LL Goes Astray Recounting a column's greatest misses

Last Laugh: Gray’s pursuit of chairmanship makes list of LL’s bungled political forecasts.
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

This is my last column as Loose Lips. In the very near future, someone else will take up the mantle. Here’s hoping the next person to grace these pages will be funnier, younger, and better-looking. Who knows, the Washington City Paper may even scare up someone with talent.

This would be the appropriate time to thank those who felt compelled to help me fill this space every week. They not only did LL a big favor but sometimes provided a great service to the city.

But after some self-examination, I’ve decided against the weepy pat on the back for a bunch of good-intentioned gossips. You know who you are. Besides, the folks who really made this column a must-read would rather remain out of sight.

Instead, LL has decided to issue himself a final report card of sorts. Having completed 105 columns over 27 months, LL has made tons of predictions regarding the various players on the D.C. political scene. A few of them have panned out.

But why reprise those high points? Better to reach back and relive the moments when LL’s analysis was about as accurate as Dick Cheney’s assertion that U.S. forces would be greeted as liberators in Iraq. Herewith an inventory of my greatest misses.

LL Prediction: Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry Jr. is a broken-down old man who no longer has the energy to play a major role in D.C. politics.

Without a doubt, the history of Loose Lips is linked to Barry’s colorful, tragic, triumphant, wacky, made-for-TV political career. It would have been nice to get a comment from Hizzoner for this columnist’s final effort, but D.C.’s only famous politician is still giving LL the silent treatment. Barry’s no-comment policy for LL dates back at least to February 2006, when the City Paper chronicled his extracurricular exploits during the first year of his return to public service.

The last on-the-record, exclusive exchange appeared in the Feb. 17, 2006, City Paper. LL figured that a warm and fuzzy send-off for then DDOT Director Dan Tangherlini would be the perfect time to make peace with the old lion of D.C. politics:

When LL offered his hand, Barry pulled back. “You know I don’t talk to you,” Barry said. LL then tossed out a peacemaking cliché, offering to “bury the hatchet.” Replied Barry: “Bury it in your back! That’s what I’d say.”

Relations haven’t exactly warmed since. But Barry keeps on giving as the perfect guy to kick off the greatest-misses list.

In April 2005, LL dismissed Barry as a possible candidate in the 2006 mayoral election:

King of Ward 8 will continue his low-key rule as east-of-the-river legend. Lingering questions about Barry’s health mean he is no longer a citywide threat.

At the time, Barry was just a few months into his tenure as Ward 8 councilmember. He was limping around in a therapeutic boot and looking gaunt. He was sometimes a bit out of sorts, if not outright ill. After the Washington Post discovered that Barry tested positive for cocaine in November 2005, he revealed that he was attending a rehab program; LL’s prediction was looking good.

Real World Outcome: The former mayor’s health has steadily improved. Actually, Barry looks and sounds the best he has in years. He’s gained some weight. His foot problem has healed completely. Last fall, Barry defeated then Mayor Anthony A. Williams in a thoroughly unwatchable benefit tennis match. OK, Williams double-faulted six times. But Barry was far from feeble.

At Mayor Adrian Fenty’s inaugural ball, Barry served notice that the young and agile mayor had nothing on the man this column dubbed Mayor-for-Life. Barry’s onstage dancing was the highlight of the evening. A photo of Barry grooving in a tuxedo with the new mayor and his wife, Michelle Fenty, laughing and looking on was the money shot for the Post’s gala coverage. Barry had the shot blown up to life-size and mounted on the wall of his John A. Wilson Building office reception area.

LL Prediction: The 2006 mayoral election will be tight.

In the summer of 2006, LL was often asked to predict the outcome of the Democratic primary race for mayor. A few days before Decision 2006, LL was put on the spot in a very public way. He told WTOP’s Mark Segraves—and the entire listening audience—that Fenty would win “in a very close contest.”

Real World Outcome: Fenty took every precinct in the city and outpolled then D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp 57 percent to 31 percent. After the results were in, WTOP commentator Mark Plotkin (who, incidentally, called a Fenty landslide), urged an LL boycott: “Nobody should read this guy’s column.” Plotkin’s attack was aired after Segraves insisted that LL’s prediction be replayed during the post-election edition of the weekly Politics Program. Thanks so much for getting my name out there, guys.

LL Prediction: Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans will run for Mayor.

