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Act I, Scene II.

The Setting: The Johns Hopkins University Hospital room of Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr., aka MacBarry, last Sunday morning.

Cora Masters Lady MacBarry enters, beaming.

Lady MacBarry: Ah, my dearest husband. Such good news! The doctors say their physic hath rid you of this loathsome cancer. And I bring you even better tidings, a sweet gift from Lady Katharine Graham to brighten your day. (She holds up a copy of that morning’s Washington Post.)

MacBarry: Is this a Post I see before me, its front page toward my hand? Is this a present to cheer your husband in his hour of woe? Wife, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were plotting to make me even sicker. I’d rather read that awful book Dream City, by Tom Sherwood and what’s his name, than to cast mine eyes upon that rag.

Lady MacBarry: But soft, my love, and cast thine eyes upon this article. It saith that the vile control board already is a failure. Read how the board and its arrogant lord, Andrew Brimmer, have bogged down in the mire of the Washington swamp. They try so hard to manage the city’s day-to-day operations that they cannot fulfill expectations. Look, e’en the Post—that tinny, traitorous trumpet—says the board ignores the voices of our people. Our plan, our careful, clever plan, is working.

MacBarry: Can this be true, woman? (He snatches the paper from Lady MacBarry’s hands and reads it.) It is just as you say. Our scheme doth succeed—and faster than we hoped. Brimmer and his four squires have tumbled into our well-laid trap. And now, e’en the Washington Post agrees, e’en the damned Post! (He laughs so hard that his stitches pop.)

Lady MacBarry: It was you who did it, my Machiavellian husband. You, always so overflowing with wisdom, knew that if you challenged and pushed and confronted that bloviated Brimmer, eventually he would overreact and overreach, and undercut the board’s credibility and power. And last week he did just that. When garbage trucks blocked Thomas Circle in front of the board’s castle, he sent his minions to write down the license tag numbers. Brimmer believes himself a sheriff, tracking down the outlaws who dare to defy him. He can’t see those protesters as District citizens worried sick about losing their jobs. But the people of this fair and mighty city, even your detractors, never expected this kind of heartlessness from the board.

MacBarry: Brimmer and his four yokemates suspect I had a hand in those demonstrations. Can you imagine that? (Both grin gleefully.) But they can’t prove anything. Oh, the workers, they grumble at me now. They groan that I set them up by encouraging the unions to confront the board, and then failing to stand up for them afterwards. But they’ll get over it. They have no one else to turn to.

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Lady MacBarry: When you distribute honors to thine allies, you must reward mightily your loyal vassal, Metropolitan Police Chief Larry Soulsby. Last week the chief sat down with Post editors and reporters—and blamed the control board for police department shortages. He said that the board has only added another layer of bureaucracy and delayed equipment purchases. I told you he would make the best police chief.

MacBarry: Yes, you did, my sly little chickadee.

Lady MacBarry: ’Twas a good week, my lord, for the board has failed our test.

Now I’ll be gone, while you relax, lie back, and rest.

(She exits. Instead of resting, MacBarry rereads the article on the control board’s failures.)

To be continued…

WILSON BUILDING’S FIXER

When the D.C. Council agreed last month to hire developer T. Conrad Monts to renovate the badly deteriorated John A. Wilson/District Building, supporters argued that while Monts may not be the best person for the job, he’s the only one who’s got a plan. Monts proposes to lease the building to the federal government for the next 20 years. The D.C. government would continue to occupy a third of the 87-year-old structure.

But the loosely organized opponents haven’t given up. They expect Monts to stumble, opening a window for them to present an alternate scheme. They hope to preserve the building as the seat of local government and prevent the feds from grabbing the coveted parcel at 14th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

Questions are already emerging about Monts’ financial ability to complete the Wilson Building rehab. The developer is currently embroiled in litigation involving failure to pay back loans on a city housing project. The council was unaware of the legal disputes when it approved Monts’ deal in early November—even though the cases are being fought out in the U.S. District Courthouse a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue.

The litigation concerns the Jeffrey Gardens apartment complex at 4201 7th St. SE. Monts and partners, operating under the name Jeffrey Gardens Associates, began renovating the subsidized housing project in 1987. They received a $500,000 deferred loan from the city; they don’t have to pay that loan back unless they sell the project. They also obtained four loans totaling more than $10 million from the now-defunct National Bank of Washington (NBW).

