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It’s being called the “second Watergate scandal,” but this time, burglars aren’t breaking into the Democratic national headquarters to steal the presidency of the United States. Instead, Foggy Bottom activists are being tossed out of public meetings, civic leaders are being accused of running phony organizations, and Kerry Stowell of the Watergate Community Council is feuding with other neighborhood organizers over control of the 85-year-old D.C. Federation of Citizens Associations.
Forget the stars of 23 years ago—G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, James Secord, and Lawrence O’Brien—and keep an eye on the antics of the locals—Stowell, Guy Gwynne, Stephen Koczak, and Gail Barnes. What is at stake in Watergate II, as far as LL can decipher, is which faction of the federation will speak on behalf of dozens of civic and tenant groups before the city’s new control board. (This organizational jockeying is scarcely confined to the federation. Citizens all over town are forming new groups, battling for control of existing ones, and holding town meetings in preparation for going before the control board. Though Congress created the board to oversee the city’s spending practices and fiscal policies, neighborhood activists apparently hope the five-member body will act as the city’s supreme Advisory Neighborhood Commission [ANC]—sort of a high court of last resort on local matters.)
The D.C. Federation of Citizens Associations, which is dominated by groups from the city’s mostly white western side, strongly supported creation of the new control board. Its counterpart, the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations, comprised predominantly of black neighborhood organizations, adamantly opposed the control board’s creation.
Watergate II erupted on April 13 when Stowell, the first vice president of the Federation of Citizens Associations, ejected Foggy Bottom activist Robert Charles Jr. from the organization’s monthly public meeting. Stowell told Charles that he and fellow Foggy Bottom traveler Barbara Kahlow were henceforth banned from all of the association’s meetings. Federation members voted to eject the pair, Stowell said, because they are “so destructive.” Stowell and Gwynne—the secretary of the organization—claimed they didn’t want the “divisiveness” that has plagued Charles and Kahlow’s Foggy Bottom Citizens Association to creep into the federation.
Charles went quietly into the night, but he didn’t stay silent for long. He and Kahlow complained to federation President Koczak, who hadn’t heard about any vote to ban Kahlow and Charles from the meetings.
So Koczak ordered an immediate inquiry into the matter, and picked the one federation member he thought was totally uninvolved to lead the investigation—Barnes, outgoing president of the Sixteenth Street Heights Civic Association. (Yes, this is the same Barnes who staged a sit-in at the office of Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas two weeks ago to protest lax enforcement of traffic laws near her printing business.)
Putting the tireless Barnes in charge of the investigation was like digging up former Senate Watergate Committee Chairman Sam Ervin and ordering him to get to the bottom of this mess.
Barnes discovered that some officers of the federation had indeed voted, at a meeting where Koczak was absent, to exclude Charles and Kahlow from federation activities. But she also uncovered the fact that some of the members involved in this caper represent organizations that do not meet the criteria for joining the federation. Its rules require member organizations to have at least 25 dues-payers, to hold monthly meetings, and to have elected officers.
Among those whose credentials Barnes challenged were Stowell and her organization, the Watergate Community Council. This is where Watergate—and the Republican party—comes in. Something about those apartment buildings inspires plotting and planning, and many members believe Stowell, a GOP stalwart, is the mastermind behind all the federation politicking. They say she is trying to gain control of the organization in order to improve her standing before the control board and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
Barnes also questioned whether Georgetown’s Chancery Court Homeowners Association, headed by Peggy Snyder, is a bona fide citizens’ association. Gwynne and Stowell are backing Snyder to succeed Koczak as federation president.
But when Barnes tried to present these findings at the May 11 federation meeting, her report was tabled—unread—by the executive committee she had been investigating. Gwynne calls Barnes’ report “extreme,” adding that, “It was very much like the product of a high-school sorority.” Gwynne claims the report runs counter to the federation’s goal of increasing membership from its current three-dozen organizations to 60. Stowell claims all the organizations attacked by Barnes met the most important criterion for membership: Namely, their dues checks were cashed—by Gwynne.
