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To vote for anyone who has been present at the colossal failures of the District would be like handing mafioso John Gotti control of the city treasury.
During the first, failed stage of its modern-day experiment with self-government, the District has been under the iron hand of a political mafia that has raided the treasury, rewarded friends, let the city fall into ruin, and thwarted the rise of competent political talent that might have been interested in saving D.C. The people who were around at the beginning of home rule—Jarvis, Yeldell, Barry, Clarke—are the same names you hear today.
To go to the polls next Tuesday and elect anyone who has had a hand in the failure of home rule would be to perpetuate the kind of nonperformance the city has gotten from its leaders over the past three decades. It’s time for this city to begin to make a clean break with its dismal past.
That requires taking chances with newcomers who at first glance may not measure up to what we’re hoping for in new leadership. But political newcomers in this city cannot gain the resources, media exposure, and public attention necessary for voters to become comfortable with them by Election Day. Yet pulling the levers for those old warhorses is not the answer, as recent history loudly attests.
In the Democratic primary for an at-large D.C. Council seat, Joe Yeldell and Harold Brazil are the front-runners by virtue of name recognition alone. Yeldell has been a key player in D.C. government since President Lyndon B. Johnson picked him for the first appointed council back in 1967. On the campaign trail, Yeldell certainly can claim experience in D.C. government. He is smooth, charming, and sometimes even makes sense.
But there is absolutely nothing in Yeldell’s past that indicates he is willing—or knows how—to chart a new course for the city’s leaking, lost ship of state. Instead, he’s got a huge history of rewarding cronies with city jobs, allegations of corruption and bribery (of which he was convicted in 1978, but the conviction was overturned on appeal), and a reputation as a womanizer, which contributed to his most recent firing in May, when Barry kicked him out as director of the Department of Employment Services.
D.C. has seen this kind of politician many times before. We don’t need—and can’t afford—to elect another.
Brazil, the second-term councilmember from Ward 6, is a key member of the “Young Turks” on the council who pledged to rein in spending, rout out contract fraud, and make the government operate efficiently. Yet in six years on the council, Brazil and his band have barely left a mark on local government.
Brazil has ducked sensitive issues, compiled an absentee record that would put any D.C. high-school dropout to shame, and given no valid reason for voters to move him from his current ward seat into an at-large seat.
The reason Brazil covets the change in title is he wants to run for mayor in two years without risking anything, and he can’t do that in his current seat because he would have to run for re-election in Ward 6 in 1998. “I want to rebuild a city that works,” claimed Brazil at an Aug. 27 voters’ forum at the Mount Pleasant Library. “If I build a citywide constituency, I will have more support for the reforms that I have proposed. Politically, that will make me stronger. Will I run for mayor? I can’t promise that.” Future political ambition is not a good basis for choosing councilmembers. The city should enact a resign-to-run law so we’d be rid of this musical-chairs nonsense.
If Brazil loses next week’s primary, which he should, he will still retain his Ward 6 seat. And that’s exactly where he belongs, until he compiles a more impressive council record.
LL would have the perfect candidate if we could combine the legislative savvy, political courage, and vision of former council aide Phil Mendelson with the campaign skills, energy, and youth of computer-personnel businessman John Capozzi. Mendelson has demonstrated the political courage to face reality by proposing to lower income taxes, improve services, and use the council’s rarely utilized subpoena power to actually practice oversight and control spending. Yet his campaign has failed to catch fire in this short primary season, and he remains, at best, a long shot.
Capozzi has emerged as the newcomer with the best chance of slipping between Yeldell and Brazil. He has run a well-organized, tireless campaign that has gone to every ward in this city. He is smooth, focused, and he connects with his audience. He has racked up endorsements from the Sierra Club, gay groups, and ward organizations.
His only shortcoming has been that this self-proclaimed “candidate of new ideas” hasn’t offered any to address the ongoing crisis. He defends home rule, pledges allegiance to statehood, and goes after Fannie Mae for not paying D.C. taxes, and foreign embassies for not paying $6 million in parking tickets. Yet Capozzi doesn’t provide specifics on how D.C. can weather the short-term crisis and survive until his longer-term solutions become more politically viable, if they ever do.
Capozzi is still the best choice in the at-large Democratic primary. He is the only chance in this contest to get new leadership and fresh talent on the council, and he has shown in this campaign that he can grow and learn quickly on the job. Once elected, Capozzi should take an issues seminar from policy wonk Mendelson.
For the few hundred D.C. residents who will vote in the D.C. Statehood Party primary next week, Sam Jordan offers the best choice for expanding the party’s base and giving voters an option to the Democrats in November. Longtime Statehooder Bardyl Tirana has injected some humor and vitality into the campaign, in sharp contrast to the deadly serious Jordan, and the tiny party should benefit from this rare primary fight.
But Jordan has paid his dues in D.C. politics and has the broader base outside the party. Unfortunately, his No. 1 issue is “abolish the control board.” However, Jordan doesn’t have a credible answer as to how the city will survive in the short run without the control board.
He will have to come up with one if he expects to get anywhere in November.
Residents of Ward 4, of which LL is one, should erect a statue of Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis on upper 16th Street NW with the caption: “D.C.’s Greatest Wasted Resource.” When it comes to talent, brains, charm, and political potential, Jarvis may be without equal in this city. But when it comes to lack of performance in office, ethical problems, and wasted opportunities, Jarvis is also without equal.
Her 17 years on the council are marked by an increasingly divided ward, the deterioration of Georgia Avenue, a $10,000 fine for campaign law violations in the mid-1980s, and allegations of gifts and favors from banks and businesses she oversaw as chair of the council’s economic-development committee.
