Loose Lips

Same as the Old Boss?

On a hot August day in 1990, Marion Barry addressed his supporters outside the Reeves Center, a day after he’d beaten most of the federal government’s case against him on drug and perjury charges. Then the mayor, Barry began his speech by thanking God and acknowledging the presence of three women who were central to his life: his mother, his wife, and Anita Bonds.

“My good friend, political adviser, campaign manager, assistant defense attorney,” is how Barry described her.

Twenty-two years later, Barry was on hand to see one of his most loyal longtime aides—who first worked on Barry’s 1971 bid for the city’s school board—ascend from the background of city politics and take a seat on the D.C. Council. The D.C. Democratic State Committee elected Bonds, its chairwoman, as the city’s newest councilmember Monday night at a special meeting at Catholic University. Bonds will fill the vacant seat left after D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson replaced Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown, who resigned and pleaded guilty to bank fraud this summer. A special election will be held in April, open to anyone, to determine who will serve out the remaining two years in the seat’s term. (Bonds plans to run.)

Bonds’ road to the Council after more than 40 years working behind the scenes on campaigns and in three mayoral administrations marks one of the longest, if not the longest, trips to elected office the District’s young government has seen.

“I’m elated, I’m ecstatic,” Barry told LL shortly after Bonds’ victory. “I’m glad the mentoring worked.”

Not everyone is equally happy. For the city’s progressive set, Bonds represents their worst nightmare: a Barry protégé who was elevated to office by the Democratic State Committee—an organization often seen as inept and unrepresentative of the city’s 350,000 registered Democrats—and who works for a well-connected city contractor, Fort Myer Construction, while the city grapples with what many see as a pay-to-play culture.

Just a few minutes after her victory Monday, Bonds pushed back hard against any suggestion by reporters that she’d vote in lockstep with Barry or that her employment with the city’s biggest road-paving company should be a concern. She said she didn’t support Barry’s current efforts to make ex-offenders a protected class against discrimination. And she said she found it “ironic” that she was being asked about her outside employment when the press hadn’t asked the same questions of male councilmembers with second jobs.

“You don’t ask those questions, you don’t say how much [male councilmembers] make in their law practice or how much they make as vice-presidents of their companies, but you’re very concerned about me, little ol’ me, ordinary me?” Bonds told reporters.

That’s not anywhere close to true—there’s a long, publicly available history of reporters hounding male councilmembers like David Catania or Jack Evans about their outside employment. And no other councilmember works for a company so heavily involved with District government as Fort Myer. The city pays the company about $80 million a year directly, and untold more indirectly through subcontracts on construction projects. Fort Myer’s owners are among the most reliable sources for campaign contributions to local politicians, having given more than $150,000 in the last decade. (That’s just what’s in campaign finance records. The company’s donations to various pols’ Thanksgiving turkey giveaways go unreported.)

But Bonds’ feisty response does underscore that the diminutive 67-year-old grandmother, despite one of the sunnier dispositions in D.C. politics, is no pushover. Of course, it’s not like four decades in local campaigns, often next to Barry, didn’t prepare Bonds for a little controversy.

Bonds grew up in Southeast D.C., went to college at Berkeley, and came back to the District, where she got married and started a family. She had already worked on a few campaigns when former Del. Walter Fauntroy asked her to help a relative unknown named Marion Barry’s bid for a school board seat.

Bonds became an indispensable campaign aide for Barry, who rose quickly through the ranks to get elected mayor in 1978. A Washington Post article from that year details how she worked long hours at Barry’s campaign headquarters organizing his field effort and taking care of an endless list of political chores. She had a similar role in Barry’s 1982 campaign and managed his 1986 campaign.

In between elections, Bonds managed Barry’s office on community relations, which several councilmembers groused was little more than a publicly funded extension of Barry’s mayoral campaign organization.

Bonds showed just how indispensable she was to Barry during his trial: She helped his legal team pick jurors, set up a trust to pay his legal bills, and organized rallies around the city to show support for the beleaguered mayor. After the trial, some of Barry’s supporters threw a party to honor Bonds.

