We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
When Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. goes to San Diego next week to tout the District at the Republican National Convention, he should take along mementos like the pink slips the city is so fond of issuing visitors. The sample parking tickets could be emblazoned: “Come to the Nation’s Capital. We need your parking tickets.”
Hizzoner, of course, will be careful not to reveal the District’s dirty little secret—that its leaders have become heavily addicted to parking-ticket revenues. Even financial control board Chairman Andrew Brimmer, who was called in to help D.C. officials kick their bad habits, has advocated hiring more ticket writers to take the edge off the city’s budget crisis.
The control board, the mayor, and the D.C. Council all need to enter parking-ticket rehab right away.
Since the council voted last spring to add 20 blue meanies to its already-bulging phalanx of highly motivated meter maids, delivery firms report that doing business in the city has gone from difficult to impossible. “It has become horrendous to try to make deliveries,” reports Ted Goldstock, owner of Baltimore-based Bugle Rental Services, which supplies restaurants and doctors’ offices in the city. “They will ticket you on the pretense that you might be illegally parked.”
But the city hasn’t yet hired those additional ticket writers, according to Department of Public Works spokeswoman Linda Grant, who says they won’t hit the streets until Oct. 1 at the earliest. Grant says the city currently has only 92 meter maids dishing out pink slips, nine short of the authorized number for this year. That means D.C. officials could add a total of 29 “parking control attendants,” an increase of nearly one-third. Each ticket writer stings infuriated area motorists for approximately $500,000 in annual revenues for the city.
Parking tickets are a zero-sum game: More revenue for the city means less for downtown businesses and delivery services. Bugle’s Phil Martalucci, who oversees the company’s delivery fleet, adds, “I’ve already told my sales people, ‘If you can avoid it, don’t sell anything more in D.C. We can’t afford to get any more tickets.’” Martalucci says he has only one truck making daily rounds in D.C., but that truck is still getting three tickets a week. “When they hit you for $50 [per ticket], it’s just not worth it,” he says.
The D.C. Council approved funding for the new platoon of ticket writers on the premise that they would be deployed in the city’s quiet residential neighborhoods, where commuters from Maryland and Virginia often park before disappearing into nearby Metro stops. But delivery personnel suspect that they will abandon the sleepy hinterlands for more lucrative haunts downtown. “There’s no question that if I were writing tickets, and I had a quota to meet, downtown is like cheap fish in a barrel,” says Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, whose district includes downtown.
Delivery drivers tell of D.C. ticket writers hiding in alleys, watching them circle the block in search of legal parking spaces because the loading zones are filled with cars bearing pink forms under their windshield wipers.
Once the drivers give up and try to get away with double-parking just long enough to run linens, produce, or other supplies into a restaurant, the lurking ticket writers pounce from their hiding places and nail them for blocking the street.
One Chinatown restaurant recently started offering free soft drinks and handouts to ticket writers to entice them inside just long enough so that deliveries could be made without another $50 ticket. But LL doubts that this trend will catch on, since the meter maids have a quota, according to former parking enforcement officials, of at least 10 tickets per hour.
There’s no proven strategy for ticket-dodging, say deliverers, who insist that ticket writers patrol downtown alleys—where they can nail several trucks at once—as doggedly as the streets.
None of this, of course, bodes well for Barry’s efforts to entice Republican businessmen to relocate to the city. Business owners view these parking fines as another tax, of the cruelest and most arbitrary sort, on conducting business in the District.
The Germanic efficiency of D.C.’s parking enforcement agency seems to disappear when it comes to ticketing the illegally parked cars of current and former D.C. officials. Then–Ward 8 Councilmember Barry rarely, if ever, got a ticket when he parked illegally in front of his campaign headquarters at Vermont and L Streets NW during his 1994 mayoral campaign.
The auto of former council Chairman Sterling Tucker—which still bears the vanity license plate, “First Elected City Council Chairman,’’ even though Tucker hasn’t held that post for nearly 18 years—has been spotted frequently in no-parking zones outside the Stouffer Mayflower Hotel for hours without getting ticketed.
“It sort of irks me that this fellow parks with impunity, and working stiffs like us who live and work in the city have to pay a couple of hundred bucks a month to park in this location,’’ grouses D.C. resident Dick Crawford.
LL has gotten similar calls from other unhappy motorists who have seen Jesse Jackson’s car parked outside the National Rainbow Coalition offices at 1700 K St. NW all day without hosting any unwanted windshield ornaments. Likewise, former Ward 6 Councilmember Nadine Winter parks her car almost daily next to the Martin Luther King Memorial Library downtown without the slightest fear of ticket writers. Her car still bears a license plate announcing the title she held for 16 years.
But one enterprising, albeit irate, motorist recently came up with a solution to the parking-ticket problem around the library by taking a baseball bat to the meters and putting them out of commission, at least temporarily.
Now, that has the makings of a trend.
When Ward 8 Councilmember-in-waiting Sandy Allen took to the stage at Player’s Lounge last week in a karaoke campaign fundraiser, she got some support from the At-Large Choir. John Capozzi, Joe Yeldell, Phil Mendelson, and Ronnie Edwards, all candidates for the at-large council seat of retiring Councilmember John Ray, sang backup, although not always in the same key, as Allen crooned “That’s What Friends Are For.”
One definition of friends might be those candidates not seeking the same council seat you are.
Hizzoner and Cora Masters Lady MacBarry are out working to prevent choir leader Allen from getting that one additional vote she lacked last year when she lost a special election to Eydie Whittington, Barry’s handpicked successor for the Ward 8 council seat he vacated in midterm to be mayor again. The Barrys hosted a fundraiser for Whittington this past Wednesday at Georgetown’s posh River Club, a popular watering hole for businessmen and lobbyists. D.C.’s first couple had thrown another Whittington fundraiser in their Southeast home just two weeks earlier.
