The Numbers Game

The way some D.C. councilmembers acted last week during the discussion on the redistricting proposal known as "Plan H," a casual observer might have concluded that the legislators were being robbed.

Ward 1's Jim Graham whined repeatedly over the loss of four blocks, including a section of U Street NW—this in addition to his weekslong lament about the snatching of the Sheridan-Kalorama neighborhood from his ward. He also valiantly took up the cause of residents in Ward 3's Chevy Chase community, who are vexed by the idea, as the councilmember put it, of "leaping Rock Creek Park at its widest, at its widest point, to land in Ward 4." Plan H would take a slice of predominantly white, middle- and upper-class Chevy Chase and relocate it to predominantly African-American middle-class Ward 4. (Tsk, tsk—what a terrible fate!)

Sandy Allen pleaded to stretch the boundary of her Ward 8 across the river into Southwest, suggesting that it would bring greater self-esteem and freedom to her constituents and help them feel connected to the rest of the city. Ward 6's Sharon Ambrose cried and shuddered with the residents of the Fairlawn neighborhood at the very thought of becoming a part of Ward 8. Meanwhile, Ward 5's Vincent Orange wanted only to ensure that all the amendments offered by his colleagues to shift around neighborhoods did not exceed the total city population certified by the U.S. Census Bureau. Have mercy!

Listen, LL is as much a preservationist as the next person. But the pious assertion of councilmembers that they merely want to protect neighborhoods is all Hollywood. Self-preservation is what's really going on here, just as it was last week when the councilmembers in their wisdom voted to repeal term limits on themselves. When councilmembers look at the redrawn ward map for the District, they see campaign donations, they see votes, and they see their political lives or deaths spread out before them.

"Everybody's got motives; everybody's got something they want to achieve," Chair Pro Tempore Jack Evans said of the proponents of an alternative proposal, called "Plan B," that was pushed last week by Graham and has been endorsed by some Chevy Chase residents.

Graham is screaming bloody murder not because he particularly cares about the "reunification" of Parkview, a predominantly African-American, working-class neighborhood in the eastern part of his ward that would have been split under an earlier proposal. Voters in Parkview weren't his base in 1998, and he can't depend on them in 2002. And why should he care where Chevy Chase ends up? The residents in Ward 3 can't vote for him. The Parkview/Chevy Chase/U Street threnody is a ruse: The freshman councilmember knows in which houses his next meals will be served. He wants Sheridan-Kalorama and Woodley Park back.

Graham begs to differ with LL's analysis. He says he hasn't even decided whether he will run for re-election. "This is not about re-electing Jim Graham," he says. "I am proud that I was able to maintain the eastern black precincts intact. My purpose was never to create a white enclave for my re-election." Graham adds that he took up the cause of the Chevy Chase residents because no other councilmember would.

Allen wants to reach into Southwest not because she's constructing some 21st-century underground railroad. Rather, she's worried that accepting the residents of Fairlawn could be trouble: They are a persnickety, demanding, middle-class bunch who won't be satisfied with mediocrity. Better to pick up the public housing residents in Southwest, who have rocked steady for Evans, their current councilmember. "All he had to do was bus them in and feed them; he could depend on them every time," said one Judiciary Square source about those particular Ward 2 constituents.

Although Allen was just re-elected last year, the council's term-limits repeal breathed new life into her future. She's determined to protect her turf. At the moment, she's worried about Eugene DeWitt Kinlow, an activist with mass appeal, charisma, and a reputation for being willing to stand up for middle-class residents—something Allen has shown a reluctance to do. Kinlow, who fought against the location of a prison, a trash-transfer station, and a homeless shelter in the ward, had been last year's odds-on favorite to unseat Allen, but family members advised him against running for office, Ward 8 sources say. Adding Fairlawn to Ward 8 could provide a natural base of supporters for Kinlow. Allen ain't having none of that—which is why she's happy that Ambrose wants to try to keep the crew of malcontents in her Ward 6.

Allen asserts that her only priority in redistricting is ensuring that residents east of the Anacostia River continue to be represented by three councilmembers. It's important, she says, to "reach across the river to be part of the mainland. Right now, we're in the position of constantly being referred to as 'those people over there.'"

The amendment introduced last week by Ambrose to keep Fairlawn within her newly redrawn ward is another charade. Ambrose can't be seen as embracing NoMa (North of Massachusetts) neighborhoods, which are predominantly white, while ignoring the pleas of predominantly black Fairlawn. The fact that African-Americans in Fairlawn are fighting to stay in her ward allows Ambrose to boast that she has been sensitive to the needs of her culturally diverse constituency. Although she was forced to withdraw her amendment because of a ruling by council Chair Linda Cropp, the fact that Ambrose even tried is a win-win for her, which will read very nicely in next year's campaign literature.

For her part, Ambrose says she isn't motivated by race. "I have enjoyed representing those people—both in Fairlawn and historic Anacostia," she says. "That is a community, in terms of community involvement, that is very much like Capitol Hill....It's a good fit."

