Go to Year in Review: Local
Go to Washington World
All Year, One Problem After Another
Wednesday, December 25, 1996; Page J01
The snow started falling on the first Saturday of the new year. It didn't stop until most District streets were buried, the city's residents trapped in their homes.
They got a little stir-crazy after three storms in six days. They also got very mad at Mayor Marion Barry (D), who promised that the streets would be plowed in short order -- and called for federal help when they weren't.
With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to see the Blizzard of '96 as a metaphor for a stormy year. Barry promised and often failed to deliver as his government came unhinged.
No one could help but feel trapped by the city's seemingly endless financial crisis and the drumbeat of bad news. The homicide rate rose, the budget deficit grew, and the Census Bureau reported that an additional 13,000 residents had voted with their feet and moved out of town.
The District had barely dug itself out from the blizzard when that last piece of withering news arrived in late January. It helped set the tone.
For Barry, the dark clouds parted briefly in February, when his "transformation plan" to reinvent the D.C. government drew widespread praise from Congress and its progeny, the D.C. financial control board. But by May, the mayor baffled the city's political establishment when he went on a mysterious, two-week "spiritual retreat." And his return brought little sense of rejuvenation to a town tired of all the theatrics before spring had even passed.
The mayor clashed with the control board almost immediately, watched his handpicked candidate lose his old Ward 8 D.C. Council seat in September and ended the year fighting with Chief Financial Officer Anthony A. Williams over unkept promises in the "transformation plan."
Along the way, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) called the mayor "a great disappointment."
Barry's government, meanwhile, suffered one shock after another: The University of the District of Columbia fell apart financially in March; the city morgue was stockpiling bodies in May; D.C. Village, the city-run nursing home, shut its doors in June; the District's water system failed basic health standards for three summer months in a row; and, if all that weren't enough, fire code violations closed city schools in September for the second time in three years.
By November, the control board had seen enough. With Barry on a far-flung trade mission in China, the board fired school Superintendent Franklin L. Smith and reduced the elected school board to an advisory panel -- on Election Day, no less, further angering more than a few activists who view the control board as an autocratic intrusion on home rule.
Whatever view D.C. residents take of the board, 1996 will be remembered as the year board Chairman Andrew F. Brimmer and his merry band of analysts flexed their muscle. The board ousted Human Services Director Vernon E. Hawkins in June and abolished the D.C. lottery board in September as a prelude to its public school coup d'etat. And now Brimmer and company are moving in on the city's enfeebled police department, which has seemed powerless to stop a rising tide of crime.
Signs of New Life Downtown
In spite of it all, life went on in the nation's capital. The Washington Opera announced that it was moving to the old Woodward & Lothrop store at 11th and F streets NW. Ambitious plans were announced for revitalizing the city's entire downtown core. And a new stadium for the Bullets basketball and the Capitals hockey teams rose from a site at Gallery Place.
The city's National Basketball Association franchise changed its name to the Wizards, effective next year. Two rare baby rhinos were born at the National Zoo. And D.C. United, Washington's warmly embraced team in a new professional soccer league, recovered from an awful start and brought home a championship (sort of the opposite of the Washington Redskins, who went from 7-1 to 9-7 and beat the Dallas Cowboys in their last game ever at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. They're moving out, too.).
There was plenty of holiday cheer. The Presidential Inaugural Committee was sprucing up downtown for the big event next month. President Clinton broke his long silence on D.C. affairs, endorsing the central thesis of a control board report that the city needs a stronger partnership with the federal government.
"The American people need to understand the unique challenges facing Washington," Clinton said. "Washington, D.C., is really not quite a state, but not quite a city. It is not quite dependent and not quite independent. And I think that is the source of a lot of the difficulties we face today."
Snow, Snow and More Snow
The new year opened with blizzards. Three separate storms during the first and second weeks of January dumped more than two feet of snow. Streets were impassable. Grocery store shelves were soon empty. And residents were looking for someone to blame.
They found their target in the understaffed, poorly equipped Department of Public Works, which had neither the trucks needed to plow the streets nor the credibility to hire outside contractors -- many of whom had been stiffed by the city the year before.