But Bonds’ political career extends beyond Barry. She managed Harold Brazil’s ill-fated run for mayor in 1998 (Brazil fired her a month before the election). And she worked for mayors Sharon Pratt and Anthony Williams. When she was quickly dismissed as Williams’ community outreach boss, one rising star in District politics took offense.

“There was a good amount of fanfare when [Williams] hired Anita,” then At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown told the Post. “What a great disappointment that they let her go.” Bonds briefly went to work as Brown’s Council chief of staff.

Those days of working for someone else are behind Bonds now; she was sworn in early Tuesday. The four months before the special election don’t give Bonds much time to make a splash, but that’s never been her style as a behind-the-scenes operator. Under her leadership, the Democratic State Committee has continued to have a barely noticeable role in city politics.

Bonds tells LL not to expect any dramatic moves on her part to win over critics who think her past associations will dictate her choices as a councilmember.

“I don’t know them, they don’t know me, and I’ll just leave it at that,” she says. “I’m a decent person, so ten to one, I’m going to do the right thing. So what is the real deal here?”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Drez

    The best reporting yet on this. Thanks.
    Based on it, I'm inclined to watch (not wait) and see.
    Best wishes to us all.

  • DC=DistrictofCorruption

    Unfortunately, Anita Bonds is right about the media's obvious bias. Very little is written or said about David Grasso's employment by CareFirst BlueCross. Will he give up his lobbying job? You certainly can't lobby your colleagues. Like Anita, David once worked behind the scenes. So, let's be honest here. Grasso is not necessarily the kind of new politician that some people would have us believe. We're pretty much getting the same old DC politics and the same old people pulling the strings.

  • RealDC

    Her temporary council internship is a complete waste of time. She will lose badly in April. Probably won't finish in top 3.

  • NE John

    I was right.

    Yes, I was.

  • StrangeFruit

    Councilman David Catania is the Vice President of M.C. Dean, not an employee like Anita Bonds, and M.C. Dean has the sole contract for Washington, DC street lights contract which is worth $100s of millions.

    In addition, M.C. Dean was recently awarded a $50 million contract for H St streetcars.

    This paper has not once written about a sitting Councilman--Catania-- being the VP of M.C. Dean and the city awarding his company hundreds of millions of tax-payer's dollars.

    The sole reason this backwoods paper is vilifying Anita Bond's about her employment with Ft. Meyer's is because she is an African American.

  • Bobby

    >>>StrangeFruit:

    DITTO!!!!!

  • Mike Madden

    @ StrangeFruit:

    Actually, you're wrong.

    Aside from the fact that Fort Myer has gotten far more money in contracts with the D.C. government than M.C. Dean does ($278 million just from 2007-2011 for Fort Myer, compared to $130 million between 1999 and 2009 for M.C. Dean), and that Anita Bonds is Fort Myer's "corporate relations director," which is an executive position, this paper recently ran an entire Loose Lips column on the conflicts of interest posed by Catania's job at M.C. Dean: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/looselips/2012/10/17/the-catania-conundrum/

    We've also mentioned it frequently in other contexts, as well. On top of that, we've been pointing out problems with the District's close relationship with Fort Myer since long before there was an opening on the Council for Anita Bonds to run for: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/looselips/2011/09/14/paver-power/

  • tony

    @StrangeFruit, I am still with you my brother. Also, I have been thinking about that idea you gave me some time ago concerning financing another political blog.I am down with that. Besides, it sounds like a worthy investment opportunity.

    When I get back to D.C., thats something I will have some folks take a hard look at. Of course, it must make financial sense.

  • Alum

    A bad process yields bad results.

  • Rob

    "...For the city’s progressive set, Bonds represents their worst nightmare...", an African-American who will work hard to improve the lives of ALL the residents of the District of Columbia...not just the "chosen few".

  • tony

    Anita Bonds is very impressive.

  • Really?

    Ahhhh the rules for ya'll and the rules for us post are in full effect!!!!

    Mikey please! Ya'll written One dame article. One!

    This is no where near the 99 post that have been written about the "conflicts of interest" on other AA DC councilmembers.

    And what it looks like with Anita is that the Citypaper is heading down the same road with Anita. How many articles have been writtern so far?

    The City Paper would get more crediability if they applied the same rules for every politician.

