Sen. Faircloth: The Man D.C. Loved to Hate
By Michael Powell
The control board, he once opined, should be "a permanent feature of city government . . . the mayor would be ceremonial and we could keep the city council in an advisory capacity."
And there was always more.
"There are many privileges of living in the capital of the U.S. Voting for mayor simply won't be one them. If that bothers you, then you need to move."
"My ability to run a city is exactly that of Mayor Barry's: None at all."
Goodbye to all that. See ya later, big guy. Ding-dong, Senator Faircloth, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for the District, is (electorally) dead, losing his bid for a second term.
Another soon-to-be-former pol, Hizzoner Marion Barry, all but danced a jig on his antagonist's grave Tuesday night.
"Senator Faircloth has lost, lost, lost," Barry announced to the crowd celebrating Anthony Williams's mayoral victory at the Mayflower Hotel. "Gone. Dead and buried. . . . He's so busy picking on me and the residents of the District of Columbia that he neglected his constituents in North Carolina. Now he can go back and deal with the pigs.
It's an image much favored by the city's political class: Faircloth as Wicked Witch, the white North Carolina hog farmer riding his pork rind over Washington and demanding, "Surrender Barry." Ask Beverly Wheeler, campaign chairwoman for council member-elect Phil Mendelson, about Faircloth, and she stiffens and snaps off a smart salute.
"I have to be generous, so I can't say 'Good riddance,' which the evil Beverly would say," she said. "So the gracious Beverly says, 'Thank you for your service.' Oh yes, thank you, thank you God. The universe doesn't like ugly people, and has a way of taking care of them."
Glad she didn't want to be mean.
A reporter found Cora Masters Barry walking across Judiciary Square yesterday. She cracked the broadest smile at the mention of the demise. She credited a subterranean campaign by black Washingtonians working with black North Carolinians to bring down the senator.
"It was like the Underground Railroad," she said. "We went towards the North Star, except this time it was the North Carolina voting booth."
With his bushy eyebrows and a traveling bag of country witticisms, Faircloth often seemed a Central Casting lock for the role of the Dixie Republican, intent on turning back the clock in "Chocolate City." And Barry reveled in equating him with the Southern segregationists in Congress who, half a century ago, ran the city like a private plantation.
But some contrary facts must intrude upon this political barbecue. Faircloth's image rarely squared with his record these past few years. He often behaved like -- God forbid! -- a Great Society liberal when it came to Washington's budget.
In each of the last two years, Faircloth put in more money than city officials requested, and fought the White House and his fellow Republicans in the House for extra dollars for the public schools. (He lost that battle). He tucked in $8 million to pay for a chief management officer and other reforms. And he again fended off House Republicans and insisted on paying for a new financial computer system for a city adrift in the technological dark ages.
Faircloth often found himself at odds with fellow North Carolina Republican Rep. Charles Taylor, who rarely hesitated to tell city managers precisely how many police officers should be on the streets or how they should hand out pay raises. Taylor won re-election Tuesday.
This year he stuck in more money to repair its decaying buildings after embarking on a night-time tour of the city's funkier precincts in the back of a police cruiser. Heck, Faircloth even whacked President Clinton's plan for the District as too little, too late. Or in his pungent formulation: "It's like putting a Band-Aid on a melanoma."
Andrew Brimmer, the former control board chairman, had something of a tin ear for politics, and perhaps for that reason does not shrink from speaking favorably about this rather unfashionable senator.
"Behind all the thunder from the Senate floor, his ultimate goal was to help the District and he fought very hard for us," Brimmer said. "He fought off Representative Taylor's very negative obstructionist efforts and made a major positive contribution."
Nor did Faircloth's insistence on stripping Barry of his political powers amount to a death blow for home rule. Hizzoner had spent two years driving the control board batty, pledging cooperation even as he strived to subvert it. It was in-house guerrilla warfare, and Faircloth crushed it like a bug.
That move persuaded Barry to forgo a fifth term and to seek a new line of employment. And that, in turn, has encouraged the new members of the control board to vow to return power to the new mayor, Anthony Williams, two years ahead of schedule. (They would not transfer back any iota of that power before Barry steps aside in January.)
"What D.C. needed was some tough love," says Tom Edmonds, a Republican consultant and author of "D.C. by the Numbers," a statistical compilation of the city's dysfunctions. "The apathy of Congress during the 1980s as the city spun out of control was far more of a problem for the District."
This portrayal of Faircloth as Closet Freedom Fighter could be taken a couple of steps too far. He was an accomplished practitioner of slash-and-burn politics, and he was not above using the District as a rhetorical foil in fund-raising letters back in North Carolina.
And so, in the end, he cannot much complain when the District snaps at his coattails as he exits. A. Wesley Cooke, a city employee of long tenure, paused not a blink before assaying Faircloth's record yesterday.
"As far as the soon-to-be ex-senator Faircloth, we're not going to lose a lot of sleep. Grudgingly, you could concede that steps needed to be done and that lessons have been learned. But that's over. That's done.
"And he's gone."
Staff writer Cindy Loose contributed to this report.
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