Last year around this time, many disheartened D.C. residents were hoping that D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton would come down off the Hill and run for mayor. Norton was too astute a politician to give up her higher-paying job for the more mettlesome task of running a major city. But when the Kelly administration blew up in her face and left her defending budgets that didn’t balance, Norton vowed to play a greater role in local affairs.
She’s living up to that promise, much to the disgruntlement of District councilmembers, but not—so far, anyway—of Mayor-for-Life-Again Marion S. Barry Jr.
A year ago, D.C. residents couldn’t have foreseen that they would end up with Norton acting as both their mayor and representative to Congress. But that is, in effect, what she’s doing.
With Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly leaving the stage even before her show has closed, Norton has been performing some of the mayor’s duties over the last few weeks. She told the D.C. Council what it must do to head off more congressional interference. She has appeared on every television program she can find to urge city workers to take the early buyouts, lest they get stuck with layoffs. She has held endless meetings in the community to prepare residents for the cuts that their city government will soon make. And she is riding herd on the incoming administration, making sure that Barry knows what he has to do, and that he does it.
Norton is acting as both Barry’s coach and parole officer to ensure that he doesn’t slip into the old habits that saddled the city with a bloated, inefficient, and discredited government. Norton’s philosophy toward the incoming mayor is that if you give him too much space, he wanders. She recognizes that Barry performs best when critics stay in his face, and when doubters constantly confront him. Barry is driven by the need to disarm and confound his enemies. And Hizzoner won’t find a bigger bunch of naysayers than the next Congress. Barry is smart enough to know that if he performs the way the coach advises, he—and not Norton—will end up the star.
Kelly’s attitude toward Norton was sell what we send up to you, and forget about truth in packaging. But Barry has so far been receptive to Norton’s advice on winning over Capitol Hill, and Norton appears convinced that Barry won’t deliberately put her in a politically embarrassing situation, as Kelly did. This political marriage of convenience, and the pair’s 30-year relationship, may enable Norton and Barry to work through the current crisis without the friction that plagued the Norton/Kelly relationship.
Barry won back his old office by claiming that he was the only pol who could talk to the guys on the corner. But Norton may be more important to the city (and to Barry) as the politician who can talk to the guys on the Hill—namely Newt Gingrich and his ruling class in the next Congress. Norton and Ging rich may develop that special kind of relationship that political opposites sometimes cultivate. In last year’s fight over the D.C. budget, she captured votes not only from Gingrich but from other Republicans.
Norton’s local approach to the delegate’s job has won her popularity citywide. (Her predecessor, Walter Fauntroy, seemed more interested in Haiti than Petworth.) At the same time, she has enhanced the role of delegate, which many residents previously regarded as someone they only saw every two years at election time, or when he was singing “The Impossible Dream.”
PARK ANYWHERE, ANYTIME
Victor Frazer, the newly elected congressional delegate from the Virgin Islands, stars in the latest variation on the 800-pound gorilla joke.
Q: Where will Victor Frazer now be able to park in D.C.?
A: Any damn place he pleases, since he’ll be a member of Congress and entitled to that perk.
That wasn’t always the case. In the late ’70s, attorneys working at the D.C. Office of the Corporation Counsel routinely “adjusted” (i.e., canceled) one another’s parking tickets. According to news accounts published in the Washington Post and the Washington Star, Frazer had racked up more than 100 tickets by 1978. The Star reported that the tickets were canceled by Frazer or his colleagues.
Frazer’s then-boss, Corporation Counsel John Risher, said in an interview last month that he learned of his assistants’ ticket-adjusting activity in 1977. Risher demanded at the time that the attorneys pay their tickets. Frazer acknowledges that Risher tried to fire him in April 1978 after he told his boss, “Hell no,” he wasn’t going to pay the fines.
In an interview this week, Frazer said he won an administrative appeal of his dismissal, and explains that he accrued all of his parking tickets “right around the court” while on official business. “There was nothing illegal about it,” he said. “The reason for the attempted dismissal had nothing to do with the tickets. It had to do with disobeying [Risher’s] orders” to pay past tickets in full.
Now, as a member of Congress, Frazer is entitled by federal law to park anywhere in the District, in defiance of parking restrictions that apply to mere residents. If some overzealous meter maid awards him a ticket, Frazer can simply send it to the Department of Public Works and get it canceled—just as he did at his old job.