Side streets remained impassable until a late-January thaw, which also brought massive flooding to the C&O Canal National Historical Park and elsewhere.
But the storms had a positive effect, as well. Residents donned boots and picked up shovels to help stranded neighbors, and they shared groceries with those who were too sick, too old or too snowed-in to get to a store.
The Population Slide
The District's official population had lost 13,000 people from July 1994 to July 1995, dropping to 554,000, according to a Census Bureau estimate issued in January.
The District's population, like those of many other big cities, has been shrinking since the 1960s. Recently, though, the exodus has accelerated. The Census Bureau estimates the city has lost more people since 1990 than it did throughout the 1980s.
Census Bureau projections forecast continuing sharp drops through 2000, when the city's population is projected to begin rising because of immigration from abroad.
According to other surveys, most of those leaving are black residents heading for the suburbs. Their departure, according to specialists, makes it harder for the city to raise revenue to pay for services.
ROTC Instructor Attacked at School
Just weeks into the new year, an ROTC instructor at Roosevelt High School at 13th and Upshur streets NW was attacked by three young men -- none of them students -- as he was on security patrol in a hallway.
Lt. Col. Frank Scotti, 52, came upon a group of young people laughing loudly and smoking marijuana. He successfully scattered the young people, but they came back. Several attacked Scotti, breaking his nose, a bone under his right eye and his jaw. Scotti also suffered injuries to his back and was out of work six weeks.
After three former students -- Kenneth Matturi, 19, Nabieu Seisay, 20, and Nicholas Kennedy, 19 -- were arrested and convicted of aggravated assault in the Jan. 30 attack, attention was focused on a troubling aspect of school security. All three men said they gained entry to the building by walking through a door and waving a greeting at the security guard on duty.
In May, D.C. Superior Court Judge Harriet R. Taylor sentenced Matturi and Kennedy to 16-month prison terms and ordered them to perform 100 hours of community service upon their release. She sentenced Seisay to a 20-month prison term and ordered him to perform 150 hours of community service.
Top Prosecutor Chides Police
U.S. Attorney Eric H. Holder Jr. ruffled feathers in the mayor's office and the D.C. police department with a scathing, two-part op-ed article that appeared in The Washington Post in late January and early February.
Rarely do prosecutors criticize police officers they rely on to help make their cases. But Holder didn't hold back and challenged city leaders and the top brass of the police department to do something before it is too late.
He said the department lacked resources but needed to use what it has more efficiently. Even more disturbing, he said, some officers were so angry over cuts in pay that they were doing sloppy jobs on investigations, failing to show up for court hearings and cutting back on arrests.
Describing the situation as "perilous," Holder chastised public officials "who have a vested interest in keeping the problem under wraps" and said, "It is time for key players in the law enforcement community and in the political arena to stand up and let their voices be heard."
It took almost all year for that to happen -- after Holder spoke out again in October, saying Barry lacked "the political will" to do something about crime. Several weeks later, Barry countered by announcing a crime-fighting plan and signing on to a management review of the police department.
UDC Students Block Traffic
As financial problems at the University of the District of Columbia mounted, hundreds of students moved onto upper Connecticut Avenue NW and blocked traffic on one of the city's major thoroughfares for a day in March.
The students were demanding more money from the District government for the school, which had sustained a big drop in appropriations. D.C. appropriations for UDC have declined from $77 million in 1991 to $38 million in the current fiscal year.
School officials blamed city officials for the school's financial troubles, which had become so severe that students and teachers were performing custodial tasks. The students dispersed after receiving assurances from the mayor that more money might be allocated for the school to make up for the university's shortfall. None was.
Barry, a longtime champion of UDC, told police to leave the students alone, and none was arrested for blocking traffic.
Bad-Dog Bill Loses Bite
In early April, the D.C. Council passed emergency legislation to muzzle all Rottweilers and pit bulls in the District. The action followed an attack in February on a 14-year-old in which a man allegedly used his pit bull as a weapon to try to get the girl to undress. She didn't, and the dog bit her.
