerprints at the scene of the crime. But Hizzoner’s imprimatur was all over last week’s lottery board vote to fire Frederick “Rick” King, the lottery’s new no-nonsense director. In the board’s eyes, King’s capital offense was ignoring Barry’s wish that some of the mayor’s most loyal allies be spared in the RIFing of 22 of the agency’s 110 employees. Barry’s three cronies on the five-member board voted on Sept. 20 to fire King, who has been on the job for only three months.
Barry called board members shortly before the vote to lobby for King’s dismissal. But only board members Nadine P. Winter and Paul Kuntzler opposed King’s firing. After the board took the controversial action, the mayor issued a laughable statement denying any role in the lottery board’s decision.
“I have not tried using any influence on any board member on this matter,” Barry shamelessly claimed in his statement. “I have been totally removed. The lottery board is an independent agency.”
That’s a real knee-slapper. The more Barry professes not to be involved, the more LL is certain he is in it up to his neck.
After taking office on June 17, King wasted little time in alienating Barry allies on the lottery board. King first took aim at the cushy little liberties that have made the lottery one of the city’s most infamous turkey farms. From now on, King said, employees would be required to show up for work on time, clock out when they leave their offices, keep their desks clean, dress properly for work, stop running private ventures out of the agency, and stop spending their workdays in front of the building smoking cigarettes.
One lottery board employee, who recently sent LL copies of these “outrageous” memos from King, also faxed from her office a flier promoting her typing service.
The confrontation between Barry and King over lottery employees came to a head the second week in August, just after the mayor returned from the GOP convention in San Diego. According to a source aware of this confrontation, Barry and lottery board Chairman Kenneth Brewer presented King with a list of lottery employees the mayor considered untouchable. But King balked, insisting that he would base his downsizing decisions on merit, not on politics.
The source said the session ended on an “inflammatory” note when Barry warned King he would reappoint Alice Davis to the lottery board for the sole purpose of stripping King of his powers. Barry appointed Davis to the board last winter, when he needed a third vote to ensure the election of crony Brewer as lottery board chair. But emergency appointees can only serve 90 days without D.C. Council approval, and Davis exited the board in March.
The lottery board has been split since then, with Brewer and board member Barbara Garnett opposed by Kuntzler and Winter. Stymied by the divided board, Barry made good on his threat and appointed Davis to another emergency board stint following his mid-August confrontation with King. Council Chairman Dave Clarke whined that the appointment was illegal because city law barred Davis from serving a second 90-day emergency appointment.
But Clarke and the council made no attempt to stand up to Barry and prevent the atrocities Davis would help perpetrate. At the Sept. 11 lottery board meeting, Davis provided the third vote needed to strip King’s powers and halt his campaign to end business as usual at the agency. Then, at last week’s meeting, Davis served up the resolution to fire King, which passed despite strong protests from Winter and Kuntzler.
Back when the control board was just a gleam in Congress’ eye, Barry could have pulled off this stunt with little publicity and almost no political backlash. But Barry appears to have forgotten that since last summer, control board Chairman Andrew Brimmer has taken a serious interest in snuffing out cronyism at every turn. In fact, Brimmer has had his sights trained on the lottery agency since Brewer took control of the lottery board last winter.
The agency, after all, provides $75 million annually to the financially strapped city in receipts from lottery ticket sales. And Winter has been sounding the warning that ticket sales are lagging because of Brewer’s meddling in King’s affairs. She warns that a decline in morale would impinge on the agency’s efforts to promote the lottery citywide. Brimmer and Co. had to act quickly or risk being seen as paper tigers by other D.C. agencies that might dare to play chicken with the control board.
Brimmer dismissed any doubts about the board’s resolve with three quick blows to the lottery board. In a special Saturday session, the control board ordered the council to disband the entire lottery board. Then, to ensure that it won’t have to revisit lottery board screw-ups any time soon, the board voted to bring the lottery agency under the control of Chief Financial Officer Anthony Williams. Along the way, the board even found a job for seldom seen D.C. Inspector General Angela Avant, who visited lottery offices on Sept. 23 to round up records for an investigation. Finally, on Tuesday the control board asked the U.S. Attorney to prosecute the three board members who violated a contol board order to reinstate King.
The lottery agency has had two directors and three acting directors in the last year alone. Former Executive Director Tony Cooper—who served nearly four years, a record at the 15-year-old agency—quit abruptly in December because of “interference” by Brewer.
Soon after, acting director Rosalind Inge was fired by Brewer just minutes before she was scheduled to testify at the lottery board’s Dec. 28, 1995, meeting in opposition to a proposed “instant ticket” contract to Scientific Games. Inge had discovered that a subcontractor to Scientific Games was a close personal friend of Brewer’s, creating a conflict of interest for the lottery board chairman. Davis, who was beginning her first 90-day term on the lottery board, provided the third vote needed to fire Inge. The Inge incident prompted an FBI investigation of the lottery board, which remained a secret until last weekend.
