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Since his dramatic Democratic primary victory, Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. has strutted across D.C., presenting himself as renewed, redeemed, reinvigorated, and better fit than ever to lead this troubled city. Unfortunately, he hardly resembles the 1978 Barry—that fresh, energetic reformer whom good-government types deemed the city’s brightest hope. Instead, the 1994 Barry looks more like the dingier 1986-90 model. The Barry of those years regularly missed scheduled appointments, liked to spend time out of town, played the race card for political gain, ignored the rules when it suited him, and didn’t seem all that interested in governing the city. Sound familiar?
Watching Barry’s pedestrian performance since the primaries, LL has suspected that perhaps all the candidate ever wanted was to get his old office back—and thus complete his comeback from the January 1990 drug sting, in which he was videotaped smoking crack. Getting the office will give Barry the public vindication he craved, while actually being mayor again seems to interest him less.
On his way to deification, Hizzoner has run into something he didn’t encounter in the Democratic primary: a real challenger, in the form of Republican Carol Schwartz. During the primary, Barry’s opponents seemed afraid to confront him; Schwartz shows no such trepidation, and has raised issues that previously got swept under the rug—issues that needed to be aired before the conclusion of this campaign.
Barry waltzed through the primary by depicting himself as the only candidate capable of managing a big-city government. But Schwartz has challenged that claim by reminding voters that Barry, more than any other politician, is responsible for the District’s financial woes. She points out that Barry increased spending by $1.8 billion during his prior 12 years as mayor, but did little to provide housing or cure the city’s social ills. She reminds voters that when the prior Barry administration got around to fixing up a few public-housing units, it spent $41,000 on each one, compared to a national average of about $10,000. And, she recalls, 12 of Mayor Barry’s top officials went to jail for abusing their offices or stealing city funds.
Some of those same people are back, advising Barry once again.
These salvos have rocked Barry back and forced him to run around the city crying, “Look, everybody! She’s a Republican!” But though Schwartz sounds like a Democrat, she has never tried to hide her party affiliation, even in this foolishly one-party town. Since early this summer, she has urged Democrats to “hold your nose, close your eyes, and pull that lever for me.” If Republicanism is the worst charge that Barry can lob at Schwartz, then his return to power looks politically bankrupt.
“All that is is a thinly veiled racist appeal to stereotypes,” says Harry Singleton, an African-American Republican running for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council. “That’s code words for “white people are trying to take over D.C.’
It’s also classic Barry.
Concerns about Barry’s recovery are whispered about but not discussed openly in this campaign. The only candidate to raise the issue is Curtis Pree, who is waging a long-shot independent campaign for mayor. Pree has called on Barry to take a drug test before the Nov. 8 election, and to pledge to take one every six months after he gets into office. “Reassure the people,” Pree suggested. But Barry has responded to questions about his old habits by telling white voters to “get over it” and take his word that he is a clean, reformed man.
Many voters can remember taking Barry’s word before, only to be disappointed.
Besides raising important issues, Schwartz also has gotten more specific about her proposals to solve the city’s financial crisis, and to tackle crime, housing, and recreation. And she certainly has proved that she won’t run from formidable tasks, as At-Large Independent Councilmember Bill Lightfoot did immediately after Barry won the Democratic primary. Barry constantly chides Schwartz on the stump, claiming that she is stealing his ideas and rhetoric. And he counters her attacks with appeals not to look back. “What you have to be concerned about is not how we got here, but who can best get us out,” Barry told a roomful of lawyers last Monday during a debate sponsored by the D.C. Bar Association. “Let’s point the way, and stop pointing the finger.”
Isn’t that almost the exact line MayorSharon Pratt Kelly used against Barry and John Ray in the Democratic primary?
Who’s stealing now?
There are two reasons to vote for Schwartz on Tuesday. The first is because she has the drive, the honesty, the commitment, the personality, and the know-how to run the D.C. government for the next four years. The second reason to vote for Schwartz, even if you still harbor reservations about her ability to govern a predominantly black city, is to send Barry a message that this time he can’t take everything and everyone for granted. A large vote for Schwartz would remind Barry that a sizable chunk of the electorate will not be intimidated or rolled.
Whatever your reasons, vote Schwartz.
SINGLETON FOR D.C. COUNCIL
When Congress granted D.C. home rule 21 years ago, it reserved two at-large seats on the council for representatives of the city’s nonmajority party to ensure that opposition voices would be heard in the government. Democrats, as members of the city’s one and only viable party, have been chafing under that restriction ever since. Ten years ago, the party began running Democrats-turned-independents to get around that restriction. Bill Lightfoot’s 1988 election to the seat previously held by Republicans Carol Schwartz and Jerry Moore Jr. marked the first success of that strategy.