Jarvis has cleaned up her act in recent years, but now she has accepted appointment as president of D.C.’s Southeastern University and is raising money nationwide for the Drew Institute in California, which is named after her famous father, Dr. Charles Drew. Since she didn’t perform that well when she had just the one job of councilmember, it’s unlikely she’ll be any better now that she has three.
Newcomer Diane Miller can replace Jarvis’ stagnant politics with experience gained from having worked as an aide to Jarvis and having served in the administration of former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. She also brings integrity, commitment, and courage to the twin challenges of Ward 4 politics: healing a divided community and finally bringing economic development to Georgia Avenue.
This city will never rise up out of its political doldrums until it starts taking chances on newcomers like Miller. If Miller doesn’t measure up to the task, then Ward 4 voters must be just as eager to replace her in four years. Once D.C. voters develop the habit of throwing out of office elected leaders who don’t perform, they will find that the quality of their elected officials will improve dramatically.
In the Ward 7 race, incumbent Kevin Chavous gets the nod. Although his first term on the council hasn’t lived up to expectations, his potential is still worth your vote. Terry Hairston, the main challenger, has compiled a miserable record of looking out for himself and his friends during his first two years on the school board. Now he wants to leave in the middle of his first term and step up to the council. But Hairston may soon find himself out of office altogether, since he is facing an effort to recall him as the Ward 7 school board member.
Council watchers say incumbent Ward 8 Councilmember Eydie Whittington has adapted to her job quickly since winning a special election by only one vote 16 months ago. But Whittington remains a politician transplanted into the ward by Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. and Cora Masters Lady MacBarry, who handpicked her to serve out Barry’s unexpired Ward 8 council term.
Challenger Sandy Allen has forged broad, grass-roots support throughout the ward. Her appeal is even spreading into the Barry camp, which is being force-marched by Hizzoner back into the Whittington tent. Allen has the government experience, common sense, and community ties to become an effective councilmember in a flash. And unlike Whittington, she can unify the ward.
Those are the best choices—Capozzi, Miller, Chavous, Allen, and Jordan. LL makes no endorsement in the Ward 2 council contest, since incumbent Jack Evans faces no serious challenge. And we don’t want to encourage incumbents unnecessarily.
For someone who swears he doesn’t want his old job back as D.C. school superintendent, Vincent Reed has become very visible lately, just as current Superintendent Franklin Smith’s days appear numbered. In recent weeks, the popular former superintendent has turned up at two meetings of the control board where Smith’s fate was on the line.
But Reed continues to insist publicly that he doesn’t want to regain the job he lost 16 years ago. “That is such a blatant lie that I don’t know how he gets away with it,” a city official involved with the schools says of Reed’s denial.
For more than a year now, a group of community leaders, calling itself the Thursday Morning Group, has been pushing to vault Smith and replace him with Reed. Members of the group, led by school board candidate the Rev. Robert Childs, have even peddled the idea to Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Reed has met with the Thursday Morning Group on several occasions.
“There does seem to be a campaign to convince people that Vince could be the interim superintendent after Smith,” says Mary Levy of Parents United.
Reed, current vice president of communications at the Washington Post, has been among Smith’s harshest critics about town. Many Smith supporters suspect Reed had a hand in the recent spate of Post editorials, six in seven days, slamming Smith and the school board.
School officials say Reed’s animosity was ignited when Smith RIF’d some of the former superintendent’s friends and appointees. Others say Reed’s resentment is more petty—that he’s miffed Smith has never come to ask him for his advice on how to run the city’s troubled school system.
Whatever the reason, the subject has been off limits at the city’s major newspaper.
“It is well known at the Post that Reed has his fingers in the school system,” claims a D.C. Council official. “It’s no secret that Vince has been undermining Smith. Metro reporters are aware of Reed’s public campaign, yet you never see anything in the Post about it.”
And you probably never will…
Shortly after he was fired as the city’s employment services director in May, Yeldell was spotted buying a fistful of lottery tickets at a 14th Street convenience store near the Reeves Municipal Center.
“I’ve never seen a wad so big in my life,” reports a customer who was in the store at the time. “I would say it had to have been a hundred, at least.”
And it reportedly was not the first time Yeldell had purchased a large number of lottery tickets at the store.
“Yes, I play the lottery,” Yeldell admitted last week. “Everybody plays the lottery. So what? That’s my money.” He said he has been to the track only twice in the last 10 years, and is not a gambler…
When Rick King arrived as the new director of the D.C. Lottery Board earlier this summer, interim director Dottie Wade welcomed him by having his furniture moved into her office. King had to go out and buy new furniture before he could get down to work.
When Wade went on vacation last month, King had lottery board employees pack up and move her office. Turnabout is fair play.
Wade, a longtime lottery board official, was upset that she didn’t get King’s job and reportedly had made other employment plans before leaving on vacation, according to lottery board employees. If she didn’t, she will now—she was handed a RIF notice upon her return…
Three-time Republican presidential contender Isabell Masters, mother of Cora Masters Barry, has had it with the GOP and is joining her daughter and son-in-law mayor in the Democratic Party. “Republicans are always dogging on people,” the well-traveled octogenarian said last week during a stop in D.C.
But Masters mère didn’t go to the Democrats’ national confab in Chicago, because she’s still mad at President Clinton for signing the welfare reform bill. “I’m joining the party, not him,” she said.
Masters says she may run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000 if she feels up to it. She will be nearing 90 by then but doesn’t expect age to slow her down. CP
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