The council's action required owners of Rottweilers and pit bulls to muzzle their dogs in public, buy special liability insurance and register their pets as dangerous animals. Displeased dog owners and pet specialists showed up at a council hearing to protest the measure.
By May, the council considered banning all pit bulls from the city. This proposal was prompted by attacks on a Southwest Washington woman who was bitten on the leg while taking the trash out and on a 7-year-old boy in Southeast Washington by a neighbor's dog.
The ban was never enacted, and the emergency measure passed in April expired. When it was renewed in July, Rottweilers were off the hit list. Now the second emergency measure also has expired, and there seems to be little enthusiasm for passing permanent legislation.
A Mishandled Homicide Case
D.C. Police Chief Larry D. Soulsby conceded that his department bungled the case of a Ballou High School student found strangled in April when an officer failed to file a missing person report. As a result, police never searched for Nicheshia Semple, 15, who disappeared March 8. Her decomposed body was found April 7 in a wooded area in Southeast Washington.
Three weeks later, the badly beaten and naked body of 16-year-old Charmeka Lazenby, a friend of Semple's, was found in a grassy area four blocks away.
Soulsby said the problem in the Semple case was a police officer who failed to complete a missing person report and tried a week later to submit a bogus report to cover her mistake. "We had a mother crying for help, and the police didn't provide it," Soulsby said.
Neither case has been solved, as of mid-December.
Barry Takes Unscheduled Break
"REJUVENATION!!" That was the title of a news release Mayor Barry released unexpectedly one Saturday morning in late April. The release announced his departure for a week-long retreat at a secluded Maryland farm to deal with "the telltale signs of spiritual relapse and physical exhaustion."
Given its rambling nature and allusions to the guiding principles of addiction treatment, Barry's statement exploded like a bomb across the city's political landscape. One Judiciary Square was abuzz with speculation that the mayor had suffered a relapse and was again using drugs -- speculation Barry immediately tried to squelch.
Five days later, as the mayor, his wife and their entourage moved from the Skinner Farm, near Annapolis, to a religious center outside St. Louis for additional spiritual convalescence, one of Barry's closest friends, boxing promoter Rock Newman, added grist to the rumor mill. Calling the media together, Newman called on the mayor to consider resigning because of health problems Newman would not identify.
Finally, 15 days after beginning his retreat, Barry returned, full of vim and spiritual vigor. At a packed news conference, Barry delivered a religious testimonial, saying the word "God" 34 times in 25 minutes, quoting Psalms and talking about the Holy Spirit. "First of all, I'd like to thank God for another wonderful day," Barry began. So many city officials were in attendance that, before Barry's speech, an aide had to announce: "Will all Cabinet members who are not level 1, 2 or 3, please leave the room."
Grisly Backlog at the Morgue
In May, unclaimed bodies at the D.C. morgue were piled like cordwood because the crematorium had broken down.
But the backlog of bodies was only part of the story. The morgue was filthy, the ventilation was inadequate, and city officials acknowledged that more than 200 autopsies and 400 toxicology analyses had not been completed because of money, equipment and personnel problems. The morgue's problems, in turn, were hampering police investigations.
Joye M. Carter, the city's chief medical examiner, resigned to take a job in Houston, and city officials had difficulty replacing her and filling other pathologist positions.
The U.S. Public Health Service estimated that the morgue needed $2.4 million in repairs and said the city would be better off building a new structure. However, city officials found $450,000 to make emergency repairs, including unclogging sewage pipes, exterminating for cockroaches, patching the roof and fixing morgue coolers.
Showdown at Human Services
At the end of May, the D.C. control board declared an emergency in the city's Department of Human Services and said it would force out Director Vernon E. Hawkins for allowing waste and abuse in the handling of contracts at the agency. But the mayor balked, vowing to defend his longtime supporter and casting the issue as a fight over home rule.
Tensions and rhetoric built for nearly 10 days. Barry compared the actions of the control board and its chairman, Andrew F. Brimmer, to "what happened in Germany during the period when citizens' . . . rights were abrogated." House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) entered the fray, calling Barry's behavior "unacceptable" and warning that if local leaders stood in the way of the control board, Congress might revoke self-government in the city.