  • Angelina

    Loose Lips, surely you can go one day without bashing Marion Barry. Try this, how about starting the New Year off by finding a way to link him to something POSITIVE...GREAT START FOR 2013!!!!!!

  • Angelina

    Better yet start NOW !!!!!!

  • Angelina

    Anita Bonds, you go girl!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Frank Lee Mahdear

    Grifter.

  • Alf

    Anita Bonds is Marion Barry in drag, with a face lift. (Well, maybe not a face lift.) Just when you think that DC is finally about to THROW OFF the yoke of its klepto-nomenklatura political culture past, along comes a THROW BACK.

    And, as we know, this Fort Meyer Construction employee thinks DC's streets should be paved with gold (for Fort Meyer, that is).

  • DC Voter

    If the media is not careful, they may well turn Anita Bonds into a martyr and symbol for women, African Americans, long time city residents (both white and black), and government employees. As this article points out Ms Bonds was much more than a aide to Barry and her involvement in DC affairs reached into many communities and neighborhoods. If the April 23 election attracts a crowded field and a low/moderate turnout, then Ms Bonds could well have the inside track. Her one big negative will be her position with Fort Myer Construction and she needs to resolve that issue before the election.

    For those interested in DC politics, the next several months should be interesting and entertaining.

  • Drez

    I think Ms Bonds will lose on April 23rd. I don't see myself voting for her.
    But the field will be crowded, and this is worth very serious consideration.

  • cutthecrap

    @DC Voter...the media has already done what you have mentioned. It's too late. Ms. Bonds will win. Thank you and some others on this thread for making some sense among the many nonsensical, racist, sexist comments.

    @Rob...your comment is so, so true. However, you forgot to mention the many so-called progressive African Americans who, in another time and place, would have been called uncle tom or aunt jemima.

  • Stephen G

    Ft Myer is not news. Its executive office has always been mindful of hiring people who know the residents and neighborhoods well enough to resolve paving and construction disruptions. Its best source of such people has been political employees of the John Wilson Building especially in the Mayor's Constituent Services. Ms. Bonds merely followed a long line of such hires. Indeed, these hires often return to work at the John Wilson building in some capacity.

    Secondly, it should be pointed out that the "progressives" are long on their soapbox and short on patiently participating until they have enough votes to make a compelling differences. Mr Capozzi surely knows that he could have done much better if his supporters, particularly the impatient ones from DC For Democracy, didn't routinely quit the DCDSC after only one term if they even bothered to complete the term.

  • DCis4ME

    I have known Anita to be a fair, dedicated and hardworking individual.

    She left the Brazil campaign because like many Washingtonians she knew Anthony Williams was the right man for the job at the right time and immediately helped him develop a community presence in the neighborhoods, while he was transforming the city.

    She took over a Democratic Party that was 30K in debt and through her tenure maintained a treasury of over 50K, produced 3 successful State Conventons, 2 Presidential elections and Delegate selection caucuses, and 2 Awards Dinners. She recently secured funds for the new progressive Young Democrats to GOTV for Obama, organized Democratic women phone banks and advocated for gays, latinos and yes even the "progressive" set.

    She even was elected by Dems across the country as one of a few African American Women on the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee, attending all their meetings on her own dime.

    DC is a one party town that instead of Dems fighting the GOP, they fight each other and as @Stephen above stated, she did all this while fighting off unwarrented critisim from the Howard Dean/DC for Democracy/Run against Bush set who failed to be re-elected to the central party and took their marbles and formed their own little club.(DC4D). Which is ironic because she became the progressive they aspire to be when she returned from Berkley U. fighting for womens rights and civil rights and considering she is intrumental in the rise of St. Tommy Wells by plucking him from the rural south and securing his 1st job in DC (working for Barry), one would think she'd be admired for that.

    Has she made mistakes, sure but over all she does what she feels best for the home town she grew up in.

  • DCis4ME

    Also, 2 stories in 3 years on Catania and MC Dean does not equate.

  • tony

    In all honesty, I reall don't understand the hate towards Mrs. Bonds. She's really a God sent. That sister will be ok.

  • DAN

    Ms Bonds has my vote.

