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With Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh demanding his resignation and Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells slamming his performance, you might think Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe doesn’t have much support left in the city. And judging by today’s Wilson Building rally in support of him, you’d be right.
The demonstration, organized by Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Ronnie Edwards and D.C. Federations of Civic Associations President Barbara Morgan, drew only about a dozen supporters to the hallway outside an empty Council chamber.
Lackluster turnout aside, Edwards insisted that his view that the chief is being unfairly blamed for the department’s problems is held by a majority of residents . “You want to see more people?” Edwards says. “Give us time, we’ll have more people.”
The District’s fire department is short vehicles and personnel, according to Wells’ report. But Edwards insists that Ellerbe being blamed for the problems of previous administrations. That includes Ellerbe’s predecessor, Chief Dennis Rubin, whom Edwards claims got off easy with scandals like fire station prostitution rings and the sale of fire truck to the Dominican Republic.
The fire department has a history of racial tension, including discrimination lawsuits and a department spokesman who accused firefighters of racism over a protest of Ellerbe. Ellerbe is African-American and Rubin is white, but Ellerbe protesters speakers at the rally were reluctant to say race was involved in the alleged double standard. “You can draw any conclusion you can draw,” Edwards says.
Ward 8 ANC Commissioner Mary Cuthbert wasn’t so coy with LL. “Now the union is complaining because he’s black, and you can put that in the papers,” she says.
Photo by Will Sommer