“It is the worst of times. It is the worst of times,” D.C.’s Unelected Mayor Newt Gingrich muses about his new fiefdom as he paces around his gilded Capitol office. (During the few hours each week when he’s not running the city, Mayor Gingrich doubles as Speaker of the House.) Nearby sits Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr., who has been forced by the city’s failing finances to share power with the Georgia congressman.
Barry bristles at Gingrich’s comment: He’s not about to let Gingrich dis the District, which has been Barry’s domain since Newt was a college boy.
“It is a transforming time,” Barry responds. “God has given me the vision, the courage, and the strength to transform this city from an ugly caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly.”
The remark by Hizzoner (there is only one “Hizzoner”) is a well-aimed barb. It needles Mayor Gingrich, reminding him that Barry alone was elected by the People—and chosen by a Higher Authority—to lead D.C. to the Promised Land.
Of course, LL has never been invited to one of the private bonding sessions between the District’s two mayors. But after analyzing their public comments, their body language, their wardrobes, the numerology of the Lincoln Memorial, the haikus written by Barry aides to help them through these troubled times, and a map of Cora Masters Lady MacBarry‘s travels, LL has painstakingly reconstructed their last meeting.
Barry’s response does prick Gingrich’s hubris. Newt won’t let Barry invoke that God and People nonsense. After all, the speaker/mayor wonders silently, is there any higher authority than himself?
Gingrich also is weary of Barry’s repeated claim that he is God’s “transformer.” Whenever he hears Barry use that term, he imagines an Afrocentric version of the children’s toy. It begins as a bust of Marion. Then, with a twist of the kufi, a turn of the smirking smile, and a push in the belly—Voilà, a hook-and-ladder truck! (The only functioning one in the District, LL might add.)
“It wasn’t God or you who told Pepco to fix the stoplights and streetlights. It was me,” Mayor Gingrich retorts. He begins ticking off his 1995 mayoral accomplishments.
“And it wasn’t you who residents turned to when they wanted that $42 million Rep. Fred Heineman (R-N.C.) was offering the police department. It was me,” Gingrich says. “You nearly killed the whole deal when you said in your Oct. 30 news conference that you wouldn’t even discuss the police money until Congress restored the $258 million it cut from this year’s budget. But now you’re willing to take the money.
“And you know why? Why?” Gingrich goads. “Because you’re feeling the heat. Because the people are coming to me when you screw up.”
Barry starts to interrupt, but Mayor Gingrich will not be silenced. He shuts up Hizzoner with a wave of the hand and continues down his roster of achievements.
“It wasn’t you who rounded up the Republican congressional votes last year to pass the D.C. budget after Democrats turned against the city. It wasn’t you who persuaded the House to create a control board instead of appointing a federal receiver. It wasn’t you who convinced Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.) to drop those 40 provisions from this year’s appropriations bill when you and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton claimed they violated home rule. And it wasn’t you who got Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.) to alter his school-reform plan so it was politically palatable.
“It was me!” Gingrich says, shaking a finger in Barry’s face. “Without me, you’d be regarded as just another dope-smoking, woman-chasing, liberal-spending Democrat.”
Barry flashes a tense smile at Gingrich. On the surface, Barry seems the same polished pol. But inside, the words of the Georgia cracker have stoked his furnace to red hot.
“All your bragging and blaming doesn’t serve any useful purpose,” the seething Barry admonishes his co-mayor. “If I hadn’t stood up on that stage with you at your town meeting, and if I hadn’t said the two of us had bonded spiritually, the residents of this city would still see you as just another white Southerner in a sheet.
“Without me supporting the control board, you would never have been able to push it on us. Without me, you and Walsh and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) wouldn’t do a thing to D.C.—you’d be too scared that the city would explode into riot.
“It was my administration that brought more than one million—maybe two million—black men to this city without the slightest disruption. You all on the Hill were so afraid, you split town and went as far from D.C. as you could get.”