In the end, Barry bowed to the board's wishes, and Hawkins was moved to a 90-day assignment in the corporation counsel's office before leaving the city payroll. But Barry didn't walk away empty-handed: His clash served as a catalyst for some organized opposition to the board, led by the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, the politically influential pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast Washington.
Barry has not named a permanent replacement for Hawkins.
Reining In Medicaid Costs
District officials made a startling discovery in June as they searched for ways to cut spending on Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled, which covers one city resident in four: 20,000 people receiving Medicaid benefits did not qualify for them.
A faulty computer program, it turned out, had been failing to detect when patients became ineligible because they had found work or moved out of the city. After discovering the mistake, Medicaid officials cut the rolls by 15 percent, for an estimated annual savings of $15 million. Escalating Medicaid costs have been a large factor in the city's budget deficit.
By September, Barry predicted that the $770 million program would save $80 million this year by cutting the reimbursement rates for payments to hospitals, nursing homes and health-maintenance organizations, in addition to dropping the ineligible patients.
Now, Paul Offner, the District's Medicaid chief, says that his staff has eliminated an additional 5,000 ineligible patients and that the program remains on track to save the $80 million. But it is running way behind schedule a on a strategy to effect more fundamental change and lower costs by enrolling most patients in HMOs.
Lights Out at D.C. Village
For 90 years, D.C. Village was the home of last resort for the city's elderly, mentally ill, mentally retarded and physically disabled. On June 24, its last three residents moved out, and the nursing home was closed after years of complaints about conditions, including asbestos, cockroaches, inadequate staffing and mistakes in administering medication.
The reasons for closing D.C. Village were partly humane and partly financial. The Justice Department alleged in a lawsuit that the situation was jeopardizing lives, and the federal government had threatened to cut off $14 million in Medicaid and Medicare payments that were the lifeblood of the institution.
Faced with declining conditions and escalating costs, D.C. officials decided to transfer the several hundred residents of D.C. Village to private facilities. The move allowed the financially ailing city to cut more than 400 jobs, and the private nursing homes that accepted D.C. Village residents are providing care at lower costs.
Some particularly frail residents died after being placed in new homes, apparently unable to withstand the trauma of the move. The condition of many others improved, patient advocates said.
Weeks of Tainted Tap Water
The District's drinking water flunked federal safety standards for three months in a row, prompting the Environmental Protection Agency to pressure city officials to sign a consent order promising millions of dollars in repairs to the water system.
Federal and city officials said the water was safe for most people to drink, despite high bacteria counts in June, July and August, but they urged those with weak immune systems to ask their doctors for advice on whether to drink District tap water.
The consent order, signed in July, commits the city to replace aging pipes, improve daily operations and disclose safety violations more promptly. But additional violations are possible until long-term repairs are done.
On Oct. 1, the new D.C. Water and Sewer Authority assumed responsibility for the city's water distribution system and the Blue Plains sewage plant (the Army Corps of Engineers runs the District's two water treatment plants). The authority has proposed a large rate increase to pay for repairs.
A House for the Opera
It ain't over till the fat lady sings. That was certainly true of the Washington Opera's quest to turn the vacant, nine-story Woodward & Lothrop building into a downtown opera house. In early July, the D.C. Zoning Commission ruled that the opera could convert the rococo edifice, reversing an earlier decision that at least half the building must house stores and restaurants.
The opera first proposed the move in January but withdrew its proposal in March, calling the zoning commission's retail requirement "bizarre." But Betty Brown Casey, the opera board's chairman, was not to be deterred. She bought the building at a bankruptcy auction in New York for $18.05 million in late March and gave it to the opera as a gift.
The mayor and all 13 members of the D.C. Council lined up behind the deal. And when the Zoning Commission finally approved the move, without the onerous conditions, the usual gaggle of zoning lawyers was upstaged by a group of internationally known opera stars.
