In a city government full of obscure organs—the Gas Station Advisory Board, the Board of Industrial Trades, the Escheated Estates Fund Application Screening Committee—there’s none more obscure than the D.C. Armory Board.
The three-member board is charged with overseeing, yes, the D.C. Armory, home to the D.C. National Guard and the occasional circus, horse show, or prizefight. Just finding out that much required LL to expend no small amount of shoe leather—the board doesn’t have a Web site or phone number.
In other words, for the young aspiring politician, the Armory Board is not exactly the spot to build up your political capital.
In late May, Mayor Adrian Fenty nominated Adam Clampitt to sit on the board. Clampitt, 32, seemed like a pretty solid choice. Not only does the Ward 6 resident live no more than a few blocks from the Armory, but Clampitt is a military man himself, a naval reserve officer. Better yet, he’s lived in the District for more than 20 years and is a Fenty-mold kind of guy: energetic, terribly earnest, active in the neighborhood.
Two weeks later, Fenty withdrew his nomination.
So what happened? The mayor’s office refused to comment, but the power move has to do with Clampitt’s ambitions.
He’s running for an at-large council seat as an Independent, which means he’s essentially going head-to-head against four-term Councilmember Carol Schwartz for one of the council’s two non-Democratic sinecures. Clampitt says his run is still in the “exploratory” stage, but he did, for what it’s worth (not much), bring out a crew several dozen strong to the July 4 Palisades Parade.
Schwartz says she did nothing to derail the nomination. “I wasn’t aware of it until after the fact,” she says.
The derailing came courtesy of At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, to whose judiciary committee Clampitt’s nomination was sent. Mendelson says he notified the mayor’s office that their guy was running against an incumbent councilmember.
“I’m of the mind that someone running for office should not be in front of the council,” he says, “because then what you get is politics….A hearing could be used for campaign purposes, the whole confirmation process could. In my view, that’s not appropriate.”
Call it the Linda Cropp legacy. The former council chairman was known for her go-along-to-get-along management style that focused on keeping peace among various council factions. Such an attitude requires no strings to be pulled: “Nobody approached me, I assure you,” Mendelson says.
None of the three-member Armory Board’s seats are currently filled. The two mayoral-appointed slots have been vacant since 1995 and 2000. No other nomination has yet been put forward by the Fenty camp.
Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, who recommended Clampitt to Fenty and calls him a “very good nominee,” says none of his colleagues approached him about torpedoing the nomination.
Clampitt says he was “very upset” with how things worked out. “It was disappointing to me that certain members of the council would put politics before the city,” he says.
This Week in Mayoral PR
Last week’s shooting of 14-year-old DeOnté Rawlings by off-duty cop James Haskel presented Mayor Fenty with a classic test of urban political mettle. A police-involved shooting is full of pitfalls—step up to defend the cops too vigorously, and neighborhood anger gets stoked; don’t give enough support to the cops, and you’ve got a pissed-off force to deal with.
Things started off great: The day after the shooting, Fenty got the money quote in the Post: “If I wanted to sweep this under the rug, I wouldn’t be here. I would have stayed downtown.”
Then on Wednesday, Fenty held a press conference on the John A. Wilson Building steps with Police Chief Cathy Lanier, where he announced that the U.S. attorney’s office would be conducting an independent investigation. The mayor’s announcement got great press. For instance, on Friday’s D.C. Politics Hour With Kojo and Jonetta on WAMU-FM, Examiner reporter Michael Neibauer credited Fenty for “quickly moving it out of [the District’s] hands, into the U.S. attorney’s office.”
Never mind that the U.S. attorney’s office oversees just about all criminal investigations in the city. After all, the District doesn’t have its own criminal prosecutor; one of the vagaries of the District’s colonial status is that the federal Justice Department is charged with prosecuting crimes under District law.
In fact, city police will continue to play a pretty central role in the investigation. It’s the police department’s Force Investigations Team that will actually do the nitty-gritty of interviewing witnesses and reconstructing what happened on that Monday evening. The FBI will also be involved in the investigation, but even that is not an uncommon occurrence, says Channing Phillips, spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office.
The only thing out of the ordinary, Phillips says: “Usually you don’t have the mayor’s office announcing [it].”
Says Fenty spokesperson Carrie Brooks: “We wanted just to highlight that this was not the police department investigating themselves.”
Then things started falling apart. A Friday evening press conference went badly wrong, with Fenty unexpectedly inviting Rawlings’ sisters to the microphone, where they promptly asked a whole bunch of questions no one could answer. The presser generated a next-day Post story that had former Chief Charles H. Ramsey, of all people, criticizing Fenty’s communications strategy.
