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Extra—Fenty’s Flashing Road Show
Updated Friday, Feb. 23, at 10:52 a.m.
On Feb. 12, Mayor Adrian Fenty had a last-minute scheduling change. He decided to forgo the opening of a youth drop-in center in Southeast for a chance to stand in front of the salt dome in Brentwood and brief reporters on preparations for the snowstorm.
LL left before the mayor. He almost immediately heard a siren and saw flashing red lights in the rearview and thought maybe he was being pulled over. He slowed down and steered toward the curb, but then noticed it wasn’t a fire truck or police officer behind him, it was Fenty flying past the traffic and running a red light.
Of course, LL figured there was some kind of emergency.
No, Fenty was late for an appearance at a community meeting in Brightwood.
It was no isolated incident.
Fenty’s staff couldn’t provide the total number of times his security detail has switched on the lights to keep the mayor on schedule, but reports from motorists, community leaders and even Fenty’s own staff suggest the light-flashing, siren-blaring mayoral entrance is standard fare.
The mayor’s security detail isn’t keen on talking to the press, but Fenty’s spokesperson, Carrie Brooks, asked folks in the office of police chief-designee Cathy Lanier when it was appropriate for Fenty to order the high-speed chase treatment. “We spoke with the chief’s office,” says Brooks. “There are no regulations that apply to the mayor.”
But the police did offer up some guidelines for applying the red-light treatment.
- During an emergency
- At the mayor’s discretion
- When the mayor is late for an event
You read that right: “When the mayor is late for an event.”
Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry was always late when he was mayor. That never stopped him from arriving in a cloud of dust with his lights and sirens engaged. He got a lot of grief for his theatrical approach to getting around town. It was a lesson not lost on Mayor Anthony Williams, who took a more laid-back approach to traffic and seldom announced his arrival with a siren.
The back-to-Barry approach isn’t just an every-now-and-then thing for Fenty. Several people who attended the events on Fenty’s schedule report a grand, flashy, and loud entrance for the mayor. A few motorists pulled over by the mayor’s SUV have written unsolicited e-mails to LL as well.
The Fenty policy on use of emergency signals stands in sharp contrast to government policy for use of other official vehicles. Title 18, Section 712.4, of the D.C. Code lays out the use of city motor vehicle equipment this way:
Whenever an emergency vehicle is equipped with a siren, the siren shall not be used except when the vehicle is being operated in response to an emergency call; or in the immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law, in which case, the driver of the vehicle shall sound the siren when necessary to warn pedestrians and other drivers of the approach of the vehicle.
For the Fenty team, the sirens are the price to pay for a mayor who wants to keep in touch with the people. “When you combine the packed schedule with trying to get around the city, it can certainly put him behind,” Brooks says. “The mayor has a schedule that has to be kept and it involves many people over the course of the day,” she says. “He’s out and about in the community.”
Requiem for a Superintendent
Does D.C. School Superintendent Clifford Janey have any friends left in town?
Janey seems like a pretty nice guy. What he lacks in inspired rhetoric, he makes up for with clear-spoken luminosity. At least that’s what the city’s political class pointed out when he was hired about two years ago. Back then, you would have thought D.C. was about to get a taste of school-reform royalty, even if he wasn’t the first choice for the job.
Shortly after Janey’s hiring, the previous mayor, activists, and the D.C. Council delivered a united message: Give this guy a chance. Don’t run him out of town like other school reformers who tried to fix the city’s schools.
Just this past December, when Janey delivered the first-ever State of the D.C. Schools speech, he was greeted by a standing ovation. Even then Mayor-elect Adrian Fenty—who was already crafting a bill to take over the schools—rose to his feet.
But judging from the key defections from his inner circle and his abandonment by the city’s political leadership, Janey suddenly looks like yesterday’s hero.
Mere weeks after the State of the Schools address in early February, DCPS Chief Operating Officer Tom Brady walked out of the schools headquarters for the last time to take a similar position in the Philadelphia school system. Brady was one of Janey’s stars, a highly respected manager Janey wooed from his post as chief operating officer of Fairfax County schools to revive the previously eliminated position.
At the time, Brady told the Washington Post that he took the job because he and Janey “hit it off.” During his DCPS tenure, he took some heat for not patching up the city’s crumbling schools quickly enough, but you could also find Brady in the community, talking to people and answering questions.
Brady didn’t leave a happy guy, according to sources familiar with his situation. Like several of Janey’s other reformers, he was said to be fed up with his boss’ plodding, deliberate style. Brady’s former right-hand man, Hitesh Haria, is now the COO in the St. Paul, Minn., school district—the same system where Janey’s former chief academic officer, Meria Carstarphen, is superintendent. All three were part of a dream team of outsiders Janey brought on during those heady days when D.C.’s political leaders really believed the superintendent was the answer to the school system’s long nightmare.
Brady would not comment on the reasons behind his defection to Philadelphia. Haria and Carstarphen did not return calls seeking comment.
One business leader who requested anonymity called Brady the one guy in the system who inspired confidence. Brady’s movement away from Janey mirrors that of the business community, which now seems ready for a change—any change.
“Business people are impatient,” says D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Lang. “People in academia operate in a very different way. We would like to see the implementation of the plan speeded up.” Lang says Janey has made numerous political mistakes in a town that has been unforgiving to school leaders. She’s not sounding like much of a cheerleader these days. “I’m not sure whether he will be able to survive this,” she says.
