Candidates Debate City's Fiscal Recovery
By Michael Powell
"You claim that you've balanced the budget and saved all this money," Brazil said with a dismissive nod toward his rival, who sat but 10 feet away during the forum at George Washington University. "We got better not because of the CFO; we did better because the economy got better and tax [collections] went up.
"You did improve collections," continued Brazil, an at-large member of the D.C. Council. "But there are a whole lot more collections that could have been had. . . . So don't be taking all the credit, because the credit ain't yours."
Williams listened to Brazil's attack with a bemused look. Then he immediately fired back, saying that his reforms led to $50 million in improved tax collections.
"Harold, I feel like someone who basically has taken a house which was falling down, rebuilt it, cleaned up the carpet," Williams said. "And folks like my colleague here are sitting on the couch and complaining about dust and don't even pick their feet up.
"It's not about one person doing all this," he said. "But it is about one person standing up and making decisions."
The heated exchange was one of several at the forum sponsored by the Greater Washington Urban League and the Washington Bar Association. The debate centered primarily on economic development, taxes and the city's convention center. Three candidates -- D.C. Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) -- left after relatively brief comments because of scheduling conflicts with other campaign events.
Evans, Chavous and Schwartz reiterated standard campaign themes. Evans spoke of his vision of a city that works and promised to redeploy at least 900 police officers to neighborhood patrols. Schwartz said she would act as a "cheerleader" for the city and would do such a good job that the D.C. financial control board "would want to throw all the other agencies [it now controls] at me."
Chavous promised to pick five projects along dilapidated commercial strips and "challenge" downtown developers to figure out some way to make the projects happen. And, in response to a question about his plan for the agencies still under mayoral control -- parks, libraries and economic development -- Chavous replied: "I'm not running to be mayor of three agencies. . . . I will be the point person for policy for city government."
By statute, much of that power now resides with Camille C. Barnett, the city's chief management officer, who was appointed by and reports to the control board.
Williams, Brazil and John Gloster, of the D.C. Statehood Party, dominated the remainder of the night. Businessman Jeffrey Gildenhorn, a Democrat, also participated; however, he had all but endorsed Williams's candidacy by night's end.
Williams said he opposed the development plans for Children's Island in the Anacostia River. And he said he would concentrate development dollars on cleaning up and refurbishing a river that he characterizes as a "profound symbol of our city."
Williams also spoke in favor of a gross receipts tax that would affect many of the city's law and accounting firms, but only as part of broad tax reform that would do away with many business and homeowner taxes. His overall proposal, he said, would not result in a higher tax load for D.C. residents and businesses but would help fund a capital plan for the city's decrepit buildings.
Brazil, who favors a $1 billion tax cut, opposes the gross receipts tax and warned that it would fall on law and accounting firms employing the "young buppies and yuppies" in the audience. He promised to concentrate on affirmative action programs for small businesses and offered a vigorous defense of the planned new convention center in the Shaw neighborhood, saying it would produce 10,000 new jobs.
He did not explain how he arrived at that number of jobs.
Gloster took the offensive, terming some of his opponents the equivalent of "straw bosses" on a congressional "plantation," a description that, with its connotations of racial betrayal, drew hisses from some in the audience.
Gloster said he would consider placing tollbooths at major entrances to the city, said he favors a reciprocal commuter tax with surrounding states and promised multimillion-dollar investments in youth programs and drug rehabilitation. He wants to cut class sizes at D.C. public schools in half.
He did not explain how he would finance these programs. "I'm not offering any candy," he said. "So don't expect a tax cut if we have a society that's broken."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company