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In the heat of his recent successful campaign to reclaim the chairmanship of the D.C. Council, Dave Clarke told a Ward 8 audience: “I said “no’ to the big boys so that I could say “yes’ to you.” It was a line that immediately hit home with audience members from Southeast D.C., who constantly feel alienated from a government they suspect is controlled by monied interests from the more affluent Northwest quadrant of the city.
It was also a line aimed directly at Clarke’s chief opponent, Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis, who had racked up nearly all of the available endorsements from the city’s well-heeled constituencies. Jarvis even got the backing of Ward 8 Councilmember and short-lived political kingmaker Marion Barry. In the end, Clarke, champion of the little people and the unions, buried Jarvis citywide, and nearly beat her and the overhyped Barry machine in Ward 8. Clarke lost the city’s poorest and most racially sensitive ward by only six out of nearly 4,000 votes cast in the Sept. 15 special election.
So it was not surprising that the “little people” turned apoplectic last week, when they discovered that their champion was soon to be touted at a fundraiser sponsored by the city’s biggest political wheeler-dealers. On Friday, Dec. 10, Clarke will be the beneficiary of a $500-a-pop bash being tossed bybankrupt-but-still-going downtown develop er Dominic Antonelli, whom Clarke cited during the campaign as one of the bigfeet he resisted during his previous tenure on the council; downtown parking magnate Leonard Doggett; developers Kingdon Gould andMichele Hagans; lobbyist David Wilmot; waterfront restaurateur Manuel Fernandez; and the Donahoe Companies Inc. development firm, among others.
The event will be hosted by political fund-raiser extraordinaire R. Donahue Peebles at his spacious upper-Ward 3 home on Broadbranch Road NW, the city’s new fund-raising palace for politicians. Within the past few months, Peebles has hosted fundraisers for New York City Mayor David Dinkins, who collected some $28,000 in campaign funds (to no avail) in his re-election bid; new Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, who took home $25,000 to help him through the final week of his successful race; and Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Calif.), who raised $36,000 at Peebles’ place last week for who knows what. LL won’t even get into the amount of money Peebles gathered for Bill Clinton‘s presidential campaign last year because we can’t count that high.
Clarke showed up for the Dellums fundraiser decked out in a tuxedo, a rare sight—and one that may have been a tip-off of things to come. Clarke loyalists are accustomed to seeing him clad in his usual disheveled suit and pedaling furiously away on his bicycle. Perhaps in an effort to show he is not deserting the little people, Clarke held a $25-a-ticket fundraiser on Dec. 1 at theunionized Washington Court Hotel near Capitol Hill in advance of this week’s pricier affair. The $500 ticket price for this Friday’s event does not violate the city’s $100 limit on campaign donations, because $400 of each donation will go to Clarke’s constituent services fund. Such funds, assembled by every councilmember, are considered nonpolitical and do not fall under the campaign fund-raising limits. The remaining $100 of the donation will go to Clarke’s campaign committee. At the moment, Clarke is toying with either running for re-election as chairman or running for an at-large council seat, which would allow him to continue to receive income from outside employment.
Clarke supporter George Frain, who attended last week’s $25-a-head fundraiser for the common folk, thinks this week’s more exclusive event is out of character for the longtime pol. “I don’t know whether Dave is going to remain the same ol’ David who supported neighborhood businesses, or whether he’s going to support the big downtown groups,” said Frain, secretary of the Adams Morgan Business Association. “I must say, I was rather surprised.”
Frain was so startled that he cited the fund raiser at the end of his Dec. 3 testimony before a council hearing chaired by Clarke. The hearing was on Clarke’s bill to reorganize the city’s property tax appeals board, recently renamed the Board of Real Property Assessments. The legislation would ensure that the majority of members on the board have the legal and real-estate experience that is often crucial in tackling the complex issues involved in appeals brought by businesses and commercial landlords. Proponents say that the bill would bring more professionalism to the board, but critics say that the measure will make the panel hostage to real-estate interests.
Clarke kept silent and turned the other cheek to Frain’s slap over the Peebles fundraiser. But it certainly caught the attention of others in the council chambers, who had been scratching their heads over why Clarke was suddenly pushing this issue—and why he had put it on a fast track that made high-speed rail look like a Metro bus. (Clarke held the hearing last Friday, and the measure raced through the council this past Tuesday on a unanimous vote, despite complaints by At-Large Independent Councilmember Bill Lightfoot that “I’ve never seen a bill go this fast.”)
Suddenly, skeptics thought they knew the answer. Peebles, who was also in the room when Frain made his comment, testified in favor of Clarke’s bill—along with downtown housing activist Terry Lynch and a score of others—as a way to bring more professionalism to the complex and highly technical appeals process. But there is no connection between the fundraiser and the legislation, Clarke said through spokeswoman Denise Reed. He said that passing the bill now would give the mayor time to appoint new board members, and the board time to train them before the next appeals season begins in March.