LL was duped into reporting this fantasy as fact on more than one occasion. Maybe it had something to do with Evans’ comments published in a March 2005 LL column: “When the time comes, I will file the necessary papers to run for mayor,” Evans told a crowd gathered on March 2 at Guapo’s in Tenleytown. LL also bought the line at a 2006 Shaw meet-and-greet when Evans again told the crowd he would be a candidate for mayor. LL then commenced to write an entire column about the great advantage Evans would have in terms of legislative accomplishments when it came time to debate that upstart, Councilmember Fenty.

Real World Outcome: Evans never ran for anything. He set his sights on the chairman’s race and then decided against running after a scandal involving his now-defunct political action committee.

LL Prediction: Vincent Gray won’t run for council chair.

In April 2005, the issue of who would run for council chairman was hot on account of indications that Cropp was going to run for mayor. LL blurbed about then Ward 7 Councilmember Gray:

Too busy working 24/7 for his ward to consider [the] move. No interest in following in [Kevin] Chavous’ overly ambitious footsteps, which too often led him out of the ward—and finally led him out of office. Gray is quickly capturing the crown of council’s No. 1 workaholic. LL recommends vacation.

Real World Outcome: Gray worked even harder—to become chairman. At the time when LL was so sure Gray was happy to be attending Kenilworth and Hillcrest community meetings, the chairman was already plotting a path to victory. He jumped into the race with gusto and captured a decisive citywide win. And, yes, he overcame what has proven to be a worthless endorsement. LL backed his main opponent in the Democratic Primary, Kathy Patterson. She went down by a margin of 14 points.

LL Prediction: Fenty’s campaign will outlast his yard signs.

The July 8, 2005, column offered this take on the earliest ever start to a D.C. mayoral campaign:

Jim Shenk, of Capital Promotions, explains that Fenty has deployed the “poly-bag” sign—a square plastic bag that fits neatly over a thick wire frame. Shenk says Fenty’s early start takes the bag sign into a new frontier. “I can’t remember anyone putting these signs up 14 months out,” he says. “Fourteen months straight would be a long time.” Michael Malinowski, of sign manufacturer Gill Studios, calls the poly-bag sign “very popular, but definitely not a 14-month application.”

Real World Outcome: A quick check of the Fenty signs still planted in yards shows great results in terms of durability and colorfastness. Just take a look at the area around his parents’ Mount Pleasant home. You’ll still find the Fenty faithful proudly displaying their green and white.

LL Prediction: At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson is a guy whose luck has run out.

When David Bowers joined the 2006 At-Large race, LL opined that Mendelson was getting another big dose of electoral luck. The incumbent was facing a very tough challenge from attorney A. Scott Bolden. But two energetic candidates trying to knock off the mild-mannered wonk would mean yet another split in the anti-Mendelson vote. When a bum knee forced Bowers out of the race, LL had this to say on Nov. 11, 2005:

Bolden is now in the one-on-one race he was hoping for. “I’ve always believed [Mendelson] was the only opponent,” Bolden says. “If we are well-run, well-spoken, well-organized, and well-funded, then we ought to be in good shape no matter who is the candidate.”…With Bowers out of the race, others may be tempted to jump in. And the incumbent isn’t above engaging in some wishful thinking: “Frankly, I think there will be others getting into the race next year,” Mendelson says.

Real World Outcome: No one else joined the race, and it didn’t matter. Mendelson won handily despite being outspent.It wasn’t the only time LL muffed a Mendelson call.

LL Prediction: Mendelson will vote for the baseball stadium lease.

With the big vote on the baseball lease before the council, LL took the Dec. 16, 2005, issue to forecast how councilmembers would vote and why. In the case of Mendelson, LL got it exactly wrong:

Without some cover, Mendelson will walk into a political meat grinder if he supports the baseball lease. He may be an incumbent, but the bulk of his support during his two previous election victories came from the wealthiest parts of the city. The anti-stadium rhetoric resonates well in the less fortunate wards that have not been so kind to Mendelson on Election Day. LL Prediction: Mendelson votes yes and rolls the 2006 election dice.

Real World Outcome: Mendelson voted no. Mendelson has been demanding that LL admit his blown call for a year now. When the councilmember learned that LL would at long last ’fess up to guessing wrong on his baseball vote, Mendelson said, “So you’re finally going to write the truth.” Mendelson refused to dismiss persistent rumors that he might take up the LL mantle. “I am eligible for part-time employment,” he said.

Got a tip for Loose Lips? You can still send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com. Or call (202) 332-2100, x 302, 24 hours a day.

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