Watergate II flared again at the federation’s June 8 meeting. Snyder’s backers tried to get her elected president in time to seize the honor of introducing Gingrich, the invited guest speaker, at the June 20 annual banquet. But Koczak, Barnes, and other members managed to postpone the election until June 29 by questioning the qualifications of at least a half-dozen member organizations, including Snyder’s.
The day after that meeting, Gwynne canceled the annual banquet and rescheduled it for October, saying that “the climate for having it now was not the best.” Gwynne may have spiked the banquet for another reason. Gingrich sent word that he intended to refuse the federation’s invitation. He wanted to attend the annual White House picnic, also set for last Tuesday evening.
When Koczak heard that Gwynne had canceled the federation’s banquet, he “dismissed” Gwynne as secretary and reinstated the annual event for this past Tuesday at Fort McNair. “I have a feeling it won’t be much of a dinner,” Gwynne grumped before this week’s party. (Perhaps Gingrich should have skipped the White House picnic and attended the federation banquet. He probably would have gained a better understanding of D.C.’s favorite pastime—political infighting—and he might have reconsidered his recent offer to hold town meetings throughout the city.)
Gwynne and Stowell insist that Koczak is trying to hang onto the presidency for another year, even though the federation’s constitution requires him to step down this month, at the completion of his third term. Koczak, a retired State Department official, denies any interest in retaining the federation’s leadership.
Stowell now admits she shouldn’t have ejected Charles, but adds, “I thought it was a private meeting.”
And although Gwynne admits that Stowell acted out of “personal feelings” against Charles, the federation secretary still maintains that Charles incited the controversy by “crashing” a public meeting.
“He wasn’t invited,” Gwynne contends.
If invitations become necessary to attend public meetings in D.C., LL is in deep trouble.
Although Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry seems to have slowed a step since his return to the mayor’s office, he hasn’t lost any of his ability to charm critics.
Tenacious government watchdog Marie Drissel was visiting the Wilson/District Building last week, keeping an eye on Barry’s appointments to the city’s tax appeals board, when Hizzoner spotted her getting onto an elevator. “Miss D.C. Watchdog,” he called out, grinning as he came down the hall toward her. “Miss Bulldog. Miss Rottweiler.”
Caught before the elevator door could close, Drissel good-naturedly bared her teeth and growled, “Rottweiler.”
Barry grabbed her hand and kissed it, proclaiming, “I love ya anyhow.” As the elevator doors were closing, Drissel seemed to be lifting one leg. LL couldn’t tell whether she was intending to give the mayor’s pants a good old-fashioned Rottweiler welcome or was just doubling over with laughter at the royal treatment from the city’s royal charmer. We suspect it was the latter.
This incident already has become part of local political folklore. The D.C. Federation of Citizens Associations had planned to give the vigilant Drissel an award at its on-off-on-again annual banquet this past Tuesday. After last week’s encounter with the mayor, the honor was renamed the “D.C. Rottweiler Award.”
Speaking of the city’s property tax appeals board, James Murphy, speculated to be Barry’s choice for board chairman, quit the panel on the eve of his council confirmation hearing last week. Murphy, an attorney, was picked for the panel by Barry in March, just prior to the start of the current tax appeals season, and too late to be confirmed before he started hearing cases. When Barry tried unsuccessfully to remove current Chairman George Clarke three months ago, newcomer Murphy was rumored to be the mayor’s choice for chairman. But Murphy apparently did not enjoy hearing homeowners and business owners complain about their property taxes, and decided he’d had enough after one season….
D.C. Office of Campaign Finance Acting Director Melvin Doxie may have earned the distinction of serving the shortest term on record. Barry signed a council resolution on May 31 appointing Acting Director Doxie to officially finish the term of the previous director. That term expired the next day, June 1. So after 24 hours as director, Doxie returned to his job as acting director. He is now waiting for the D.C. Council to decide whether to appoint him to a full term.