  • cutthecrap

    @Stephen G...sounds like you are an insider to the DCDSC. Enlighten us!!!

  • StrangeFruit

    @ Mike MADdan,

    PLEASE! The reality is that this paper feeds its readers' sensational and suppressed Jim Crow fantasies to meets its sales quote-- PERIOD!

    In reference to the ONE AND ONLY article y’all published about Catania's conflict of interest hook-up at M.C. Dean, it's kinda suspect and somewhat a carbon-copy of the article thefightback.org published about Catania's Double Dipping three weeks prior to the City Paper's watered down version of thefightback.org's piece.

    According to the fightback.org article, Cantania has been doubling-dipping since 2005 and now, in 2012, when Anita Bonds gets elected by her peers, this rag does an honorable mention about Catania's so-called “Conundrum”. The paper’s article on, "The Catania Conundrum" , makes sure it gives Catania a vote of confidence on his acceptable “Conundrum” and then unprecedentedly ended the article with the following disclosure:

    “To be clear: LL has never seen a shred of evidence that Catania has done anything untoward to help any of his private employers.”

    Where’s your disclosure for the African American woman—-Anita Bonds? Aah, and the race-baiting continues Mr. Madden!

  • StrangeFruit

    Mike Madden,

    Where's the investigative piece on Councilman Catania's company, M.C. Dean, being award a $50 million contract to run poles and wires for H St streetcars? What's that, less than a mile of poles and wires for a cool $50 million!

  • StrangeFruit

    @ Tony,

    I'm glad you are considering the idea about a political blog and I hope $$$ will not be an issue. If so, keep us posted via the comment section and we can brainstorm on how to raise start-up capital for the project.

  • StephenG

    Dear Mr, Ms, or Comrade Cut the Crap, I was two term member of DCDSC. Nobody loves me because I never belonged to a faction. I only went with ....the facts.

  • cutthecrap

    StphenG...the DCDSC can be a mystery to those of us Democrats who may not be that active or only work on the ward level. We are the true grassroots and we only want the truth from our leadership. I laugh because most folks who make comments on the articles written on LL only tell "their truth". However, we know who is spinning, and is bein truthful. The reason I stay in trouble on LL because I can spot the phonies and I call them out.

    They may not have loved you, but I'm sure they respect you.

  • tony

    @StrangeFruit,aiight soldier.

  • StrangeFruit

    Oops,

    disclaimer not disclosure.

  • StrangeFruit

    @ tony,

    I know that's right :-) !

  • StephenG

    @CTCrap.

    "true grass roots"? alright then, here goes.

    The real reason our governance is as it is because three senate staffers devised a DC government that enshrines the power of the bureaucracy along with a pervasive hostility toward the body politic writ large - the citizens. It is understandable because DC has so many bureaucracies: Fed, City, etc. It is a standing neurosis of bureaucrats that real democratic power invites chaos. The charter may not have been written in a nefarious manner, but that is why real power is concentrated in 14 people: The Mayor and the thirteen members of the council. Furthermore for all of our vaunted civicness that everyone who moves here from other parts of the US claims to have , District of Columbia is the only American jurisdiction on the mainland that has never devised its own government. For some reason, almost everyone seems to go along with it.

    In 1982, there was a citywide gathering that met to come up with proposals but that group could not get past its lack of understanding how to conduct debates or meetings. So it failed and is almost now forgotten.

    During the DCDSC discussions that resulted in the selection of Sekou Biddle for interim at-large councilmember, I raised the specter of reviving that group which met with the passionate resistance of the then candidate Vincent Orange. Mr. Orange claimed that to have a "constitutional meeting" would invite more interference by Congress and DC would probably lose whatever autonomy it has.

    I found that to be a bit extraordinary because I find it hard to believe that even Congressman Dan Issa would have a hard time with fellow Americans gathering under First Amendment Rights of Association. Maybe I'm the only one in DC who thinks this, but I think folks are pretty smart and quite capable of coming up with what they don't want anymore.

    Its all about control of the governing process. It will The City Council will fight this tooth and nail, not Congress.

  • tony

    @StrangeFruit, :-)!

    Why, I only think positive..lol!

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