This year has yielded a bumper crop of Democrats masquerading as independents, with six challengers aiming for the at-large council seat held since 1977 by Statehood Party member Hilda Mason. The only good proposal for giving Mason one more term has been put forth by founding Statehood Party member Sam Smith, who left the party years ago. He has suggested that Mason resign in the midst of her next term so that the Statehood Party can choose her successor and thus maintain a non-Democratic seat. But there is no reason to believe that the 77-year-old Mason would give up her seat willingly; she defied pressure to step down this year.
The best prospect for getting a new and independent voice on the council rests with Republican candidate Harry Singleton, who did not have to change party registration to run for Mason’s seat. Singleton has demonstrated that he is willing to sail against the tide. First, he is an African-American in the Republican Party. Second, earlier this decade Singleton tried to place before the voters a proposal to reinstate the death penalty in D.C., but was blocked by Dave Clarke and the Democratic machinery.
Congress stepped in and ordered the city to put the issue on the November 1992 ballot, where nearly two-thirds of the voters rejected it. But Singleton spoke for the growing number of D.C. residents who demand that their government do something about crime.
Singleton also would bring to the council his experience in both the Congress and the federal government. He served as the Republican chief of staff for the House D.C. Committee for five years, and then as deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Commerce Department during the Reagan administration. He wants to use that experience to keep the council from doing “stupid things”—like sending unbalanced city budgets to the Hill—that don’t make D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton‘s job any easier.
Singleton also vows to bring to the council the congressional style of aggressive oversight of the mayor and city agencies. For instance, he says he would call any housing officials on the carpet and “pound the table” for answers the next time the city fails to apply for federal housing grants available to the District for the asking. Some table-pounding may be just what is needed down at the council chambers.
Jerry Moore III could also prove to be an independent voice in the next D.C. Council. Moore, son of the city’s first Republican councilmember, was also a registered Republican until a few years back, when he switched to the Democratic Party. Late last year, he changed his registration to independent. Moore figures his greatest assets are his experience as a development lawyer with the firm Linowes and Blocher, and his total lack of D.C. government experience. He boasts that he has never run for office before—not even for the post of advisory neighborhood commissioner in his Sixteenth Street Heights neighborhood—and therefore would enter the job with clean hands.
LL’s biggest problem with Moore is that we have lived two blocks from him for the past seven years, but have never seen him at community events nor heard his name mentioned in the neighborhood.
Voters can cast two ballots in the at-large race, and Democrat Councilmember Linda Cropp deserves the second one.
Voters will also face a proposal to limit the mayor, councilmembers and school board members to two terms each. LL’s only advice on that issue: Why not?
None of the ward council races are in doubt, with the possible exception of Ward 3. After knocking off two-term incumbent Jim Nathanson in the Democratic primary, newcomer Kathy Patterson is facing a surprisingly spirited challenge from another newcomer, Republican Philip Murphy. Both candidates are pretty green. Patterson appears to have the better political network, but Murphy could be aided by the coattails of Schwartz.
Take your pick.
CHOOSING THE SCHOOL BOARD
If Marion Barry’s return to mayor’s office turns the clock back to 1982—when Barry was mayor and Dave Clarke first became council chairman—then the outcome of the school board races could rocket the District even further back in time: to 1975. That was the year when the school board fired Superintendent Barbara Sizemore after she sought to steer the schools toward an Afrocentric curriculum that many parents feared would leave their children unprepared for the job market. Now, this year’s candidates for the school board want to fire Superintendent Franklin Smith and return to some of the Sizemore solutions rejected two decades ago in hopes of salvaging a failed education system.
Smith has pushed controversial reforms that include privatization, closing some schools, cutting jobs, and holding teachers and administrators accountable for school performance. The leader of the Smith-must-go group is Keith Andrew Perry, a charismatic young attorney who vows to provide the swing vote against the superintendent unless Smith backs off from his current agenda. Perry is the most formidable of four challengers to first-term board member Jay Silberman, a leader of reform efforts on the current board.
In running against the incumbent, Perry invokes the same appeal to race and class that energized Barry’s followers in the primary. He depicts Silberman, who is white, as “not representative of this community.” He rails against Ward 3, claiming its schools get more than their share of educational resources, and reminds voters that Silberman lives “comfortably” in that ward on the west side, while most of the public-school population resides east of the Anacostia River.
But when an audience member at an Oct. 27 forum in Ward 1 asked Perry to provide evidence that Ward 3 schools receive favorable treatment in funding, the candidate could not do so. After the forum, he fell back on the claim that Wilson High School in Ward 3 does not have as many alumni in prison as other city high schools—whatever that proves. But he has no statistics to back that up, either. He also doesn’t offer any real proposals for improving the schools if the current reform agenda is scrapped.
But it may be hard for voters to resist Perry’s appeal to blow up a school system that is not educating and start anew. “You can’t say that a structure that fails as many people in this community as this one does is legitimate,” he contends.