Monts and his partners apparently thought they didn’t have to pay those loans back, either. The unpaid debts became a legal issue in NBW’s tangled bankruptcy. NBW’s creditors sued Monts and his partners. The developers countersued and lost. In May 1994, Monts and associates agreed to pay nearly $2.8 million on these overdue loans during the next three years. But according to Neil Imus, a lawyer for NBW’s interests, the issue has returned to court because Monts and his partners seek to alter the payment schedule laid out in the 1994 settlement agreement. They are seeking additional time to pay off the loans.

The litigation doesn’t mean that the developer is in financial trouble, says Monts’ attorney, Fred Cooke. “Those facts don’t support that conclusion,” Cooke says. According to Cooke, “there is some dispute over how much they owe and when they owe it.”

Cooke then relayed LL’s questions to the developer, promising to get some answers from Monts. But the lawyer reported back this week that “Mr. Monts has advised me not to speak about this matter. So we don’t have any comment beyond what the court records indicate.”

POLITICAL POTPOURRI

Now that the sorry state of the District police force makes headlines almost daily, Congress and city officials, including Chief Soulsby, are again considering the appointment of a D.C. public safety commissioner—a kind of Übercop. Ironically, the only name mentioned for the post so far is that of former Chief Fred Thomas, who opposed creation of the office during his tenure as the District’s top cop. But Thomas quickly accepted a similar job in Prince George’s County following his retirement as chief last summer. It’s not likely, however, that D.C. officials will agree to a plan that puts the former chief in charge of his successor….

When Ward 8 political gadflies Sandra Seegars and Florence Smith launched a campaign to recall Eydie Whittington just days after Whittington won a special election last May to fill Barry’s council seat, Barry/Whittington backers responded, “What? Us worry?” Supporters of the new councilmember said Seegars and Smith would never pull the recall off, and their prediction is coming true.

The D.C. Board of Elections this week threw out as invalid more than 40 percent of the signatures Seegars and Smith had collected on petitions seeking to recall Whittington. Of the approximately 4,400 signatures collected, board officials ruled that only 2,605 were valid, leaving petitioners 735 short of the number needed to force a special recall election early next year….

If the District government ran out of money to print the D.C. Register each Friday, would anyone notice? Apparently not. The last issue of the Register appeared Nov. 3, and the lobbyists, government bureaucrats, businesspeople, and citizens who depend on the weekly publication to learn of new regulations, zoning changes, and upcoming meetings haven’t missed it.

“Oddly enough, no one seemed to notice until last week,” said Bertrand Thomas, administrator of the Office of Documents, which oversees printing of the Register. But now the Register is coming back, if not exactly by popular demand. Thomas said the Nov. 10 edition, which contains notices about meetings that have already taken place, and the most current issue, dated Dec. 8, will be printed and mailed out this week.

No, Thomas’ agency didn’t win the lottery. He said city officials finally decided they have enough printing supplies to resume publication of the Register and to publish the five skipped issues. Thomas said he expects to get back on schedule soon, barring another congressional budget impasse that shuts down the D.C. government….

McLean Gardens Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Phil Mendelson has a suggestion for a city badly in need of new revenues—tax new rental properties at the same rate as owner-occupied homes. Mendelson, a McLean Gardens homeowner, has been trying for the past seven years to raise the taxes on rental units in the upper Wisconsin residential complex.

He claims that apartments in the Village and Towers at McLean Gardens—some 500 newly constructed rental units along Wisconsin—are taxed at half the rate of McLean Gardens’ town houses, even though the rental units are slightly larger.

“I’m not trying to reduce my assessment. My point is, the city is underassessing the new ones,” says Mendelson, who was a renter himself when he began this crusade back in 1988. “If they do it [in McLean Gardens], they are doing it elsewhere”….

D.C. fire department officials have been moving broken firetrucks and ambulances out of the repair shop on Half Street SW and hiding them in fire stations around the city, according to a department employee. “That way, they can say all the apparatus is fixed up and back on the streets,” the employee says.

Several junked ambulances were recently discovered on upper Georgia Avenue NW behind Engine Co. No. 54 after word leaked out that the ambulances contained medical waste.

“The reason why [the department has] been good for so many years is we’ve had the manpower and equipment to put on the streets,” the employee notes. “It doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar to see there’s no apparatus out there now, and no manpower.” CP

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