For a while, it looked as though new Board of Education President Robert Bobb might be Janey’s new best pal. After all, Janey would seem like a natural ally for Bobb in the fight against the Fenty school-takeover juggernaut. Despite Janey’s repeated efforts to stay out of the political debate about school governance, Bobb sucked the superintendent into several public events. When Bobb rolled out his version of an education-reform bill, he did it at a board meeting—which made Janey’s involvement compulsory. Janey and Bobb also shared the witness table at a recent D.C. Council hearing, where the superintendent was made a scapegoat for a school system that was denounced by every candidate during the fall campaign season.
Bobb apparently got the political message. After it was revealed that tests at several D.C. schools showed elevated lead levels in drinking-water sources, Bobb ripped the superintendent in the press. “It is totally disheartening when we have elevated levels of lead and the superintendent didn’t bother to inform the board of the problem,” Bobb told the Post on Feb. 16. “This speaks to a level of incompetence that is beyond comprehension.”
Bobb is acting like Janey’s boss again, not his political ally.
Janey does have one political friend left. Unfortunately for him, she’s no longer in politics. When asked about the superintendent’s fading popularity among opinion leaders, former councilmember and Education Committee chair Kathy Patterson reverted to a statement she made during her failed attempt this fall to be elected council chairman: “I often said I was more optimistic than I had been in more than a dozen years, and I still feel that way.”
Patterson wonders how so many people could pile on Janey, when the city’s power brokers were so recently spouting rhetoric about giving the superintendent time to do his job. “Research shows when you fix schools, you need patience and you need time,” she says. “It was the first time we’d actually had some stability.”
Even Janey concedes that the debate on school governance signals the end of the D.C. school-reform program he signed up for. “It’s not so much a break in confidence [in me] but a break in the principle of how you turn the school system around,” he says.
The principle Janey refers to is the often-stated, but long forgotten commitment by the powers that be to exercise something in short supply among District pols: patience. When he arrived, everyone nodded in agreement with the findings of school-reform experts that fixing troubled urban systems can take a very long time. Staying on that course, Janey says, “separates successful operations from what we’ve [historically] had here.” And what we’ve historically had here is the well-documented quick hook when it comes to superintendents. “But I’m not at all an expert on people’s political motivations.”
Ever since the focus shifted to Fenty’s school-reform bill, Janey and the rest of the city have witnessed impassioned speeches by politicians keen on scoring points with their constituents. “[The debate] can quickly cloud what has happened in the District,” says Janey. “It can become the ultimate litmus test of the ‘facts don’t matter’ kind of approach….People get caught up in the moment, and it’s unfortunate,” he says. “It’s not the kind of example we want to show to our children.”
In The Holding Cell
For a brief period early this year, it looked like D.C.’s shadow congressional delegation had finally snagged the high-visibility office it had long desired. The city’s elected voting-rights lobbyists, often dissed as an ankle-biting annoyance, had new digs high in the John A. Wilson Building.
Any city resident roaming the halls of the District’s city hall could easily find the shadow reps in Room 512, a glass-front office overlooking the building atrium. The office was on the same floor as the council chambers, the council chairman’s office, and several executive-branch suites. In other words, the delegation was literally situated in the District’s corridors of power.
It was a big step up from its previous office on the 10th floor of One Judiciary Square, a space perpetually on loan from the Office of Chief Technology Officer. Once the mayor and council moved back into the Wilson Building in 2000, the delegation was left behind, isolated and usually forgotten.
But near the end of the Williams administration, the delegation got a big gift from one of the mayor’s last holdouts. His chief of staff, Alfreda Davis, granted the reps the prime 5th-floor office space.
But the delegation got to chill in those great digs for only about two months.
LL stumbled upon the latest home of the statehood delegation while wandering around the Wilson Building “C” level—the basement and resting place of the Washington City Paper rack. C level is not only where security officers and maintenance folks hang out but also home to a huge stack of office furniture that is in limbo while the council and mayor’s office complete remodeling efforts.
Past the chairs, desks, and disassembled cubicles, LL discovered the new corner office of the delegation in Room C09.
The elected shadow officials aren’t complaining. They’re just happy to have an office among the city’s other elected officials.
The senior member of the delegation, Shadow U.S. Senator Paul Strauss, is taking it all in stride. “They had to do some construction and this was the only place that they could give us.”
But he doesn’t come to work down at C level every day. That task falls to Vincent Frazier, the guy who mans the phones for Strauss. “We went from the 10th floor at One Judiciary Square to the 5th floor [at the Wilson Building] to the cell block down there.”
The construction involves building new offices for City Administrator Dan Tangherlini, according to Strauss. “Apparently the city administrator needed his own bullpen,” says Strauss. “Mr. Tangherlini felt he wanted his office to match the mayor’s.” And Strauss can’t complain too much. Fenty’s spokesperson Carrie Brooks says the delegation requested the C-level space after it discovered the 5th floor space was temporary.
“We traded sort of a location for square footage,” says Strauss. “The most important thing is we have a place where we can get the work done. We have our own dedicated conference room.” Strauss also has a window in his office, as does Shadow U.S. Senator Michael Brown.
But the man who holds down the fort every day isn’t buying the functionality argument. “I don’t know what happened,” says Frazier. “It seems like we were incarcerated.”
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