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Orange Draws on Godfather of Soul

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 9, 2004; Page DZ02

Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr.'s address to nearly 500 guests in a Mandarin Oriental hotel ballroom last Thursday was not only the first big speech of the 2006 D.C. mayor's race. It was also, in all likelihood, the most entertaining.

Orange (D-Ward 5), who has formed an exploratory committee to help him decide whether to challenge Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), unveiled "PEP" as his official campaign slogan. (It stands for "protection, education and prosperity.") And he repeatedly quoted that bard of political philosophy, James Brown, and sang a few snatches of his songs.

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You might wonder how the Godfather of Soul could fit into a political stump speech. The answer, it turns out, is: seamlessly.

For instance, Orange quoted Brown to support his vision of Washington, D.C., as a city "pregnant with unlimited possibilities" if only government would clear away the hurdles to employment, education and government contracts now blocking the personal progress of so many city residents.

"I believe James Brown said it best," Orange said, singing: " 'I don't want nobody. To give me nothin'. Open up the door. I'll get it myself.' "

Orange turned to Brown again a few minutes later to underscore the importance of improving the city's troubled public school system. " 'Got to, got to, got to get it, y'all,' " the council member sang. " 'What do you say? Got to get a education. Or might as well be dead.' "

Orange's speech followed a 13-minute video tracing his personal journey from an impoverished childhood in Oakland, Calif., to the heights of local politics in the nation's capital. ("Learning and achieving. Setting goals. Achieving them. And moving on," the narrator said. That's Vincent Orange: "A man on a mission.")

In an interview, Orange said he came to study Brown's oeuvre while growing up in Oakland, where Orange frequently imitated Brown in local talent shows. Orange said he also was impressed when Brown put on a 99-cent concert at the Oakland Coliseum.

Brown "was always in tune to the community. And I used to always listen to his music. That's why I thought, hey, I'm going to get me an education. I don't want to be dead," said Orange, who now holds four degrees in law, communications and business administration.

Brown's words "just stuck with me," Orange said. "It just made sense. Unlike a lot of the stuff they listen to today."

On the Road Again

While Orange was regaling the crowd at the Mandarin, Williams was in Indianapolis, attending a convention of the National League of Cities. The trip brought to 198 the number of days the mayor has been out of town during his second term, which began in January 2003.

During his absence, Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, sent a letter to the mayor's office asking Williams to give up his leadership post in the national municipal organization and consider staying home a little more often.

"Your extensive travel schedule has become a serious political liability for you in your role as mayor. There is a public perception that your hands-on oversight of the city -- and therefore its well-being -- have taken a 'back seat' to your travel commitments and obligations to groups such as the National League of Cities," says the letter, dated last Friday. "By resigning your position . . . you would send a clear message that District residents are your # 1 priority."

If he got the letter, Williams ignored the message. On Friday night, the mayor cheerfully sipped martinis and performed the booty call at a reception in his honor at the Indianapolis Marriott hotel. And on Saturday, he was unanimously elected president of the league -- the first D.C. mayor ever to attain the post -- and graciously accepted.

Protester Detained

Raymond Avrutis finally made some headway in his yearlong quest to get arrested. The sometime political candidate and unemployment-benefits maven was briefly handcuffed and carted off to an emergency psychiatric facility last week after entering the John A. Wilson Building and announcing to passersby that the mayor is a thief.

Last Monday's incident marked the fourth time Avrutis, 56, had shown up in the Wilson Building in recent days in hopes of persuading security guards to throw him in the hoosegow. Before that, Avrutis, whose book about how to maximize unemployment benefits in all 50 states has gone through three printings, had staged protests on at least seven occasions at city unemployment and welfare offices. Guards there, however, simply shooed him away.

Avrutis wants to be jailed to protest the fact that, as he says, the D.C. Department of Employment Services "does not publish the math by which unemployment insurance claims are computed. Therefore, they routinely give many claimants less than they are entitled to receive and probably pocket the difference," he said.

Therefore, he said, "there is massive embezzlement in the D.C. unemployment program." Leading to the conclusion, he said, that "the mayor is a thief."

Mayoral spokesman Sharon Gang denied that the mayor is a thief, but otherwise confirmed Avrutis's account of his removal from the Wilson Building to a psychiatric facility. He spent seven hours there before being released to his Dupont Circle home.

"This was civil disobedience, not psychotic misconduct," said Avrutis, who said he has struggled with schizophrenia. "I took my medicine, even though the police said I didn't."

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