The peripatetic Capozzi may not yet have the Barrys singing backup, but he likes to think of himself as the most-traveled candidate in the Democratic primary contest for an at-large council seat. Last weekend, Capozzi said he attended 10 block parties, including one on the 1400 block of R Street NW. When he arrived there Sunday afternoon, Capozzi was informed by resident Roderick Greene that he was the first candidate to crash the party in the 17 years it has been held.
“Sorry to break your string,” Capozzi quipped to Greene. “You had a good streak going.”
Capozzi, the District’s elected “shadow” statehood lobbyist to the U.S. House of Representatives, has captured the endorsement of the Gertrude Stein Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club, the only major endorsement handed out to date.
Another key endorsement will come from local labor unions, but that may be a foregone conclusion in the at-large race. Organized labor is likely to line up behind recently dethroned D.C. Department of Employment Services Director Yeldell, despite the heavy baggage he carries from 30 years in District government. AFSCME Local 2401 leader Beverly Neal has bragged that organized labor convinced Yeldell to run.
Labor wants to stop Ward 6 Councilmember Harold Brazil, the perceived front-runner in the race, who is trying to move from his ward seat to an at-large council seat in midterm. Brazil has angered the unions by his votes on the council to reduce the D.C. bureaucracy.
Others are taking aim at the overdog Brazil as well. Rival Phil Mendelson recently criticized the councilmember for pushing proposals that could freeze property-tax rates in D.C. for years to come. One Brazil-backed resolution, approved recently by the council, would freeze rates if Congress passes D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s plan to give D.C. residents and business owners a federal tax break.
“Brazil misses the point,” Mendelson contends. “Our tax rates are already too high, and need to go down.”
Mendelson, a former aide to D.C. Council Chairman Dave Clarke, says that the property-tax freeze would backfire on District homeowners. “Frozen rates with higher assessments mean higher taxes,” Mendelson says. “By freezing rates, he has set a booby trap for the future.”
Thus far Brazil has ignored the sniping from his lesser-known rivals. He is thriving on a stack of maximum-allowable contributions from local real estate types, who are also providing manpower for his at-large bid and his run for mayor in two years.
Paul Savage, another at-large contender, has signed on former Clarke campaign strategist Darlene Meskell and former Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Director Don Murray to manage his campaign. Meskell helped steer Clarke’s impressive 1993 campaign, which returned him to the council chairmanship.
Ward 7 economic development activist Savage is campaigning to become the first candidate from east of the Anacostia River (Wards 7 and 8) to win an at-large seat on the council. And he is counting on an endorsement from Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous to help him make local history.
But Savage shouldn’t bank on the endorsement. Although Chavous repeatedly harps on the need for an at-large councilmember from “east of the river,’ he fails to put his endorsement where his mouth is. When pressed on Savage’s candidacy at an Aug. 3 fundraiser hosted by Ward 7 activist Thelma Lackey, Chavous was prepared with a list of boilerplate cop-outs: “I like Paul. Paul and I have been friends for a long time. And I’ve been supportive of Paul,” he said. “I am not officially endorsing anyone. I need to have a singular focus on my campaign.”
Chavous’ council kinship with Brazil—both men are regarded as key players in the “Young Turks’’ reformist coalition on the council—may explain Chavous’ noncommittal politicking.
LL can understand Chavous’ preoccupation with his own campaign. The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics last week spent seven long hours hearing a complaint filed by challenger Terry Hairston that Chavous’ name should not be allowed on the Sept. 10 Democratic primary ballot.
Hairston, a first-term school board member from Ward 7, claimed that nearly half the signatures on Chavous’ ballot petitions were illegal because they were collected by campaign worker Calvin Hawkins, who Hairston contends no longer resides in D.C.
To make his case, Hairston brought in private investigator Paris London Anderson, who asked board members to address him simply as “Paris London”—a request that took the board a while to fathom. “Detective” Anderson said he staked out Hawkins’ D.C. residence but never spotted him there.
However, Anderson admitted that he also staked out the Upper Marlboro home Hawkins co-owns with his fiancée and never saw him there, either. Hawkins testified that he plans to move into the house next April, after the wedding.
The board dismissed Hairston’s challenge, handing him a major setback in his bid to unseat Chavous.
Hairston’s got some problems of his own. He has to quit the school board to remain on the ballot because his candidacy violates the 1993 Hatch Act revisions forbidding school board members from participating in partisan elections. Hairston, eager to get off the school board, never checked out the Hatch Act revisions before he became a candidate. He assumed he could use his post as a stepping stone to the council because so many others had done it before.
At-large school board member Valencia Mohammed is running for an at-large council seat, but her bid complies with the Hatch Act revisions because she’s running as an independent. Mohammed will also be giving up her school board seat at the end of the year since she is forgoing re-election to seek the council post.
The campaign for the Ward 4 council seat held by Charlene Drew Jarvis is also heating up, or, perhaps LL should say, icing down. When challenger Dwight Singleton showed up at a July 27 community picnic to celebrate Jarvis’ birthday and candidacy for a fifth term, a Jarvis supporter playfully tossed ice at him.
Singleton picked up the ice and threw it back, and a brief ice fight ensued.
The next day, Singleton complained to the Ward 4 Democrats that he had been “assaulted’’ by Jarvis campaign workers.
When harmless pranks are suddenly racheted up to “assaults,” it’s time for the various contenders and pretenders to chill out.CP
Got a tip for Loose Lips? Call (202) 332-2100, Ext. 302, 24 hours a day.