Concerns About Clarke
In July, D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke (D) flirted with stepping down as the head of the council to run for an at-large seat that would give him more time to "advocate" bills he was interested in. But Clarke's colleagues speculated that he was interested in making the switch for health reasons.
Council members and city residents alike have grown increasingly concerned about Clarke's health and behavior. Chopping the air with his arms and shouting profanities, Clarke berated his staff for not having the correct pension bill before his colleagues during a council meeting this summer. Clarke canceled the meeting and stormed off the dais as his colleagues snickered in the hallway.
Although Clarke eventually got the bill passed, the incident sparked a chain of events that had him announcing for an at-large council seat, then reversing himself a few days later.
Several council members said Clarke's unpredictable style has made it harder for them to attack the city's huge debt and bloated bureaucracy. Concerns about his health have persisted, and at least one council member called on him to step down. But in an interview, Clarke said: "I have a difficult mission here. I have to pull everybody together."
Property Assessment Breakdown
D.C. Chief Financial Officer Anthony A. Williams has always talked a good game. In mid-July, his talk turned to action: He fired two officials in charge of property assessments and placed four others on administrative leave, pending review.
One of the four, property assessor Michael E. Selden, later was fired for what Williams described as "negligence" in reassessing 9,700 residential properties in affluent Northwest Washington. Williams said the properties were reassessed on the basis of a faulty computer formula that Selden used without authorization.
Williams zeroed in on Selden's work after property assessments went haywire in Northwest Washington, and hundreds of irate residents -- lawyers, accountants, statisticians and property experts among them -- howled in protest. A few even set to work cracking the code, figuring out exactly how Selden had miscalculated: He assessed properties strictly on the basis of square-footage, forgetting about more relevant criteria, such as the condition, location and recent sales price.
Williams ordered a year-long moratorium on tax assessments to give himself time to straighten out the system. "We need to say: 'Pencils down, everyone. Get your act together and start with a clean slate,' " Williams said. "I think it's just time to cut bait and do it right."
Special Education Fiasco
When Jeffrey M. Robinson offered to open a school for troubled teenagers in 1995, D.C. school officials did not do an extensive background check before approving a two-year contract for $875,000, the officials conceded later.
Robinson, an insurance broker, said he had been a special education student and wanted to help others. Although it was not widely known at the time, he had ties with at least two school officials.
The Post reported in August that Robinson, then 26, had no experience in education, no college degree and no building for the school. Robinson did have a misdemeanor conviction for carrying an illegal weapon and a lien against him for more than $87,000 in unpaid federal income taxes.
A federal grand jury is investigating Kedar Day School and the financial dealings of Robinson, who received $400,000 for the school but sometimes failed to pay teachers, buy books or feed the children. The school collapsed within a year.
Then-Superintendent Franklin L. Smith said school officials probably "let their guard down" because they thought Robinson had money and good intentions.
Board of Education member Terry Hairston (Ward 7) is a social acquaintance of Robinson's, and B. Garnett Pinkney, the school administrator who recommended funding the Kedar project when she oversaw special education contracts, describes Robinson as a friend.
Barry Entertains the GOP
The mayor journeyed to San Diego to hold a reception Aug. 11 for Republicans at their national convention.
When Barry's plans were first reported, critics objected to his using city funds to fete a political party whose members on Capitol Hill historically have been hostile to the District government. Barry responded by saying he never intended to use taxpayer dollars.
Still, people wondered what the Democratic major of the overwhelmingly Democratic city could possibly gain from feeding shrimp to Republicans. In the end, the mayor said the trip -- taken also by his wife, two aides and members of his security detail -- was paid for with private donations.
The party at an art gallery was attended by about 200 people, including lobbyists galore, city officials, 25 Washington media types, a contingent from Cora Masters Barry's sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, and a smattering of conservative Republicans.
School Closings: Round 2
In September, the District began a new school year with some of its schools closed because of fire code violations.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Kaye K. Christian, who put the issue on the map in 1994 when she forced the superintendent to postpone the opening of schools because of fire code violations, once again declared that the safety of schoolchildren should be the city's top priority.