But Fenty and Lanier had a nice, meaty story that might have helped deflect attention from the fishy circumstances surrounding the shooting: a long-planned police department reorganization that would eliminate a level of needless bureaucracy.
The scoop came out in a familiar way: in a Post exclusive.
To the consternation of many local journos, the Fenty folks have often appeared to hand-feed high-profile announcements to Post reporters. Most famously, in the case of the hiring of schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, Hizzoner had his people inform folks over at 15th and L Streets well before he told Council Chairman Vincent Gray or any other councilmember (“Hand-Scooped,” Dept. of Media, 6/20).
Monday’s Post had reporter Allison Klein’s cops story, featuring an in-depth breakdown of the plan and a lengthy interview with Lanier, on A1. The story, however, ended up landing a direct hit on one of Fenty’s few political soft spots: racial politicking. In her lede, Klein referred to a “wholesale reorganization of the department…reducing the number of African Americans in the agency’s brass.”
Ouch. And the Post’s interest in racial accounting shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Fenty; the paper did an A1 story in early July, apropos of not a whole lot, about his relatively few number of black appointees to cabinet-level jobs.
Brooks says the police-reorganization announcement had nothing to do with deflecting attention from the shooting. In fact, she says, Lanier timed it to kick off the last 100 days of the mayor’s first year in office. (It’s true; LL did the math.)
And as to whether the Fenty folk will be rethinking its Post-first media strategy, Brooks demurs. “I think journalists can choose any angle they like in presenting a story,” she says. “There’s a whole give-and-take between government and the media. We don’t have any control over how they tell their stories.”
Robert McCartney, the Post’s top Metro editor, says he’s “not concerned one way or the other” about losing Fenty adminstration exclusives and that “outside criticism played no role whatsoever in editing decisions on the story.”
Fenty, for his part, says the week was a learning experience, though he declined to draw any particular lessons: “Any time you go through any particular job experience, you learn from it.”
• Council Chairman Gray has had 10 weeks to ponder Victor Reinoso’s fate.
Before the council adjourned for its summer break in July, Gray refused to schedule a vote to confirm Reinoso as deputy mayor for education. At the time, Gray said he’d put the vote on the agenda for the Sept. 18 legislative meeting, citing a need “to feel comfortable” with Reinoso.
Reinoso’s nomination didn’t make it onto the council’s agenda for the season’s first legislative meeting, but Gray has slotted the vote for Oct. 4. So just how is the chairman’s comfort level these days?
Pretty darn good: Citing “several conversations” with Reinoso, Gray says he’s “a lot more confident at this stage” and has put away any concerns about Reinoso’s involvement in the embarrassing plagiarism scandal and the curious $57.6 million no-bid contract for the EdBuild nonprofit.
“I think he wants to move in a different direction,” Gray says. “I think he wants to do a good job and I’m prepared to try to give him a chance to do that.”
• Now that hopes for getting the District any congressional representation have all but dried up for the short term, D.C.’s voting-rights gadflies have started formulating their next moves.
Shadow Representative Mike Panetta has decided to go the Charles Bronson route: Get him some get-back.
Panetta says he’ll soon be filing papers to start the Free and Equal D.C. Fund, a “527” group that works to defeat anti-voting-rights pols across the country.
The city’s best-known voting-rights advocacy group, DC Vote, is a tax-exempt nonprofit, and hence not allowed to get involved in political campaigns. Unlike a traditional political action committee, 527s are barred from coordinating with actual candidates but are free to spend otherwise to elect or defeat politicos. 527s, of course, came to national prominence in the 2004 presidential campaign, when the infamous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth raised almost $17 million to sink Sen. John F. Kerry’s campaign.
Question is, just how much money is out there for voting-rights causes? It certainly isn’t Swift Boat numbers. Folks like Mark Plotkin and Karen Szulgit aren’t exactly known for their deep pockets. Kevin Kiger, spokesperson for DC Vote, says about 25 percent of his group’s nongovernment revenues, which is under $1 million, comes from direct donations. The DC for Democracy PAC, another voting-rights outfit, reported year-to-date receipts of just over $3,000 in a July 31 federal filing.
Expenditures, Panetta says, could go toward TV or print advertising or telephone campaigns. As for potential targets, he drops Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell as the first name.
And McConnell’s constituents, he says, won’t necessarily be hearing directly about the injustices of the District’s electoral situation.
“We could use D.C. voting rights as an issue, but it could be anything,” he says. “It’s really to try to influence the election more than anything.”
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