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During the ’80s, then-Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. regularly embarrassed D.C. with his hotel crack parties, night-owl prowlings, secret rendezvous, and general all-around misconduct. But the 1990 election was supposed to bring down the curtain on this era of shame for the District. Sharon Pratt Dixon—soon to become Kelly—promised that her administration would not humiliate the city nationally and internationally, the way her predecessor had. That promise didn’t last long. Kelly is once again bringing scorn on the District with her frequent fund-raising gaffes, her proposal to turn D.C. into Las Vegas on the Potomac, and, most recently, her call for the National Guard to step in and police these mean streets.
“What Barry did, his personal conduct, embarrassed us all. With Kelly, her official conduct embarrasses us,” observed a Kelly supporter, who may not be a Kelly supporter much longer.
What is it about the mayor’s office that makes its occupants self-destruct before our eyes? Kelly, like Barry, is pulling a stunt every month or so that makes her supporters question her re-election prospects and convinces her rivals that there is no way she’ll be around come ’95.
Herroner made headlines across the country with last weekend’s proposal to call out D.C. National Guard troops to police the city’s high-crime areas. The last time the mayor made national news was two months ago, when she floated her proposal for casino gambling to generate much-needed revenues for the city. These two proposals, coupled with the city’s lingering image as the murder capital, no doubt helped convince would-be vacationers to put the nation’s capital on their list of places to avoid, right after Miami.
“I just hope we can manage the image problem,” Arnold & Porter lawyer/lobbyist Jim Jones said on Oct. 22, as he headed into a meeting of business leaders trying to find ways to encourage economic development in the District.
The reaction to Kelly’s call for the Guard might not have been so negative had she laid the groundwork before introducing it. Had Kelly adequately briefed the White House before springing her proposal on President Bill—as any governor would have done—she would have known that he would balk at giving her the authority to call out the D.C. National Guard, which is under his command. Clinton did announce support for legislation that will give the mayor of D.C. power to call out the Guard, but that will take an act of Congress, a forum in which Kelly is no longer very popular.
And had she put forth a more detailed, thought-out plan for the Guard’s role in policing D.C., she might have been able to head off some of the criticism she is getting. The mayor did toss out a few details at a news conference this past Monday, but they mostly raised questions instead of providing answers.
Kelly said that National Guard troops would be used to interdict drugs coming into the District, in much the same way the military has been used to stop drugs coming into the country. This conjures visions of armed troops posted on D.C.’s borders. That won’t go over well with the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, which Kelly is trying to woo to her statehood cause. The mayor also said that the Guard would be deployed to man roadblocks and blockades in the high-crime areas—most likely in Wards 5, 6, and 7, according to the details of Kelly’s 10-step crime-fighting plan. But what happens when one of the city’s many gun-toting Billy the Kid wanna-bes opens fire on one of these blockades? Will guardsmen shoot back? And if they wound or kill a D.C. resident in the process, what’s to stop the community from turning on the occupying force the way it often does in clashes with D.C. police officers?
Kelly’s other plan for the Guard is to have 125 of them volunteer for administrative duties at D.C. police precincts so that regular police officers can be freed up for street patrols. Since most guardsmen work other jobs on weekdays and are only available for volunteer work in the evening and on weekends, the impact of this part of her crime-fighting plan probably would be minimal. And why is the mayor relying on volunteers when she could beef up her own police force? Kelly underspent her police budget last year by $10 million. That money could have put another 200 or so new officers on the streets.
And besides, didn’t the venerated Rivlin Commission report, issued three years ago, state that the District had enough police officers but wasn’t using them in the most effective way? Kelly says she is responding to pleas from crime-ridden neighborhoods. People there would welcome the sight of any show of legal force, since they say they seldom see a police officer on their streets. What they do see are gang members toting guns. Will the National Guard chase these thugs off the streets and the stoops? And escort residents to their corner stores?
The answers to those questions apparently are yet to come.
Kelly seems most concerned with winning the authority to call out the National Guard on her own, just as (she is quick to point this out) any governor can do in times of crisis. She has been talking about her inferior status to the nation’s governors for nearly a month. It was a main theme of her behind-closed-doors spiel to the Sept. 30 meeting of her Yes Team, the mayor’s campaign finance committee, which has promised access to Herroner in return for sizable donations to her re-election campaign.
