Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen is a real skeptic.
Last Thursday, Dec. 11, both LL and the Washington Post published remarks uttered by Ward 8 Democrats First Vice President Mary Cuthbert at a Nov. 22 meeting of the political organization. "Poor white trash!" Cuthbert shouted repeatedly at Ward 8 resident and homeowner Kirsten Burgard. "White trailer trash!" Burgard, the group's new Issues and Legislation Committee chair, is the first white officer to serve the almost exclusively African-American party cell.
When Ward 8 Dems erupted over the group's response to the racial slurs last Saturday, the highest elected official in Ward 8 sat in front of the crowd and remained mumbecause, she says, she can't go on what she reads. "Anything I would say about Mary's statement would be hearsay," Allen explained to LL as she departed the Washington Highlands Library. "I was not at the meeting where this occurred."
Allen admitted that she had seen the comments in the newspapers but said that she needed primary-source testimony before rendering any type of verdict. "[Cuthbert] hasn't said it to me," offered Allen.
LL guesses Allen has been really swamped this week: It's going to take a lot of phone calls to the White House and Pentagon from Allen's city-hall office, after all, to get captured Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on the line to confirm the week's other big story.
But LL won't accuse the councilmember of a lack of leadership: Allen's transparent dodge to avoid making some kind of public statement about Cuthbert's hateful remarks was mimicked in some form or another by many of her Ward 8 Dems Executive Committee compatriots. The embarrassment that Cuthbert has brought to the organization only snowballed last Saturday, when party leaders hid behind organizational rules to protect her from censure or removal from office.
According to the procedure-obsessed Ward 8 Dems, apologies for hate-filled remarks need to follow Robert's Rules of Order.
So when Ward 8 Dems President Eugene Dewitt Kinlow rose to make a statement on the incident at the Saturday meeting, scheduled for discussing the group's presidential endorsement, members of his own "Unity Democrats" slate shouted him down. They argued that according to the Executive Committee minutes, the Kinlow administration had agreed to have its leader say something at the next general meeting of the organization, not at that day's special session.
The minutes then couldn't be produced.
The obfuscation strategy was clear from the get-go. Longtime Ward 8 Dem Calvin Lockridge berated Kinlow with questions, including where in the bylaws Kinlow might find grounds for removing Cuthbert from office. Because the group's founders hadn't foreseen a white person ever wanting to join their organization, perhaps, they didn't specifically write into the bylaws the procedure for removing an officer who branded a fellow neighbor "white trailer trash."
In fact, an officer of the organization can be removed for cause by a two-thirds vote of the membership, according to the bylaws.
Count Allen among the sticklers for
procedure. "It was a special meeting," argues Allen, who attended the Dec. 13 conclave to represent presidential hopeful Howard Dean. "This wasn't supposed to be on the agenda."
For all the objections, Cuthbert had little to worry about once Kinlow said his piece. "[O]ur First Vice President Mary Cuthbert broke her covenant with the Democratic Party by making demeaning and racist statements to Kirsten Burgard, the newly elected Chair of the Issues and Legislation Committee, without cause, provocation, or reflection," read Kinlow in a statement passed out to the crowd.
That's as strong as it got. "I have received word that there are a number of new members and older members who refuse to be a part of this organization at this time. Again, we regret these comments and offer our personal apology to all," he concluded. Kinlow stopped short of asking for Cuthbert's resignationor even for his first vice president to publicly apologize to her fellow Executive Committee member.
Kinlow says he personally asked Cuthbert to resign but was prevented from doing so publicly by the Executive Committee. "It saddens me that a group of citizens who are known throughout the city for voicing their opinions in matters of right and wrong have lost their voice," he later told LL.
At the meeting, the display of leadership was left to Cynthia Kain, the organization's recently elected recording secretary. Kain made a motion to begin the process of removing Cuthbert from the Democratic Party cell. "I think harm is happening to our organization," said Kain, who was elected with Cuthbert three months ago.
"The Democratic Party is a party about unity. It's not a party about bigotry," said Lafayette Barnes, who lost to Kinlow in the group's September election. He seconded Kain's motion.
The predictable melee ensuedand focused on Kinlow.
"I don't give a damn about what the rest of the national party saysor anyone else," belted Lockridge a moment later. "Mr. Kinlow, you're the one who needs to resign. You ain't done nothing here."
"Let's recall the son of a bitch," Lockridge murmured within LL's earshot, still focused on Kinlow.
In the end, the Ward 8 Dems voted to table Kain's motion. Only one Ward 8 Dem raised his hand in opposition.
When LL repeatedly asked Cuthbert for comment, the first vice president kept her mouth firmly shut.
"I just don't think you can say something so blatantly and publicly and think there is no consequence," says Burgard, who spent the meeting working the presidential poll in the library hallway. "I don't see any difference between [Cuthbert] and Trent Lott."
During the meeting, various Ward 8 Dems took LL to task for characterizing the leadership's approach to the Cuthbert episode as "gutlessness." LL didn't need to defend the statement: The evidence had just presented itself.
