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Now that 1995 is a bad memory, LL figures it’s time to make a few predictions for the new year. Why wait for the actual events of 1996 to unfold when you can read about them now? Getting an early grip on the upcoming year will free up time for more important endeavorssuch as collecting the income tax refund the city still owes you from 1994.
This year, which we dub A.C.B. 1 (Anno Control Board 1), will witness an escalation in the already intense turf war between Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. and board Chairman Andrew Brimmer. The battle will further stifle any progress toward a balanced budget. Barry will enlist new alliesas he did last month with the city unionsand carry the war to Brimmer. But the mayor knows that he can’t succeed too well: If he thwarts the board completely, Congress will retaliate by extending Brimmer’s power oreven worseappointing a federal receiver.
So Hizzoner will continue to push, posture, and stall when he can, but he will retreat under pressure. He will send City Administrator Michael Rogers to the front lines when the fighting gets too heated. By summer, District residents will be so accustomed to seeing Rogers on TV fronting for Barry that they may begin to wonder who the real mayor of the District is.
Public pressure on the board will mount early in A.C.B. 1. Even board sympathizers will begin to ask the obvious question: “Now that we’ve got the control board, where’s the control?” Beginning in late January, revelations that the Barry administration is spending more than it admits will erode confidence in the board’s ability to rein in the chaotic government.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich will continue to serve as the de facto dictator of D.C., just as he was in 1995. In December, when city officials wanted to know whether the D.C. government could stay open without a congressionally approved budget, they didn’t call Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole or President Bill Clinton. They called Gingrich, and he answered: Sure, why not? Never mind what the law says.
When D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton needed a powerful ally early last year, she dropped a quarter in the slot and rang Newt. And when community groups sought D.C. public school reform and money for the Metropolitan Police Department, they dialed 224-3121 and asked to speak to the Speaker of the House.
This is beginning to sound like a verse from the Ray Parker Jr. song “Ghostbusters.”
When there’s somethin’ wrong in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?
When the budget’s down, and the city’s broke, who you gonna call?
Don’t be afraid of ol’ Newt!
Gingrich did not ask much in return for his help last year, but as the 1996 election approaches, expect to see Newt cruising District streets seeking photo ops with crowds of admiring black people.
Speaking of the elections, here’s a question: What fool will want to run for local offices now that the powers of the D.C. Council and the school board have withered? And here’s an answer: the same fools as evermore than enough idealists, egotists, and suckers to crowd the ballot. With the Redskins headed for the ‘burbs, politics really will be the only contact sport in town.
Council Chairman Dave Clarke will spend the first half of A.C.B. 1 trying to figure out how to surrender the chairmanship and run for the at-large seat being vacated by 16-year incumbent and four-time mayoral loser John Ray. Clarke has made no secret of his desire to seek an at-large seat. Unlike the chairmanship, an at-large seat would permit Clarke to practice law and earn extra income on the side, which he claims to need badly.
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Clarke recently told his staff he will leave his current post and run for Ray’s seat only if he can find a way for the city to avoid a separate, special election to fill the vacant chair. Such a vote would cost taxpayers approximately $300,000. To avoid a separate balloting, Clarke would have to resign in time to allow the Board of Elections and Ethics to schedule the vote for the same day as the November general elections, when city residents will cast ballots for presidential and local candidates.
If he runs, Clarke must choose one of two options. He could run in the Sept. 10 primary for Ray’s seat, and resign immediately from the chair if he wins (if he loses, he could keep the chairmanship). The elections board legally would still have enough time to place the special election on the Nov. 5 ballot. But there would be too little time for candidates to file qualifying petitions for a November vote. So the board would probably opt to hold a special election in January 1997, sticking taxpayers with the bill for it.
Clarke could prevent a second election, but he would have to resign no later than mid-July, long before the primary. The drawback of this scenario: If he loses the primarya distinct possibility given public dissatisfaction with the council’s performanceClarke will find himself out of a job.
Folks all over town will encourage the mercurial Clarke to abandon the chairmanship. In the end, LL predicts, Clarke will become so confused by his own scheming that he will end up staying put.
At-Large Independent Councilmember Bill Lightfoot, in a Lyndon Johnsonesque moment last year, declared he would step down from the council at the end of 1996 to spend more time with his family. But he has been waffling ever since. Look for Lightfoot to run again, and win easily, thereby renewing talk that he will run for mayor in A.C.B. 3.
Ward 8 voters this year will finally settle the question of whether they want Sandy Allen or Eydie Whittington as their councilmember. Whittington won the Ward 8 seat by one vote in a controversial special election last May. She is finishing Marion Barry’s unexpired council term. But Allen never stopped campaigning and hopes to vanquish Whittington in the September primary. Whittington is the favorite of Cora Masters Lady MacBarry, so expect the mayor to pull out all the stops to secure her victory. It won’t be enough. Allen will win as Ward 8 voters send a message to favorite son Barry: We can’t be bossed.
In Ward 7, incumbent Kevin Chavous will probably face determined opposition from Ron Friday, a longtime member of Ray’s council staff. Barry may anoint a challenger as well, but Chavous should defeat all comers and win a second term. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans will also triumph easily in his re-election campaign.
Across town in Ward 4, four-term incumbent Charlene Drew Jarvis, the consummate political survivor, will narrowly escape defeat against a nobody. Former city official Alexis Roberson, who lost to Jarvis by only 114 votes in 1992, no longer seems interested in the job, but someone else will mount a vigorous challenge to Jarvis.
Delegate Norton will face opposition this year from candidates who will paint her as a stooge of the control board and the Republican-controlled Congress. Norton will survive, but the campaign will be a bitter one.
Norton’s campaign will be a tea party compared to the school board contests. Opponents of Superintendent Franklin Smith and his reforms will once again foment racial division in an attempt to take control of the school system. Those who believe in a white-led conspiracy to control D.C. schools think they have found a target in at-large member Karen Shook, who last month ascended to the board’s presidency. Shook stands for re-election this year, but her opponents will discover her to be a tough campaigner and a formidable defender of school reforms.
D.C. schools again will be the favorite political football for local and national politicians in A.C.B. 1. By the time the last day of school rolls around in June, Congress may finally end its standoff over vouchers and pass the D.C. appropriations bill. (LL pities those who block the way of National Education Association lawyers rushing to the courthouse to file suit against the school reforms imposed on the District by the GOP-led Congress. There won’t be enough ambulances to carry away the injured.)
Oh, yes. Shadow U.S. Sen./D.C. statehood lobbyist Jesse Jackson, who has announced that he is moving back to Chicago, won’t run for re-election to his nominal D.C. post in A.C.B. 1.
LL predicts that no one will notice that he has left town.
LL offers one final piece of wisdom for the new year. As political pundit Larry Sabato once quipped: “He who lives by the crystal ball dies eating ground glass.” CP