Thirty-two times, she had issued orders to the superintendent and other officials to fix fire alarms, repair wiring, replace fire extinguishers and otherwise make the schools safe for students. Each time, the city responded with a rush of patchwork repairs, but the overall problem of fire code violations in the city's 158 schools persisted.
Christian refused to back down. In August, she ordered 18 schools closed until fire code violations in them were fixed. By the time schools opened on Sept. 3, Christian ruled that six schools -- most of which had leaky roofs -- weren't ready, and their students had to be relocated.
By year's end, Sharpe Health School, a school for severely disabled students, was still closed. Its students have been relocated to Burdick Career Development Center.
A Bad Day for Barry
Sept. 10 wasn't the mayor's day. He lost a double-header in that day's primary election, in which voters chose nominees for two at-large seats and four ward seats on the D.C. Council, and his security detail came under yet another cloud.
D.C. Council member Harold Brazil (D-Ward 6), a potential mayoral rival of Barry's in 1998, handily won the Democratic nomination for an at-large council seat. But the bigger setback for the mayor came in the race for the council seat in Ward 8, where Barry rebuilt his political career after his release from prison by winning the ward's council seat in 1992.
After he won the mayor's race two years later, Barry tapped political neophyte Eydie Whittington as his successor in the 1995 special election. In doing so, he snubbed Sandra "Sandy" Allen, a longtime Ward 8 activist who had worked in Barry's campaigns. After a hard-fought contest, Whittington squeezed out a one-vote victory over Allen.
But Allen never stopped campaigning, and her hard work paid off this year when she defeated Whittington and five other candidates in the Democratic primary.
Also on Election Day, two Post reporters saw a member of Barry's security detail drive a couple in an unmarked police car to a polling place at Turner Elementary School. A few blocks away in the Stanton Dwellings development at Stanton Road and Alabama Avenue SE, the reporters saw Barry -- sitting in a Whittington campaign van and talking over a loudspeaker -- offer two more voters rides to the polls in the police vehicle.
Barry said he did not see the security members hauling voters to the polls. But a month later, the officers acknowledged during testimony at a council committee hearing that they had driven voters to the polls, in violation of the federal Hatch Act, which prohibits District employees from engaging in political activity on the job. An investigation by the Office of Special Counsel is continuing.
One Big Blessed Event
Chitwan did her species proud when the greater one-horned Asian rhinoceros was born in September at the National Zoo. She didn't have a horn, but she was certainly great, weighing in at 138 pounds. And she was certainly a rhinoceros, encased as she was in armorlike folds.
She started gaining about five pounds a day on her diet of mother's milk and will weigh about two tons when she reaches maturity. By that time, she also should have a horn, made of hardened hairs.
The horn, prized in Asia for use in traditional medicine, is the primary reason the greater one-horned Asian rhinoceros is an endangered species, with only about 2,000 surviving in zoos and in their native India and Nepal.
No, make that about 2,001: In November, a second baby rhino, Himal, half brother of Chitwan, was born at the zoo on Connecticut Avenue NW, weighing in at a whopping 150 pounds. Pandu, father of Chitwan and Himal, wasn't around to see either birth. He had been shipped off temporarily to the Philadelphia Zoo in July -- to make room for babies in the nest.
Lottery Board Abolished
The financial control board in September instructed the D.C. Council to abolish the independent board that oversaw the D.C. Lottery.
Control board members complained that cronyism and political meddling by the mayor had led to the firing of the lottery's executive director, Frederick L. "Rick" King Jr., who was cutting jobs and trying to impose management reforms.
Barry appoints lottery board members, who were angry at some of the personnel moves King was making. Barry denied any interference.
The control board's action was meant to send a strong message, according to control board Vice Chairman Stephen D. Harlan. "It is no longer business as usual," he said. "We're serious. We mean it. Let's clean this city up."
On Dec. 18, after a public hearing and because the council had failed to act, the control board abolished the five-member lottery panel.
Barry-Gingrich Honeymoon Ends
The courtship that started in 1995 between the mayor and House Speaker Newt Gingrich shocked the local and national political establishments. One was the liberal mayor of a predominantly black city. The other was the conservative leader of the predominantly white, Republican-controlled Congress.