Don't think because some councilmembers weren't vocal that they weren't looking at their own re-election bottom lines. At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, whose council subcommittee actually convened the public hearings and developed Plan H, didn't make a name for himself until now. Next year, when he runs for re-election, his redistricting efforts will provide him a platform. Cropp, who's also expected to run for re-election, gets brownie points for being perceived as attempting to satisfy concerns of councilmembers and their constituents—even if, in fact, the final document doesn't reflect all the requested changes. Then there's Evans. The Ward 2 councilmember is giving up Southwest and NoMa, which is the site of some major upcoming economic development, without so much as a public whimper. Could that be related to the fact that many of Evans' most tenacious opponents—the people who were so desperate to unseat him in the last election that they wanted to draft the mayor's chief of staff to run against him—live in the NoMa area? The councilmember gets rid of his most vocal enemies, without making a fuss. Don't you just love politics when it's this sweet and neat?

The redistricting drama isn't over yet. Stay tuned for more posturing in the coming weeks as the plan is finalized.

IT'S THE MANAGEMENT, STUPID

With political and civic leaders focusing on the need to keep an independent chief financial officer (CFO) after the D.C. control board disbands in September, you might think that what got the District into trouble back in 1995 was the absence of such an officer, or the absence of sufficient funds. True, the city couldn't collect its taxes, and the finance crew under former Mayors Marion S. Barry Jr. and Sharon Pratt Kelly had messed with the money as if they had been playing Monopoly. But get serious: The city had an independent CFO last year—Valerie Holt (a protégée of control board Chair Alice Rivlin)—who couldn't even get the year-end audit completed on time. That should raise some questions about which is more important—the office or the person?

Retaining someone as competent as current CFO Natwar Gandhi, with all of his existing powers, could be a valuable way to keep the city on its fiscal recovery path—especially given that elected officials, including the CFO-turned-mayor, are still spendthrifts. But discussions between Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Rivlin and her control board posse, the council, and some members of Congress that center only on making the office of the independent CFO permanent ignore history.

What pushed the city into near-bankruptcy wasn't that it was out of cash, but rather that its cash had been so poorly managed. It still is. Nearly every major agency in city government remains in disarray, three years after the mayor who was supposed to work management magic took office.

The city needs a management monitoring committee, similar to the one suggested last month by Rep. Connie Morella, Maryland Republican and head of the House subcommittee on the District. Call it a "shadow control board," "a management advisory team," or whatever, but create it to ensure that critical reforms—in areas such as procurement, education, and welfare—are implemented. Failure to implement important operational changes will set the city back quicker than its inability to collect a commuter income tax—and that's a fact.

EDUCATING OMER

Williams didn't declare himself the "Education Mayor" last year merely as a matter of symbolism. He seems determined to control the landscape. First he overhauled the D.C. Board of Education. Then he reconfigured the Board of Trustees at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), naming his supporter Charles Ogletree to the post of board president. Now, the mayor may succeed in getting his former chief of staff named as interim UDC president.

Sources at One Judiciary Square and UDC say that Abdusalam Omer is under consideration for the position. Timothy Jenkins, former trustee and current consultant to the board; Lyle Carter, a former UDC president; and Dwight Cropp, husband of Linda Cropp, are also said to be on the shortlist of candidates.

Ogletree did not return telephone calls to his office—which is too bad, because LL would have liked to have asked him why they're going to so much trouble to fill an "interim" position. But sources say Williams and several board members are aggressively pushing Omer's candidacy. Having Dwight Cropp and Omer jostling for the post sets up a nice political struggle between the mayor and the council chair. Dwight Cropp is currently a professor at George Washington University, was a former special assistant to the president of that institution, and, back in the '80s, worked at UDC as a senior-level administrator. But Omer is no slouch, either. His backers note that he, too, has the appropriate academic credentials, and they cite his work while in the CFO's office in repairing the financial systems of the D.C. Public Schools.

But Omer's appointment, if it happens, is sure to cause a firestorm of criticism given the mayor's past relations with the university. Two years ago, Williams recommended studying the relocation of UDC to an undetermined site east of the river. The proposal was roundly trashed, and Williams was forced to withdraw it.

Peter Rosenstein, vice chair of the UDC board, would not confirm any names of candidates under consideration but did say that the interim president would be announced June 19.

CREATING DRAFTS

Ward 4 political doyenne Barbara Lett Simmons hasn't been successful in getting her first draft candidate to accept the call, but that hasn't stopped her from soliciting another. Simmons and a group of bow-tie detractors are trying to persuade former U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater to abandon dreams of a U.S. Senate run from the state of Arkansas for the wonderful life of mayor of the very parochial nation's capital. No word yet from Slater.

But Leo Alexander, the man Simmons & Co. are pushing for an at-large council seat in 2002, says he's down with the program. Reached at his Ward 4 home, Alexander confirmed reports that he was approached by Simmons last week, and that he intends to accept the draft invitation.

"I have not held elected office since I was black-student-union president in college," says Alexander, who moved to the District six years ago. He was previously a reporter with WRC-TV Channel 4 and for a time served on the staff at D.C. General Hospital before becoming a public relations and marketing consultant.

"As a reporter, I felt like a voyeur. I felt like I wanted to get in there and do something," says Alexander.

He says he would not join the council race merely for name recognition. "I'd be in it to win....Now all [Simmons and her team] have to do is get the [nominating petition] signatures and show me the money."

Well, there is also the tiny matter of voters. But LL won't press that issue so early in the dream. —Jonetta Rose Barras

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