Fourth annual ‘Turkeys of the Year’ recognize various follies in Washington region

Robert McCartney
Columnist November 23, 2013

Today I break with three years of tradition and celebrate our region’s Turkeys of the Year before Thanksgiving, rather than on the holiday itself.

The change is prompted by a realistic assessment of my own allure (or lack thereof). I worry that readers might skip the column Thursday because they inexplicably find it less appealing than sharing time with beloved relatives or dozing in front of the Ravens game.

Robert McCartney’s column on local issues appears Thursdays and Sundays in The Post’s Metro section. View Archive

The awards recognize distinguished examples of self-defeating ineptitude or foolishness in the Washington area.

To avoid a politics overload, I have steered away (slightly) from obvious candidates among elected officials. That means you, bribe-taking former D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown.

The fourth annual winners, with the No. 1 Turkey at the end:

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler. There’s no way this politician gets overlooked. Just as his campaign for governor began, it emerged that Gansler (D) had regularly asked state troopers who drove him to speed and run red lights to save time on routine trips.

Then a photo showed Gansler present at a rowdy Beach Week party in Delaware where underage drinking was taking place.

Maybe Gansler can teach a political science course on Campaign Mistakes to Avoid.

Washington Nationals. The baseball team is here not for its play on the field but for its misguided marketing decision to pick the utterly forgettable William Howard Taft as the fifth Racing President mascot.

When I saw the mustached mediocrity greeting visitors at the entrance to Nationals Park this year, a stranger next to me asked: “Bill? Who’s he?” Exactly.

Weather forecasters. The District and environs went into our usual snow panic in March after government and media weather persons warned we would get 5 to 10 inches.

The federal government shut down in advance. Thousands planned to converge on Dupont Circle for a snowball fight.

Oops. Some snow fell to our west and south, but most of the area got a light slushy mix or just rain.

Forecasters blamed that fickle rain-snow line. Now they tell us.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. When eccentric performance artist Henry Docter secretly planted 1,000 flowers in a neglected space at the Dupont Circle station, Metro bureaucrats threatened to arrest and imprison him.

Then, despite more than 3,600 signatures on Docter’s online petition to “Let My Flowers Grow,” Metro sent workmen to tear out the foliage.

The result? 6,000 more signatures supporting the “Phantom Planter.”

Montgomery County government and contractors. The courts will ultimately decide which of several turkeys is most responsible for building the three-level Silver Spring Transit Center with inadequate beams and girders, and not enough concrete.

The county General Services department, engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff and general contractor Foulger-Pratt are all trying to shift the blame.

Meanwhile, the project is riddled with cracks, two years behind schedule and tens of millions of dollars over budget.

Dan Snyder. The owner of Washington’s NFL franchise makes his second appearance on the list in three years for mishandling the controversy over the team’s name, which dictionaries define as often offensive to American Indians.

Initially, Snyder tried to dismiss criticisms with a 12-word comment to USA Today that the team would “NEVER” change the name. “You can use caps,” he stressed.

That approach was widely derided as arrogant and insensitive. So Snyder wrote an emotional, two-page letter defending the name for tradition’s sake.

But he stumbled again by suggesting a South Dakota Native American athletic fund had originally supported the team’s emblem.

Officials at the school that is the fund’s primary beneficiary promptly questioned Snyder’s account and denounced the team’s name.

Baltimore jail. It was hard to distinguish the guards from the inmates as Maryland authorities allowed a violent street gang to seize effective control of the City Detention Center with active collusion of corrections officers.

Dishonorable Mention to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who tried to spin away the revelations as evidence of a successful investigation rather than a humiliating past failure.

Metro columnist Robert McCartney. As in the past, I include myself on the premise that those who hand out demerits must be willing to accept them.

My gobbler of the year was confidently predicting five days before the Virginia election that gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli II (R) would “eventually disavow or at least regret” saying the vote would be a referendum on President Obama’s health-care overhaul.

Cuccinelli did no such thing. His emphasis on the program’s troubles appeared to give him extra momentum at the end of campaign. Possibly as a result, Terry McAuliffe’s margin of victory was narrower than most polls predicted.

Finally, the No. 1 Turkey of the Year:

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Who else? McDonnell’s promising career crashed as it emerged he had accepted multiple gifts from a Virginia businessman, including a Rolex watch, catering for his daughter’s wedding and “loans” to cover real estate losses.

McDonnell earns extra discredit for trying to shift blame to his wife, and for managing to stick Virginia taxpayers with more than $500,000 of resulting legal bills.

Happy Thanksgiving!

For my previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney.

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