Silberman, who garners high marks from parents’ and school-reform groups, has proven his own worst enemy in the campaign. His public feud with Perry has left the impression of a board member out of sync and unable to communicate effectively with constituents. Some of those same defects have plagued Silberman’s tenure on the board, where he has been long on solutions to school problems, but short on the political skills needed to get a majority of the board to side with him.
Still, no one can question Silberman’s commitment to improving education in this city, a commitment that stretches back 11 years before he ran for the board. He deserves another four years to try to salvage this system, lest the schools soon go the way of other city agencies and end up in the hands of a court-appointed receiver. Firing the superintendent in the middle of a school year certainly would make that prospect more likely.
In sorting through the 31 candidates vying for five school board seats, LL tried to weed out the serious from the ridiculous. That meant ruling out the three followers of Lyndon LaRouche, since we do not believe that the queen of England and the royal family are pushing dope on D.C. kids. That also meant ruling out candidates looking to use the office merely to get a foot on the political ladder.
In Ward 2, incumbentR. David Hall is stepping down after 13 years on the board, and the campaign to replace him is noteworthy for its lack of activity. Many Ward 2 voters say they have not heard from or seen any of the eight candidates, and probably won’t before they go to the polls election day.
Ann Wilcox has begun to emerge from that lackluster pack of candidates. Wilcox, a member of the D.C. Commission on Women and an attorney, is the co-founder of D.C. Kinship Care Coalition, which provides services to nonparental relatives caring for children, often because the child’s parents are incarcerated. Through that organization, she has cut through the bureaucratic maze to get the children in her clients’ care enrolled in school and to keep them there. Wilcox says she wants to get on the board to work for better management of resources.
In Ward 4, the winnowing process left two candidates: Alieze Stallworth and Donald Hudson.
Stallworth is president of Shepherd Elementary PTA and has fought a losing battle to change that school’s administration because of declining test scores. She would bring to the board a commitment to improving student performance in Ward 4 schools, and a sense of the frustration parents feel withthe current system.
But Hudson’s experience is even more compelling. After complaining about the D.C. school system, he last year accepted a challenge and began teaching algebra at Coolidge High School as a substitute teacher. When the full-time teacher died in midyear, Hudson left his architectural firm, Aetech, for five months to take over the classes. At the end of the term, he was nominated for a teacher of the year citation. But the school bureaucracy failed to live up to its promise to pay him a full-time salary.
So Hudson returned to his former profession after the school year ended. But now he’s trying to set up after-school learning centers in Ward 4, places where students “can jump on the Internet.”
That kind of thinking and commitment deserves to be channeled onto the school board.
Ward 4 incumbent Sandra Butler-Truesdale clearly does not deserve another four years on the board. Truesdale has overstepped the bounds of her office, insisting that parents in her ward not meet with other office-holders without her present. She also has gotten wrapped up in perks.
Butler-Truesdale is one of the most frequent users of the car and driver made available for board members. And at an Oct. 24 meeting, she was nearly in tears when the board voted not to raise the pay of members to $32,733 annually. Board members already get $29,307—the highest such salaries in the nation—for what is considered a part-time job.
After the vote, Butler-Truesdale attacked the Washington Post for editorializing against the pay raise. She blamed the public outcry on racism, insinuating that the hullabaloo was part of a plot by whites to take over the schools and the city.
“This is about destroying the board of education and then going right on down the line and destroying the leadership of the city,” she said in an emotional spiel after last week’s vote.
Ward 4 voters should do her a favor on Tuesday. Give her the opportunity to seek a higher-paying job by turning her out of office.
In Ward 7, 10 candidates are vying for the vacancy created in August when Nate Bush made the questionable move from board member to the board’s $70,000-a-year executive secretary. LL has narrowed the field to Tom Kelly and Bob Richards. Kelly, a retired school administrator, has won the endorsement of Ward 7 Councilmember KevinChavous. But school watchdog groups report receiving numerous complaints from parents during Kelly’s tenure as principal of John F. Cook/Langston Elementary.
Richards is an energetic and innovative community activist, housing lawyer, andconsultant. He also is a former D.C. council staff member with expertise in budgets and city finances. He acknowledges the “brain drain” from neighborhood schools, which Keith Perry claims is the result of letting bright students travel across town to attend other schools. While Perry proposes to force students to stay in their neighborhood schools, Richards instead promises to upgrade the curriculum in Ward 7 schools so that students will want to stay closer to home.
In Ward 8, it’s hard to defend current school board President Linda Moody, who set off the recent furor over pay raises when she discovered that board members were entitled to cost-of-living raises going back three years. If Moody and the other incumbents didn’t know they were due raises, what else don’t they know? But Moody is backing the superintendent while her challenger, William Lockridge, could support a move for the superintendent’s dismissal. Moody’s re-election would give Smith more time to implement needed reforms.