The bill, as approved by the council this week, would require one-third of the board’s 18 appointees to be attorneys with real-estate experience, one-third to be real-estate appraisers, and the remaining third to come from the community at large. Peebles is a former chairman of the board who has made a lucrative living handling commercial property tax appeals. He contends that, in the past, inexperienced board members have cost the city millions in lost tax revenues. The legislation, however, distressed longtime tax appeals board watchdogs like Marie Drissel.
“I’ve spent four years trying to get that board independent of the little world of the insiders,” Drissel lamented following its pas sage. “This is going to make it more depend ent on the insiders.”
Peebles said he merely is fulfilling fund-raising requests from his friends this year to get these chores out of the way before next year’s mayoral race begins in earnest. Until recently, he had been expected to handle fund-raising chores for Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. The mayor had wanted Peebles to co-chair her re-election finance committee, which her campaign strategists had unwisely dubbed the Yes Team. But now he says he’s undecided whom he will back—another bad sign for Herroner, who can’t seem to find many heavy-hitters willing to stand with her publicly.
“Dave Clarke has stolen the mayor’s Yes Team,” observed a D.C. official.
After experiencing the Nov. 30 meeting called by Ward 4 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Mary Braganza to explain why she should not be removed from office, LL had to agree: Forget the recall. Get a net instead. There were more flakes in that one public meeting than in your average bowl of cereal. And we’re not even counting Ward 6 Councilmember Harold Brazil, who showed up in another councilmember’s ward to swear in newly named Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 4A Commissioner E. Ned Sloan. Oaths of office for ANC commissioners normally are administered by the councilmember for the ward, but Jarvis, wisely, was having nothing to do with this show. Brazil, who chairs the council committee that oversees ANCs, probably should have taken a clue from his colleague and skipped the event as well.
Instead, he spent more than an hour answering questions about the attempt to recall Braganza. At the end of the night, the only logical conclusion anyone who sat through the ordeal could come to was that Brazil was the one being recalled. Braganza refused to confront members of the audience who wanted to question her directly, and used Brazil and two “certified healers” to run interference for her. LL was keenly interested in the meeting because Braganza is our ANC commissioner and we had never seen her in action before.
We were a bit distraught over being late to the meeting at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church on 16th Street NW, but quickly discovered that our tardiness was a blessing. Most of the first half-hour was spent in deep-breathing meditation exercises led by the Rev. Atiba Haupt, a “holistic health therapist” whose mission was to mend “the ozone layer on a personal level—our skin has gotten a little thin.” Then Braganza introduced the “Reverend Dr.” Cleretta Henderson Smiley, a “holistic health practitioner” who led willing members of the audience—only about half of the 30 or so in attendance—in swaying exercises to release the tension. “Our whole mission here tonight is to help you to become well so that you can support your leadership in Reverend Braganza,” Smiley informed her swayers. She andBraganza are both “reverends” in something called the AUM Spiritual Science Center, which sounds like the kind of dubious, tax-exempt, storefront church many of Braganza’s 16th Street Heights constituents have been fighting to contain in their residential neighborhood. After the swaying, Smiley led chants of “I’m well! I’m well! I AM!” But LL was not well. Our sides were hurting from trying to hold in the laughter.
Next came Brazil, who told the crowd that he personally didn’t believe in the recall law for ANC commissioners. “You can recall somebody for anything,” said Brazil. “You can say, “I don’t like the color of your hair.’ ” Then, turning to Braganza, the Ward 6 councilmember added, “I tend to like the color of your hair.” LL is still trying to figure out what color it is.
The recall threat grew out of the fight over plans by Samaritan Inns to transform a long-vacant apartment building in the 5600 block of Colorado Avenue NW into transitional housing for homeless people and recovering addicts. Opponents of the project blamed Braganza for not informing them before construction began in August. Braganza tried to pass the blame onto the other members of ANC 4A, who unanimously passed a resolution Nov. 2 refuting her statements.
But now LL has to reconsider our skepticism of Braganza’s holistic approach to combating the recall threat. Advocates of her recall failed to file the necessary petitions by this week’s deadline, and the issue is now moot. Apparently the hole in ANC 4A’s ozone has been closed. Also, Georgetown ANC Commissioner Ted Jacobs survived the city’s first ANC recall election this week when 138 of his constituents cast mail ballots against his recall, while only 97 voted to kick him out of office. The recall began after Jacobs expressed support for the proposed Georgetown University cogeneration power plant, which many of his constituents bitterly oppose.
Recalling an ANC commissioner may not be as easy as people think.