Congress members’ flaunting their park-anywhere-in-D.C. privileges has become so politically sensitive that D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton pays all parking tickets she receives. And Frazer vows that he’ll do the same. “Of course, I’ll pay it,” he said this week. But, he said, “I’ll walk a mile” to avoid getting tagged by the District’s infamous ticket writers.
THE DEFENSIVE MR. PYATT
On Dec. 5, Rudolph A. Pyatt Jr. opened his column in the Washington Post Business section this way: “Washington’s City Paper is amusing, if nothing else.”
LL foundthat column to be defensive, if nothing else.
Pyatt went on to dismiss as “badly misinformed” LL’s column of Nov. 25, in which we detailed the controversy over development of the old Garfinckel’s building at 14th and F Streets NW. LL drew connections between developer Oliver Carr‘s hiring the Hill and Knowlton public-relations firm and the spate of recent publicity seeking to discredit or divide the opposition to Carr’s plans. That spate included Pyatt’s Nov. 17 column, in which he backed Carr’s proposal to fill the site mostly with offices and parking. That Pyatt column also chastised Carr’s opponents as obstructionists who don’t recognize that downtown department stores went out with The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
As proof that Pyatt had not been influenced by H&K’s PR campaign, the columnist devoted the last quarter of this week’s column to reprinting portions of a column he wrote in June, long before the firm came on the scene. That column also embraced Carr’s plans and assailed the opposition.
Apparently, Pyatt is making a run for the Journalist-Who-Most-Quotes-Himself Award. (He hasn’t got a prayer. That honor has belonged to WAMU-FM political analyst Mark Plotkin for some time now, and Plotkin has already locked it up for 1994.)
But Pyatt is right: LL did read too much into the connection between Hill and Knowlton’s PR campaign and the columnist’s recent writings in favor of the redevelopment plan. One would be hard-pressed to find a Pyatt column that doesn’t shill for Carr and the Board of Trade, so why Carr hired a PR firm to get out his message when he can count on the Post columnist to do his bidding for free is a mystery.
The Downtown Cluster of Congregations, a consortium of 29 inner-city churches, is leading the opposition to Carr. The Downtown Cluster wants the lower floors of the building reserved for a large retailer in an effort to stem the flight of D.C. shoppers to Pentagon City. After Garfinckel’s closed four years ago, the D.C. Council passed legislation to reserve the lower floors of the building for such a tenant. But under pressure from Carr, the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) last year overturned those restrictions.That decision paved the way for Carr to put small retail shops on the first few floors, and devote more space to parking and offices. The Rev. John Mack, president of the Downtown Cluster, fears that Carr plans to knock out the walls between the Garfinckel’s building and his adjacent Metropolitan Square so that the large law offices in Metropolitan Square can spread over both buildings. That plan won’t bring many shoppers downtown, but it probably will bring the developer more revenue.
The Downtown Cluster still clings to the vision of a revitalized downtown where people shop and live, instead of fleeing at the end of each workday. And thus, the Downtown Cluster went to court to block the BZA decision. Its case was argued before the D.C. Court of Appeals on Dec. 1, and a decision is expected early next year.
But back to Pyatt: LL also noticed that his Dec. 5 column seemed out-of-date. Pyatt wrote again about the group of ministers, led by former D.C. Congressional DelegateWalter Fauntroy, that formed to oppose the Downtown Cluster’s position. That group, which numbered only five, has not been heard from since its initial Nov. 14 news conference.
If the formation of the Fauntroy group was intended to divide the Downtown Cluster, that tactic appears to have failed.
Pyatt might know these things if he came out to cover the hearings—like last week’s arguments of the issues before the D.C. Court of Appeals—instead of reading the press releases from Hill and Knowlton and Carr Real Estate Services. The parties involved in this dispute cannot recall seeing Pyatt atany of the BZA or court hearings.
The last time LL spotted Pyatt outside the Post‘s headquarters was six years ago, when he was the featured luncheon speaker at a land-use seminar put on by Wilkes ArtisHedrick & Lane. Wilkes Artis is the city’s most prestigious lobbying/law firm on zoning and developments issues, many of which have received favorable treatment in Pyatt’s past columns. Wilkes Artis partner Whayne Quin also argued Carr’s case before the court of appeals Dec. 1.
Perhaps Pyatt will address those cozy relationships in his next column.
LL will be reading eagerly.