Fenty Team's Stern Stance A New World For Activist
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
For 20 years, community activist Dorothy Brizill has been a stubborn presence at D.C. city hall -- sometimes scolding, always asking questions, often getting results.
Former mayor Marion Barry used to cut short his news conferences when she showed up demanding answers, hoping to silence her: "I don't let one person dominate," he said recently. Former mayor Sharon Pratt said she knew to "fasten your seat belt" if Brizill was around with an urgent issue.
But through all her protests over crack houses and campaign fraud, slot initiatives and official appointments, Brizill had never been arrested. Until recently.
The June 13 arrest for simple assault took place at Brizill's second home, the John A. Wilson Building, headquarters for the mayor and the D.C. Council. An aide to Deputy Mayor for Education Victor A. Reinoso says Brizill grabbed the ID badge she was wearing around her neck; Brizill says she only leaned forward to read the woman's name. Arrested 2 1/2 hours later and led away in handcuffs, Brizill spent five hours in jail. A hearing is scheduled for today in D.C. Superior Court; prosecutors have filed a motion indicating that the charge will be dropped.
But Brizill, 59, is still angry about the accusation. That kind of thing was never her style, she said.
"On the street, they can tell you: I've had cause to want to smack somebody around, and I've never lifted a hand," said Brizill, who led a successful effort in the late 1980s to rid her Columbia Heights neighborhood of drug dealers.
Brizill is the increasingly rare kind of citizen watchdog, willing to sit through long, dry government meetings, research the most obscure points of city law, and publicly -- even stridently -- confront dodging officials.
Her unfolding relationship with the new administration of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) is in the spotlight now, and the months to come could show both the extent to which Fenty tries to control his image and whether Brizill can continue to operate as she has in the past.
Already, Fenty has served notice to Brizill in a way no previous administration had. In a Jan. 10 letter, Fenty's general counsel, Peter J. Nickles, asked Brizill to "observe the same rules of respect and candor that we observe here," saying she had treated some administration staff disrespectfully.
Brizill fired back, saying she had "difficulty understanding" what Nickles meant. "Are you complaining that I am asking questions that are too difficult or for which Mayor Fenty and his staff are not prepared?" she replied in a Jan. 15 letter. "Are you disturbed that I continue to try to get information that the Mayor's Office of Communications does not provide in a timely fashion, even after repeated requests?"
Typically, she listed in the letter to Nickles "six items of information" she was still trying to get, including the names and salaries of Fenty's transition team and "a detailed accounting" of the cost of his November birthday party.
"I'm a big girl," she said recently. "I don't mind taking the heat because this is what I have chosen."