Back in June, when Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray was mounting a successful run for council chair, he moved a bill to give Capital Community News $25,000 in city funds to produce a community guide for east-of-the-river residents.
It wasn’t as if Capital Community News didn’t have experience with such work. As publisher of small newspapers such as Hill Rag, East of the River, and DC North, the firm has already produced such guides for the more upscale Capitol Hill and Cleveland Park neighborhoods.
Even so, the deal carried a certain stench. Business groups and other community newspapers squawked over the notion that a for-profit entity from west of the river would get a taxpayer subsidy to create a potentially money-making product. A newly formed nonprofit group in Gray’s home base—the Ward 7 Business and Professional Association (BPA)—was particularly peeved.
The always diplomatic Gray was disturbed by the suggestion that he might be doing a political favor for Capital Community News publisher Jean-Keith Fagon. So he made sure the bidding for the $25,000 would be conducted by the D.C. Office of Planning and Economic Development.
And that’s exactly what happened. Sort of.
In early December, a contractor working for the D.C. government issued a request for proposals to produce the guide. The city was seeking “a creative team with substantial experience in graphic design, communications, marketing and data gathering,” according to a summary of the RFP, which was posted on the Washington, DC Economic Partnership Web site.
It also proposed using the $25,000 as seed money to grow the BPA. The idea would be to print fewer guides. Sources tell LL that Julius Ware, who heads up the group, worked some magic and somehow convinced the bureaucrats who wrote the request to use the money to build up his organization.
The Hill Rag crowd didn’t like the request’s requirements. According to an e-mail obtained by LL, Andrew Lightman, Capital Community News’ managing editor, was unhappy with the RFP. In a tersely worded message to Gray’s chief of staff, Dawn Slonneger, which was CC’d to several other councilmembers, Lightman made it clear the proposal didn’t support his notion of the community guide. “We are in the business of publishing Community Guides and Newspapers. We are not an ad agency that creates brands, web sites and marketing materials,” Lightman wrote on Dec. 7. He seemed to have some sort of inside knowledge of the intent of the measure Gray pushed through the council in June. “The $25,000 reserved by Vincent this past year would have only covered a fraction of the cost of this publication, which would have been primarily supported by ad sales.”
Lo and behold, after Lightman’s complaint, the RFP posted on the Partnership Web site had morphed into something akin to CCN’s business plan. It seems to track suspiciously close to the concerns Lightman passed along to Gray’s top aide. Slonneger says Gray did intervene in the process once it became clear the intent of his bill—to produce a guide—would not be realized under the Ware-inspired RFP.
The new request for proposals posted Dec. 15, omits any mention of the Ward 7 BPA. It calls for “development of an ‘East of the River Business and Community Guide’ for the District’s Wards 7 and 8 by a highly-innovative firm, company or professional team with substantial experience in communications, data gathering and advertisement sales. The preferred firm must have demonstrable experience in having produced other business and community guides.”
There is really only one entity in the District that fits that bill: Capital Community News. The Ward 7 BPA has no experience producing a community guide. Attempts at a similar project by the other east-of-the-river professional group, the Ward 8 Business Council, were amateurish at best and carried little advertising. LL figures that in theory, some other firm might be able to cobble together a proposal by the Dec. 22 due date for applications.
And here’s a shocker: After seeing the new RFP, Lightman has had a change of heart. “We do plan to bid,” he says.
FENTY TO TRINADAD?
It was with some shock and disbelief that LL read this headline on a Dec. 13 press release: “Washington D.C. Mayor-Elect Adrian Fenty to lead mission to Trinidad and Tobago.”
After all, on the campaign trail, the homegrown candidate was often asked about his travel plans if elected mayor. The global ramblings of his predecessor, Mayor Anthony A. Williams, became a major distraction and symbol of the mayor’s disinterest in the home front as the Williams era came to a close.
Fenty was doctrinaire on the trekking question. During one WTWP-FM radio debate, he vowed to stay home for the first year of his administration.
