Region's 'Turkeys of the Year' give me plenty to write about

By Robert McCartney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 9:50 PM

According to family lore, when my late uncle John McCartney was asked as a boy why he was thankful on Thanksgiving, he answered, "I'm thankful I'm not a turkey."

Asked the same question as an adult newspaper columnist today, I'd say I'm thankful for all the human turkeys in the Washington area whose foolish behavior gives me so much fodder for these columns.

Indeed, without all the incompetent, self-defeating things that individuals or institutions have done in the past year, I'd be stuck writing nothing but uplifting, boosterish smarm. I'd get bored, and so would you.

So here's my Thanksgiving list of our region's "Turkeys of the Year," with brief explanations of why they merit the title:

Adrian Fenty. C'mon, Mr. Mayor, would it have been so hard to visit a few churches? Meet with some union leaders? Find one or two African Americans for top Cabinet positions in a majority-black city?

You know, be a regular politician.

Perhaps the mayor couldn't spare the time from his triathlon training. But a bit more retail politicking - at least pretend to be engaged - could have ensured reelection. As a start, it might have kept D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray, who beat Fenty, from entering the race.

Tareq and Michaele Salahi. They achieved worldwide fame and TV reality-show stardom by crashing a White House dinner, stiffing creditors and hyping second-tier social connections. They're runners-up for Biggest Turkey of 2010 (see below for the winner).

Metro. Where to begin? You have to walk the escalators because mechanics ignore the schedule for cleaning and oiling the machinery. You might have to dodge falling chunks of concrete while standing on a station platform. The system stopped running in last winter's snowstorms. (Actually, that last point applies to pretty much the entire region.)

What's more: Fares are up, but Metro still doesn't have enough money. Both the Maryland and Virginia governors tried (separately) to shortchange it. Congressional Republicans might well succeed in shortchanging it.

Also: The general manager quit after a brief tenure. The interim boss - no fool, he - wants to leave after a year. The latest blue-ribbon report said the entire governance structure is dysfunctional, partly because Metro management has become too politicized. Virginia politicians immediately started squabbling over the report's proposed reforms.

Joy Masoff. She's the author who tried to enliven a Virginia history elementary school textbook by sticking in a line saying that thousands of African Americans fought for the Confederacy, including two battalions serving under Gen. Stonewall Jackson.

Whoops, it wasn't true. Masoff's "research" on the Internet drew from neo-Confederate sympathizers' writings overwhelmingly rejected by professional historians. Masoff initially said she stood by what she wrote but later conceded that she shouldn't have used it because it was "too controversial." She still didn't come completely clean, though, saying her point was "debatable" instead of plain wrong.

Pepco. The electric utility's performance was inadequate in both winter snowfalls and summer thunderstorms. Plus, it emerged that Pepco customers lose power significantly more often than the national average, even when the weather is fine.

Moreover, Pepco's known how to fix the problem for at least five years and hasn't acted. Finally, it's been deceiving the public by exaggerating the degree to which customers are to blame for their outages for resisting tree-trimming around power lines.

Honorable mention to the Maryland and District regulators who've let Pepco get away with it.

Biggest Turkey of 2010: Jack Johnson. Easy choice. The Prince George's county executive had known about the FBI corruption investigation for years and actually taunted the prosecutors for failing to find anything incriminating - until now. Handcuffs and the discovery of nearly $80,000 in your wife's brassiere will temper your bravado pretty quickly.

If Johnson is cleared of wrongdoing, then I'll apologize. But he takes this year's grand prize for ignoring what should be a simple rule of thumb, and not just for politicians: If the FBI takes away your phone for a while in the course of what you know is a criminal investigation, then it's wise to assume that it's tapped. So don't use it the same day to urge your wife to tear up a $100,000 check and stuff bills in her underwear.

Columnist Robert McCartney. If I'm going to bash everyone else in the region, fair play dictates that I should confess at least one stumble of my own. One was writing a column in April that passionately urged a boycott of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team to punish the Grand Canyon State for its tough law against illegal immigrants. I still think the law is offensive. I continue to support a tourism boycott of Arizona, including efforts to keep the All-Star Game from being played in Phoenix in 2011.

Nevertheless, I have to admit that the campaign to boycott all Diamondbacks games - in its infancy when I wrote the column - has gained virtually no traction. A few dozen activists have shown up at some games, and that's about it.

I also winced at an e-mail sent by a Nationals Park vendor faulting me for urging a step that would hurt "the little guys" who peddle hot dogs and beer in the stands. Gobble gobble.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company