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One of the ceremonial traditions incumbent upon new mayors in the District of Columbia is honoring your predecessor with a choice, low-number license plate.
Tag No. 1 still belongs to Mary B. Washington, widow of the late Walter Washington, D.C.’s first elected mayor. Former Mayor Sharon Pratt is near the top of the list. Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry Jr. has his own council tag and doesn’t need a low number to get noticed.
So what happened to Anthony A. Williams?
A tag list updated this spring and obtained by Washington City Paper reveals that Williams will have to cruise his Foggy Bottom neighborhood with regular-Joe tags. Although the list reflects favors to various friends and supporters of Mayor Adrian Fenty, there’s no spot for the two-term chief executive credited with D.C.’s turnaround. Perhaps that’s fitting for a fellow who always claimed he was no politician.
So is the mayor snubbing Williams for supporting Fenty’s prime challenger, Linda Cropp, in last year’s election? Not really. Fenty’s staff apparently was so underwhelmed by the tag drill, they didn’t bother to mind their manners.
When asked about the apparent omission, mayoral spokesperson Carrie Brooks responded, “We would love for Mayor Williams to have a low number.” As to whether the offer was extended to Williams, Brooks offered this reply in an e-mail: “I don’t believe so.”
Williams’ former chief of staff, Kelvin Robinson, says his old boss is steering clear of the press these days but is familiar with the tag system. “When we were there, it was always tradition to offer the lowest tags to former mayors first,” says Robinson, who points out that even if asked, “[Williams] probably wouldn’t want one anyway. He’s not a low-tag kind of guy.”
Reflecting their boss’s rejection of old-time politics, the Fenty people adopted a less territorial approach to the low-tag list. “We asked DMV for a list of the [previous] mayor’s low-number tags and sent a letter to each one asking if they wanted to renew,” says Brooks. Some did not respond, others had no interest in the plate, and a whole lot opted for renewal.
Williams may be the first former mayor to go tagless, but that isn’t the only feature of the Fenty low-tag nobility that catches the eye.
• Separation of DMV and State: According to a 2005 list, Mayor Williams issued tags to 10 people who carried the title of reverend, bishop, or apostle. Fenty hasn’t added a single person with such a title, other than former D.C. Councilmember the Rev. personal vehicle. Still, the mayor is at least keeping one connection to a higher power.
• No Permanent Enemies: After his victory, the mayor promised that a Fenty administration would let bygones be bygones. Several mayoral low-tag holders are Williams holdovers who took a very active role in the campaign of former D.C. Council Chairman Cropp. Fenty’s peace-loving ways mean Cropp’s campaign manager, Phyllis Jones, remains on the mayoral tag list. “The campaign is over,” she says.
Cropp’s fundraising chair, Max Berry, and Cropp booster and baseball advocate Bill Hall took Fenty up on the free pass as well.
Fenty’s generous nature also means D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Lang will at least appear to her neighbors to have completed a journey back into mayoral good graces. Despite her group’s strong support for Cropp, Lang showed up at Fenty’s victory party to congratulate the winner. When the renewal letter from the mayor arrived, she opted for the tags.
• Payback Time for the Post? Donald Graham’s name did not appear on a list of low tags provided by then Mayor Williams in 2005. But the Washington Post chairman is on the Fenty list. Brooks says there was no effort to win kind coverage from the city’s dominant paper by handing out the tag. “He was on the list provided to us by the DMV, and he renewed,” Brooks says. D.C. political watchers will recall that candidate Fenty received friendly coverage from the city’s most powerful news organ during the 2006 campaign. Apparently, someone in the Williams administration overlooked the fact that Graham was issued a plate when the 2005 list came together. Sources at the Post say Graham has been a low-tag guy as long as they can remember.
Barry’s Bad Luck
When regulars at the John A. Wilson Building learned that the person alleged to have injured dozens of people by driving her car through the annual Unifest in Anacostia was a temp in Barry’s office, some staffers started worrying about who might be sitting next to them.
Councilmembers and staffers can rest easy. NAI Personnel, the firm that sent Tonya Bell Barry’s way, provided no other temps to the council, according to council sources.
Other parts of the government utilize staff from NAI.
“Needless to say we are greatly saddened by the incident not only because of the tremendous pain and suffering of the victims, but also because our Office relied on the integrity of your screening procedures in agreeing to the placement,” Barry chief of staff Keith Perry wrote in a June 4 letter to NAI’s Phyllis Downey. “The behavior of your employee, although outside of work, indicates that you may not have properly investigated her background prior to placing her in our office.”
The letter terminates Barry’s contract with NAI. Perhaps more important, Perry notified the company that he plans to refer all press inquiries about Bell to the company.
The Full Stretch
Two rookie councilmembers engaged in their first head-to-head negotiations regarding a pressing matter this week. The talks took place during the traditional council breakfast, where members hash out their differences before each bimonthly legislative meeting.
It wasn’t exactly a big fight. The battle was about seating arrangements on the council dais for Ward 7’s Yvette Alexander and Ward 4’s Muriel Bowser.
Alexander staked out her position very clearly: She was pushing for the seat next to Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, which, from the perspective of the audience, is an aisle seat on the far right of the dais. The other open seat would have placed her with a colleague on each side.
“I need to stretch my legs out in the exit row,” Alexander quipped when asked about her preference. At close to 6 feet tall, Alexander put a premium on space. She also asked At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson to check out her left and right profiles and pick her best side.
But the willowy Bowser is no shrimp at about 5-foot-10. She surely had an argument for dibs on the aisle seat. But Bowser must figure her constituents are more concerned about her position on the issues than her position on the dais. “It doesn’t matter to me,” she told Council Secretary Cynthia Brock-Smith. Bowser might have already figured out that councilmember chairs have wheels that allow plenty of maneuverability should more legroom be desired.
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