To many D.C. voters, Joe Yeldell symbolizes the corruption, incompetence, and cronyism that has crippled D.C. government over the past two decades and turned “home rule” into a meaningless mantra. They view Yeldell’s current bid for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council as just another tired ol’ pol trying to continue his nearly 30-year feast at the public trough.
But to a surprising number of people, including union members and some liberals, Yeldell is the lovable, slightly stained white knight riding forth to rescue the kingdom from the Antichrist—in this case, Ward 6 Councilmember Harold Brazil.
“Harold Brazil is one of the most anti-union councilmembers this city’s ever had,” says the irrepressible Ron Richardson, head of Hotel and Restaurant Employees Local 25, which is actively backing Yeldell. The local chapter of Americans for Democratic Action, a usually forward-looking group that has fallen captive to organized labor, has also endorsed Yeldell.
Yes folks, the twice-fired Yeldell could well be your at-large councilmember come November, hard as that is to believe.
The low turnout expected for the Sept. 10 primary, combined with the Washington Post’s boilerplate coverage of the race’s putative front-runners, prevents the rise of newcomers with fresh ideas—like challengers John Capozzi, Phil Mendelson, and Paul Savage—and sticks the city with the same old names and faces who have been around the track before. Post reporter Vanessa Williams—not to be confused with the former Miss America-turned-pop-singer—focused solely on Brazil and Yeldell in her Aug. 14 article on the race for campaign cash. In her Aug. 27 piece on the “clash” of political generations, Williams at least gave the lesser-known challengers an ID line or two.
In the campaign funds article, Williams failed to even mention Mendelson, let alone his impressive war chest of $13,939, which was greater than any other candidate’s except Brazil’s $57,333. And Williams never noticed that Mendelson had raised a greater percentage of his donations from D.C. residents.
Yeldell’s campaign finance report provided a tutorial in courting business cash. Of the $7,350 in donations the campaign reported receiving prior to Aug. 10, at least $6,000 came from construction firms. It should surprise no one that Yeldell advocates higher spending on public works projects.
Yeldell poured another $8,570.11 of his own money into his campaign, which was used to pay most of the campaign bills. He listed these expenditures as both a loan and as campaign donations.
Capozzi and Savage, while lagging behind in fund-raising, have been impressive at forums. And Capozzi has made strong showings at recent endorsement forums in Wards 1 and 2, while Brazil has been weak at all of the community events.
But with the major-media focus solely on the better-known contenders, the at-large Democratic primary has turned into a stop-Brazil campaign, with Yeldell the beneficiary.
“Harold Brazil is a knee-jerk corporate capitalist who is trying to use this as a stepping stone to become mayor of this city, and we don’t want that to happen,” Richardson continues. “And I don’t see anyone else out there who is going to beat him.”
But is he seriously asking voters to rally ’round Yeldell?
“We’ve all known him for a lot of years. We trust him,” Richardson responds, with deadly seriousness. “When he tells you something, it’s good as gold. He’s a nice, sweet man.”
Can he be talking about the same Joe Yeldell who worked at the top levels of D.C. government for the past 29 years, served every elected and appointed mayor since 1967, and never uttered a peep to expose rampant wrongdoing and inefficiency?
“It’s one thing to work for somebody as an employee and do what you’re told to do. If you don’t, you get fired,” Richardson says, explaining why everyone should forgive Yeldell for his sins of silence. “And it’s another thing to be your own man. I think you’re going to see a different Joe Yeldell on the city council.”
Different from the Yeldell who was convicted in federal court on bribery charges in 1978, had his conviction overturned on appeal, was retried in the 1979, and was finally acquitted when only 11 of the 12 jurors thought he was guilty?
“Oh, come on!” Richardson retorts. “That was 20 years ago. If he hasn’t done anything wrong in 20 years that you can find, you’re going to drag up that old stuff. That’s a cheap shot.”
In that case, perhaps LL should get convicted former Maryland Gov. and U.S. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew to run for the council. He hasn’t been convicted of any felonies in the last 20 years, either.