But there it was, a release from the Embassy of Trinidad and Tobago stating that Fenty “has selected the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago as the destination for one of his first international missions.” According to the release, the trade-promoting event “is scheduled for June 2007 and will comprise leaders of the Washington DC Business Community, as well as leaders in education, medicine and information technology institutions.”
Fenty’s apparent break of the no-travel pledge came during a private Dec. 7 reception at the Grand Hyatt to officially launch the mission. According to the embassy press release, during the event, Mackisack Logie, chargé d’affaires of the embassy, stated that “Trinidad and Tobago considers it an honour that this will be one of the first international missions that the new Mayor will embark on in his first year of office.”
The only person more flabbergasted than LL was Fenty.
He had a simple answer when asked whether he planned to break the travel ban: “No.”
Fenty says he merely expressed support for the trade mission and pledged to help embassy officials get in touch with D.C. businesses. He made no suggestion that he would be along for the ride.
“These people mean well,” says Fenty. But he had “no idea” how they could have thought he’d agreed to travel to the islands.
The private consultant hired to organize the mission, John Woods of the Maryland government-relations firm NS&J, did not return calls seeking comment. Fenty staff members report they’ve also had a hard time running down Woods.
But who can blame the embassy for mixing things up? What diplomat of any stature could imagine D.C.’s mayor turning down an invite for international travel?
Maybe the premature announcement was intended to butter up the mayor-to-be. After all, the release gave Fenty a huge political promotion by referring to him as “Mayor Elect of the Washington DC Metropolitan Area.”
During his mayoral transition, Fenty has grown accustomed to the crowds that gather in the Frank Reeves Center atrium during his press conferences. Not only has the media flocked to his announcements, but the balconies are usually lined with curious onlookers, as well, taking a break from their serious government work to catch a glimpse of D.C.’s latest wunderkind.
But last week, even a dedicated press-hog like Fenty learned a lesson about going to the well one too many times. After years of calling the media and personally chatting with every reporter in town, Fenty finally saw what it was like to throw a party and have no one show up.
The press sign-in sheet for the Dec. 15 mayoral-transition press conference was noticeably short. The big unveiling of a star-studded group that will produce an action plan for the first 100 days of the Fenty regime drew a collective yawn. On the print side, there was LL, a reporter from the Washington Post, and another from the Washington Informer. WMAL-AM was on hand, but not a single well-coiffed TV reporter showed.
Just to give Fenty a real jolt, LL and Postie David Nakamura ducked around a corner and out of sight as the mayor-elect walked through the lobby into a nearly vacant press row. His previous purposeful strolls—with staff or his latest appointees at his side—have been money shots for TV newshounds.
But on this day, all Fenty saw was a lot of empty space. “I guess the press corps is still tired from the trip to New York,” Fenty deadpanned when he came to the podium.
When asked by LL after the press conference whether he was disappointed in the press turnout, Fenty replied: “You’re here, aren’t you?”
• In a political world filled with big egos, the battle for prime John A.Wilson Building office space served as the first major political struggle for the new D.C. Council.
This year, with three new members coming on board and prime space on the first floor up for grabs, LL would have predicted a serious donnybrook.
Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry Jr. had already laid claim to the coveted first-floor digs that will soon be vacated by retiring Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose. That left Ward 6 Councilmember-elect Tommy Wells, Ward 3 Councilmember-elect Mary Cheh, and Ward 5 Councilmember-elect Harry Thomas Jr. vying for the two remaining first-floor vacancies.
Thomas was pretty sure he had the inside track on his choice of Kathy Patterson’s first-floor corner office. That’s where his father used to work. Sentimentality prevailed, even though council vets point out that after the 1999 Wilson Building renovation, Harry Jr.’s office is nothing like his father’s.
But Wells ruined all the fun. He told Cheh to go ahead and take the office of Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent Orange. “Once Tommy realized that the Ambrose office was going to go to Barry, he kind of lost interest,” says Cheh. “Actually, it was a very kind gesture.”