City Desk

Catania Kicks Off Whitman-Walker Inquiry

Right now, At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania is nearly an hour into a roundtable he's holding on the operations of Whitman-Walker Clinic, the Logan Circle health center that's historically treated the city's gay and lesbian community and victims of HIV/AIDS. The inquiry follows the clinic's decision in December to lay off 26 employees and cut two facilities.

LL will have a lot more about this drama in his column this week, which will be posted later today, but Catania is wasting no time in attacking WWC Executive Director Don Blanchon for alleged financial mismanagement. Blanchon has yet to testify; he's sitting in the chamber as Catania grills pro-WWC witnesses, most of whom say they were asked to testify by the clinic.

Most witnesses seemed unaware that the hearing was focused on the clinic's finances rather than the care it delivers. Catania called it "strange" that the clinic wouldn't have sought assistance from District government before considering drastic layoffs.

Said one witness, "If what you say is true, it's not strange. It's alarming."

UPDATE, 3:45 P.M.: Catania is really laying in to Blanchon, a truly virtuoso performance of witness badgering. At one point, Catania started hammering Blanchon for not approaching the government for assistance. "This is a dereliction of you responsibility!" he said. Blanchon asked if he could comment. Replied Catania, "I'm not sure it's going to do you any good, but give it a shot."

Later Catania referred to the December firings this way: "It was a putsch! A classic Stalinesque tactic!" Blanchon was not able to respond after being compared to a mass murderer. "No, you may not respond," Catania said. "Just sit back and make yourself comfortable."

Jim Graham, who led the clinic for 15 years before becoming Ward 1 councilmember, has just entered the hearing. Graham has pretty much stayed out of clinic affairs since joining the council, but told LL yesterday that he was very concerned about the layoffs.

UPDATE, 4:30 P.M.: If Blanchon was hoping Graham was going to throw him a lifeline, it isn't happening. He's particularly peeved about the circumstances of the December firings of senior staff, just before Christmas with no severance. "How would you feel" being fired under those circumstances, Graham asked. Said Blanchon, "I would feel horrible."

"You know there's this thing called karma...," Graham said.

UPDATE, 6:15 P.M.: LL's column on the matter has just been posted.

Catania closed the hearing at about 5 p.m., after personally attacking Blanchon's credibility and leadership. "I feel like I've been duped," he told Blanchon at one point. "I don't trust you." He went on to criticize the clinic's declining financial health, saying, "Structurally, you have a deficit that is not going to be fixed by you.

Blanchon briefly mustered a defense of his tenure, speaking up for his employees and board, but it only set Catania off on another extended rant.

Before closing, Catania held out the possibilities of subpoenas and/or depositions. He then essentially called for his resignation: "I don't have confidence in your leadership of the clinic," he said. "I feel duped. Gerry Connolly [the former chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, now congressman] feels the same way, other members of this council."

Blanchon had no comment after the hearing.

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