Barry pauses. Newt takes a seat beside Marion. Hizzoner’s words have sobered Gingrich. The speaker has remembered that he still needs the popular black politician and the District to pull African-American voters back to the GOP.
Watching Gingrich grow quiet, Barry hopes he hasn’t pushed the speaker/mayor too far. He is still relying on Gingrich and Congress to send millions his way, to help him make good on his many promises—a new shopping mall for Ward 7, the 10,000 jobs he said he’d create during last year’s campaign.
Both men sit silently, pondering an unfortunate fact. Each desperately needs the other.
“It is the worst of times. It is the worst of times,” the mayors sigh in unison.
HISTORICAL REVIEW SNAFU
The city’s historic-preservation review process may soon screech to a halt, much to the horror of local preservationists and the delight, no doubt, of develop ers.
In January, the National Park Service warned the city it could lose federal funding for historic preservation unless incoming Mayor Barry immediately appointed another professional to the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). Federal law requires that six of HPRB’s 11 members be architects, architectural historians, or other professionals with training in historic preservation. But the board has operated without a sixth professional member since July 1991, casting a cloud over its decisions of the past four years. HPRB signs off on development projects that affect historic structures or alter Pierre L’Enfant‘s original plan of the city.
Barry ignored the January warning from the Park Service until last week, when he hurriedly named architect Melvin Mitchell to fill HPRB’s 4-year-old vacancy. But now the terms of six other members have expired, and failure to fill those vacancies before year’s end could still result in the Park Service canceling its $325,000 payment. That money not only funds HPRB, it also underwrites more than half of the city’s historic-preservation enforcement division, which is housed in the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).
“It’s inattention in the first degree. It’s monumental incompetence,” fumes a DCRA staffer.
Now the mayor and At-Large Councilmember John Ray, whose council committee must confirm Barry’s appointments to the board, are racing to install new members in time for the board’s January meeting.
This is governing by reaction, which seems to be the only way D.C. officials know how.
Mitchell’s appointment does not become official until he is confirmed by the D.C. Council. As chairman of the D.C. Board of Architecture, he is expected to breeze through the confirmation process. But even if the council quickly OKs him, six more confirmation hearings are needed to fill the vacancies of members whose terms expired in July. And Barry has not yet decided on his nominees to replace them.
Unless they are reappointed by the mayor and reconfirmed by the council, the six members with expired terms cannot legally serve on the board after mid-January.
The board owes its precarious state to the politicking over the proposed downtown sports arena. HPRB sources say Barry has delayed reappointing board members because he has been waiting to see how they voted on the arena project, which requires closing a street in the L’Enfant plan. Two of the six, HPRB chairman Charles Cassell and board member Gloria Ward-Ravenell of Ward 8, have probably doomed their chances of another term by their vocal opposition to the arena project.
The other four board members seeking reappointment refrained from HPRB’s arena deliberations because of financial or st
professional ties to the project. In all, five of the 10 board members had conflicts of interest that prevented them from participating in discussions. The remaining five members discussed but did not take an official vote on the scheme.
The incomplete board dates back to the early days of former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly‘s administration. Opposition from Ray and preservationists prevented Herroner from filling the 11th vacancy on the board. One Kelly nominee, Patricia Willingham, withdrew during her July 1991 confirmation hearing when Ray grilled her about her qualifications to serve on the board. Ray then refused to confirm another Kelly nominee, architect Neal Payton, and his nomination died in Ray’s committee.
Barry is all too familiar with the board’s failure to obey federal law. In 1983, during Hizzoner’s second term as mayor, HPRB was decertified by the Park Service because of the city’s mismanagement of the program.
TRICKS AND TREATS
Mayor Barry is still D.C.’s unequaled master of political showmanship. Former Mayor Kelly is remembered for turning away trick-or-treaters empty-handed from her upper 16th Street NW home. Last week Barry hosted a Halloween party for all Ward 8 kids.