At that December meeting, Dottie Wade was named to replace Inge as acting director, and she promptly recommended approval of the contract without mentioning the conflict-of-interest problem. Brewer voted for the contract containing the $25,000 subcontract to his friend, but the control board quickly caught wind of the sweetheart deal and nixed it last March.
After Wade became acting director, the lottery board hired former D.C. Council Chairman Sterling Tucker to conduct a nationwide search for a new, full-time director to replace Cooper. Tucker, wise to the ways of D.C. politics, seemed to sense quickly that his mission impossible required devising a selection process that would produce Barry ally Wade as the top prospect for the job.
Tucker managed to accomplish that feat by removing higher education as a job requirement to accommodate Wade, who only has a high-school degree. But Kuntzler and Winter quickly figured out that Tucker was “hiding” more qualified candidates, and they insisted that he produce some of the approximately 400 applicants for job interviews.
Among those Tucker brought forward was Cincinnati businessman King, who even managed to impress Brewer during his interview with the lottery board. But Brewer quickly revised his take once King took over in June and demonstrated he was serious about looking after the public interest.
“It’s all about jobs and contracts,” says a lottery board source of the current turmoil gripping the agency.
One of the big lottery plums is its legal business, which Barry reportedly wants to farm out to Leftwich and Douglas, the law firm headed by Barry confidant Willie Leftwich. But Barry can’t do that without first ousting lottery board General Counsel Mona Blake—a feat Barry and Brewer have yet to accomplish. Even so, lottery board contracts of $10,000 or less have been flowing to the Leftwich law firm for nonlegal consultation, according to board members. Winter has encouraged the control board to scrutinize these contracts.
The control board’s action last weekend has met with complaints in some circles that Brimmer et al. are once again trampling home rule. But it is Barry rule, not home rule, that the control board is dismantling.
Now that Williams has given the green light for the D.C. Department of Public Works to hire 29 new sanitation inspectors and hike fines on litterers and polluters, League of 8,000 members who fought hard for tougher sanitation enforcement fear Barry will take full credit for the changes.
They say he doesn’t deserve any credit at all.
“He’s had no role in this, but I’m quite sure he’s going to come out with some big announcement to show how progressive he is,” warns one League member.
Quite to the contrary, last year Barry wanted to RIF the city’s last five sanitation inspectors, eliminate street cleaning, and end bulk trash pickup in the District. Protests saved the five inspectors’ jobs and the city’s street-cleaning program, but bulk trash pickup has gone the way of baseball in D.C.
The new hires will come on board just as the department implements a new computer system to track environmental scofflaws in the District and deny driver’s licenses and other permits to violators who don’t pay. The new system will also enable the city to impose new litter fines that could run into the thousands of dollars and criminal sanctions against illegal dumping.
The city will begin implementing the changes on Tuesday, Oct. 1…
If last week’s town meeting on public safety held by D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton was designed to head off public criticism of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), it worked perfectly. Capitol Hill residents who turned out to complain that community policing had not put more cops on the streets or more squad cars in the neighborhood never got their say.
The local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) chapter didn’t even present the results of its just-completed survey of members, which showed FOP giving MPD failing grades in professionalism, honesty, dedication to its officers, and pay.
Instead, the well-attended Sept. 16 forum got swept away in the euphoria of Norton’s announcement that the department would finally get the extra $15 million that Congress had promised for this fiscal year. The money, promised last year and approved by Congress in April, arrived in time for the final two weeks of FY 1996.
The funds had been held up for months because members of Congress—Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in particular—objected to using part of the $15 million to restore salary cuts made last year instead of investing in new equipment and computers…
D.C. school Superintendent Franklin Smith’s counterattack to the drubbing he took before the financial control board Sept. 4 is well under way. Smith wrote Brimmer on Sept. 10 complaining that the numerous last-minute requests for information from the board were “interfering with the ability of my staff and I to exercise our responsibilities of operating the school system.”
Some Smith critics would be surprised to learn that he has been exercising these responsibilities.
That same day, Smith wrote control board Executive Director John Hill to request that Hill not meet with school officials or get information from them without first going through the superintendent’s office.
The embattled super also found time to write a third letter that day to Abdusalam Omer, the school system’s chief financial officer, who testified at the Sept. 4 control board meeting that the system’s financial operations were in “disarray.” Smith informed Omer that he had gotten calls questioning Omer’s “ability to accurately interpret a spreadsheet.”
Smith asked Omer to send along a copy of his résumé.
The man does seem to be trying to goad the control board into firing him, doesn’t he? CP
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