The remodeled 1996 version of Yeldell claims he was never part of the Barry crowd and never lifted a finger to steer contracts to Barry cronies. In fact, during his recent stint as director of the Department of Employment Services (DOES), Yeldell said his agency “disapproved” of awarding government contracts to Barry pals, like nursing-home businessman Roy Littlejohn, and Barry-favored firms like Executive Security. Those cronies and their firms, Yeldell said, owe the city substantial sums in back taxes.
Yeldell said he also killed a DOES training contract sought by longtime Barry ally Phinis Jones.
“If you check the record, I never interfered to push any contract unless the contract met all the terms and regulations,” he contends.
Because of his past differences with Hizzoner over contracts and other matters, Yeldell swears he will not get the support of Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. in the at-large race. Longtime Barry allies have been flocking to the candidate at community events, raising suspicions that Barry’s minions will turn out Yeldell voters come Election Day.
“Mr. Barry is supporting Mr. Capozzi, not me. We have evidence of that,” Yeldell claimed in an interview this week. “There’s been no communication between me and Mr. Barry since I left government [in May].”
“We hear a lot of good things,” Capozzi replied, but he said he hasn’t yet talked to Barry about the race. “I got to wave to him on Saturday [during the Georgia Avenue Day parade] and I hope to talk to him in Chicago [at the Democratic National Convention].”
“We have the momentum,” Capozzi said. “I can work with the mayor, but also stand up to him when need be.”
Yeldell has the strong backing of Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas, who has given money, provided a campaign headquarters, and even collected signatures to get Yeldell’s name on the Sept. 10 ballot. Thomas’ support gives Yeldell a leg up in Ward 5, and Yeldell is also expected to run strong in Ward 8 and parts of Ward 7.
The decisive battleground will likely be voter-rich Ward 4, where no candidate seems to have an advantage at present.
But if Yeldell wins the primary, LL can suggest that voters look on the bright side. If we get many more like Yeldell on the council, we won’t have to worry much longer about the city sinking into federal receivership. It will be a certainty.
D.C. GENERAL RELATIONS
Who is Michael Anthony Smith?
That’s what D.C. General Hospital employees want to know.
Since hospital Director John Fairman hired Smith three months ago to serve as his special assistant on security matters, rumors have circulated that Smith and Fairman are related. Those rumors caught the attention of D.C. Inspector General Angela Avant, and auditors from her office were at the hospital last week digging into this matter, as well as other allegations.
If the two are related, Smith’s hiring would violate the city’s nepotism law, which forbids city officials from hiring kin.
Fairman has labeled the rumors “a bogus lie” in meetings with hospital staff, according to D.C. General employees and officers of International Brotherhood of Police Local 446. Union officials have questioned why members of their union were passed over in favor of an outsider with less experience. Smith came to D.C. from Chicago in May.
Fairman failed to return numerous phone calls from LL over the past month inquiring about his rumored blood ties to Smith.
“We’ve addressed these rumors. There’s no relationship at all,” Smith said in a phone interview earlier this month. “If I find the person who started that rumor, they will be sued for libel.”
Smith said Fairman felt he had to go outside to fill the $27,000-a-year position because the job involves investigating thefts and other “internal” security problems plaguing the hospital. He suspects the rumor about his relationship to Fairman is being spread by hospital police officers “who could be a part of the problem.”
The 24-year-old Smith described himself as “a former police officer in Chicago.” But the Chicago police department had no record of his having worked there. He did work for 11 months as a security officer with the Chicago Housing Authority before taking the D.C. General job.
The hospital has long been a dumping ground for relatives and friends of the city’s politically well-connected. Last November, Fairman hired the nephew of City Administrator Michael Rogers to revamp the hospital’s computer operations. That hiring did not violate city law.
In addition to hosting thousands of Democratic delegates, this week Chicago is the stomping grounds for the District’s Mayor-Present, Mayor-Past, and possible Mayor-Future.
Barry is there, of course, to prove that he still matters. His booze-free party Sunday night to promote D.C. was well-attended until the mayor finished showing his promotional video, which was decried by some present as “a third-rate travelogue.” “It was like a fire alarm went off,” observed one member of the D.C. delegation. After the video, everyone split for the free-booze parties.
Although she has become nearly extinct in D.C., former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly turned up at the convention this week for “my last official act” as the District’s outgoing Democratic national committeewoman. After Chicago, she plans to fade back into her self-imposed exile. As if anyone would notice. CP
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