Kelly’s erratic behavior has renewed talk of persuading D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton to run for the job next year. The latest city-rescue plan being kicked about—mainly by minority businessmen—involves trying to convince Norton and Kelly to trade places. Proponents argue that Norton has taken an office with relatively little power and demonstrated that she can get things done, while Kelly has attained the city’s most powerful office but accomplished much less than promised. Mostly, she has been a cheerleader for statehood. In Congress, her cheerleading would seem more appropriate than it does in the District Building, where a mayor has to be more of a doer.
Norton, who is widely popular citywide, is regarded as a doer. And she seems more immune to self-destruction than our current and former mayors.
When some of the mayor’s supporters shied away from the initial Sept. 30 Yes Team meeting because of negative publicity and angry picketers, Franklin Square businessman Art Schultz stepped forward. To Schultz fell the task of introducing Herroner to the smaller-than-expected gathering of members of the business community, many of whom were unsure that they wanted to be seen as trying to buy access to the mayor.
“I’m Jack Kent Cooke,” Schultz joked to the jittery crowd. Pointing to Kelly, he said, “This is my wife, Marlene Cooke. And you’ll soon see us starring in a new movie, Boyz on the Hood in Georgetown.” The joke “broke the ice,” Schultz said afterward.
The 50-year-old PR man seems to be everywhere these days. One day he is in the news standing up for the Yes Team and the mayor. The next, he’s publicly trading barbs with Georgetown University cogeneration power-plant foe Westy McDermid on behalf of his client, Dominion Energy, the would-be builder of the proposed plant. Or he’s accompanying embattled Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board Chair Mary Eva Candon to a crucial D.C. Council committee vote on her reappointment. Or escorting Candon on a Saturday night inspection of Crazy Horse, the Georgetown bar fighting for renewal of its license in the face of community opposition. Or he’s exploring the feasibility of bringing gambling to D.C. as part of the mayor’s casino task force.
The friendly, good-natured Schultz has become the man to see for those seeking access to the mayor. Not bad for a guy who started out in business just 10 years ago, with the task of driving the long-entrenched porn businesses off 14th Street NW for his main client at the time, the Franklin Square Association. Part of Schultz’s recent success has come by default. Kelly desperately wants a minority businessman to head her re-election campaign fund-raising effort. But so far, none has been willing to stand publicly with a mayor who appears destined for defeat. Schultz doesn’t harbor those trepidations, and his public associations with Herroner can’t be bad for business.
“I think she’s as qualified as anyone to be mayor,” said Schultz. “And I think, from what she has said, she is ready to listen to advice. And she already has a good team in place. With anybody else, we’d have to waste a year waiting for a team to get put together.”
And one thing Schultz intends to advise the mayor to do is to find a new name for her Yes Team.
ABC Board chair-in-waiting Candon suggested by her bizarre conduct last week that she and Mayor Kelly are Siamese twins separated at birth. Although Candon knew that she could not participate in the Oct. 20 meeting of the ABC Board because her reappointment has not yet been confirmed by the D.C. Council, there she was, sitting in the chair and running the show when the meeting began. Candon clearly knew she was not supposed to be there; two days before the meeting, she had stated in a conversation with LL that the board would have to function without her until after Nov. 2, the date when her confirmation is scheduled for a final vote in the D.C council. And just in case Candon was planning to defy the new law that forbids members of city boards to continue to serve as “holdovers” once their terms have expired, At-Large Councilmember John Ray‘s staff had warned her not to show up at the Oct. 20 meeting.
Candon’s defiance did not last long. Ray’s office was alerted, and a Ray staffer rushed to the meeting to remind Candon that she legally could not participate. An attorney from the D.C. Corporation Counsel‘s office was called to the scene, and the board took a 30-minute recess to sort out the situation. When the meeting resumed, Candon was seen exiting the building.
“I’m not on the board anymore because of your friends on the city council,” she steamed at Georgetown attorney Ed Schwartz on her way out. Schwartz was on hand for the final hearing in the long-running battle to block the liquor license renewal for the Crazy Horse tavern.
Actually, Schwartz’s “friends on the city council”—Candon was referring to Ray and his staff—had little to do with the new law that interrupted her ABC service. That law was written by Candon’s own friends on the council, Ward 3 Councilmember Jim Nathanson and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans. Candon, in effect, dissed her allies by ignoring the law because it didn’t suit her. And she proved Ray’s point—that she lacks the good judgment, political and otherwise, necessary to chair a board that handles contentious liquor licensing issues.