•Late Friday, Dec. 12, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Alan Roth informed his neighbors that Mayor Anthony A. Williams had "backed out" of an appearance scheduled months in advance at an Adams Morgan neighborhood forum the following Monday night. "Suffice it to say, the details reflect very poorly on the competence and responsiveness of the Mayor's schedulers, senior staff, and community outreach personnel, but apparently they'd rather have him somewhere else on Monday night than spending the evening listening to Adams Morgan," wrote Roth.
As it turned out, Williams did have something else to do that evening: hosting the mayor's fourth annual holiday party and toy drive, a municipal Toys for Tots campaign held at the Frank D. Reeves Center at 14th and U Streets NW.
Collect presents for needy children or listen to Adams Morganers bellyache about car jockeys and the Madams Organ mural?
Even LL considers that a no-brainer.
According to his official schedule, the mayor was
tied up from 6 to 9 p.m.a direct conflict with Roth's 7 p.m. meeting at the 3rd District police station, near 17th and V Streets NW. Given the proximity of the two events, however, Roth and his fellow commissioners asked whether the mayor might be able to drop by later, say around 8 or so. No dice, said the mayor's staffers. The kids needed him.
But apparently, Williams had spread enough holiday cheer by 8 p.m.: Around 20 minutes later, he was spotted in line at the Whole Foods Market on P Street NW. "I noticed some guy with big ears in line," reports John Aravosis, public-safety busybody and an Adams Morgan resident himself. Given the mayor's no-show at the public forum, Aravosis and Kalorama Citizens Association President Matt Forman had opted to do a little grocery shopping. Aravosis looked closer at the customer: "It's the mayor!"
Mayoral spokesperson Tony Bullock says the mayor has a demanding schedule and can't make every event. "It is likely that the mayor was heading home for a date with his wife, and it was his night to cook," says Bullock.
"[H]e'll be excited to know Harris Teeter may soon be coming to Adams Morgan," responds Roth. "So the next time he blows us off, maybe he can at least go shopping here in our neighborhood."
•Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer Feld attorney John Dowd have become quite the pen pals. "I have received the latest hysterics from the distinguished Councilman from Ward One designed to avoid his responsibility for misleading the Council and the public on the subject of the four addenda to the 77 P Street Master lease," writes Dowd in a Dec. 5 missive addressed to D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp. "Unfortunately, he has exposed himself again by revealing he can't read."
The lease has been a focus of Graham's investigation this year into the city's Office of Property Management and its relationship with developer Douglas Jemal, Dowd's client. Graham has repeatedly attacked Jemal for alleged shenanigans in leasing properties to the city, including 77 P St. NE.
Jemal and the city's property-management gurus made amendments raising the annual rent on 77 P St. to over $1 million without a green light from Graham and his council colleagues. Graham cites an e-mail from city lawyer Charles Barbera to argue that those addenda needed council approval; Dowd, from the same set of facts, says they don't, because addenda aren't contracts.
Dowd's Dec. 5 missive drew a Dec. 8 response from Graham, who insisted that any changes to the 77 P St. lease required a thumbs-up from the council. "I think an apology is in order," wrote Graham.
"He obviously gets very angry and jots these things down," Graham says. "My letter of Dec. 8th shows I was right."
Graham shouldn't hold his breath waiting for a Dowd mea culpa.
"He is simply dead wrong," responds Dowd. "He called my client a criminal, a fraud, a crook. He wants to dish it out. Let's see if he can take it."
•In the past few months, LL has spotted Michael A. Brown glad-handing at various community events, including last Saturday's Ward 8 Dems meeting. The lawyer and lobbyist, son of late Clinton Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown, lives in Ward 4.
That led LL to one conclusion: Brown's toying with a 2006 run for mayor.
Indeed, Brown tells LL that a draft committee has formed to encourage the 37-year-old pol to run. Brown is currently a managing partner at Alcalde & Fay, a government- and public-affairs consulting firm. According to his résumé, Brown has worked at various big-name firms in the city, including Patton Boggs, as well as serving in the 1992 and 1996 Clinton-Gore campaigns.
He currently serves as vice chair of the city's Boxing and Wrestling Commission.
Brown would not tell LL who is a part of the draft movement. "There are people who are interested in trying to persuade me to run for mayor," says Brown, who has never held elected office. He says his recent appearances on the D.C. political scene have little to do with future ambitions. "I've been attending these things for quite a while," he says.
•Nigel Gragg's offer to pay for a new vacuum cleaner for Ward 8's Washington Highlands Library didn't put presidential hopeful Dean over the top to earn the Ward 8 Dems endorsement last Saturday afternoon. The Dean-campaign volunteer made the gesture after the polls had closed anyway.
Dean fell three votes short of the endorsement, which requires a two-thirds majority, according to the organization's rules. Out of 54 votes cast, Dean received 33, Al Sharpton got 14, Ward 8 perennial candidate Arthur H. Jackson Jr. lassoed 3, and Carol Moseley Braun earned 3 as well. One Ward 8-er wrote in retired Gen. Wesley Clark.
Without Ward 8's stamp of approval, Dean will have to lean more heavily on Al Gore.
Despite the disappointment, Gragg tells LL that he's still willing to pony up $100 for a new library vacuum if necessary. Elissa Silverman
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