Doubters saw it as a politically expedient relationship. The newly elected Barry needed to prove that he was serious about reforming the District government and was willing to work with the GOP; the newly elected speaker needed to prove that he was not the ogre liberals had made him out to be. And the District provided the perfect laboratory for his experiments with social policy on such issues as school choice and welfare.
The romance was short-lived. After Barry had a series of nasty skirmishes with the control board -- including one in which he seemed to compare the board's reign to a Nazi dictatorship -- Gingrich broke off the affair in October. He not only called Barry "a great disappointment" but also accused him of protecting "political corruption and hacks" at the expense of "the people and the children of this city." Barry retorted that Gingrich was engaging in "political grandstanding" and "Barry bashing."
Purchases by Police Become Suspect
Eighteen D.C. police department employees -- nine officers and nine civilians -- were suspended Oct. 15 in connection with a federal investigation into an alleged fencing operation inside police headquarters.
The employees allegedly purchased thousands of dollars worth of stolen electronics equipment, including computers and televisions, at about one-fifth the regular price.
Although the U.S. attorney's office decided not to pursue criminal charges, Assistant Police Chief William B. Sarvis Jr., who was one of the 18, was demoted to captain a month later. His salary was cut from $90,000 to $49,000 a year.
Sarvis, 42, a 21-year member of the force, denied any wrongdoing. He said his demotion was motivated by racism and by Chief Larry D. Soulsby's desire to "deflect attention away" from his own problems and to remove him from contention to be the next police chief.
Soulsby has come under fire on many issues, including complaints about low morale and a secret agreement he made with a former homicide commander, William L. Hennessy. Soulsby and Hennessy clashed over off-the-record remarks that Soulsby made about Hennessy. Hennessy secretly taped a heated conversation with the acting chief but agreed not to disclose the tape or his disagreements with Soulsby during Soulsby's confirmation hearings before the D.C. Council in exchange for Soulsby's promise of better training opportunities and assignments.
United in Euphoria
It was a moment that seemed likely to cause bedlam. In an Arlington restaurant on a crisp fall day, 100 patrons watched seven TVs showing the tightening football game between the New York Giants and the beloved Washington Redskins. A restaurant manager walked out and announced that he was switching channels on all seven of the TVs -- to a soccer game.
Amazingly, no one protested. No one moved to another room where the football game was still on.
The fans had converged at Summers Restaurant Oct. 20 to root for D.C. United, Washington's professional soccer team, as it competed with the Los Angeles Galaxy for the championship of Major League Soccer's inaugural season. Many fans wore red and black, United's colors.
It looked grim for a while, but United rallied to tie the game in regulation and won in sudden-death overtime, 3-2, when Eddie Pope headed the ball into the goal.
Fans jumped up screaming. Glasses toppled. Strangers embraced.
"What a great day for American soccer!" declared Lincoln Richman, 28, a Silver Spring writer who with a joyous thrust of his fist rearranged part of the low ceiling.
With much fanfare, the mayor announced a new crime-fighting proposal Nov. 8 that borrows the "zero-tolerance" philosophy -- even for minor offenses such as public drunkenness -- that New York has used to dramatically reduce crime over three years.
The plan emphasizes community-oriented policing, along the lines of a program that was announced six years ago but was never fully implemented. District commanders will be held strictly accountable for reducing crime in their areas, officials say. A special unit was formed to combat gang violence.
But many residents -- and officers -- say the effort is mostly smoke and mirrors. Police have been given no additional resources to implement the plan, and department morale remains low. Critics said the plan amounted to little more than reannouncing programs that already had failed -- a point Barry disputes.
"This is not warmed-over soup," Barry said. "This is crime prevention."
In the meantime, the D.C. control board has set its sights on public safety, ordering a top-to-bottom review of the police department. Everything, including the effectiveness of current leadership, is on the table, control board members said.
The study should begin early in 1997.
School System Takeover
The D.C. control board stripped the elected Board of Education of most of its powers in November and appointed an unpaid board of trustees to assume control of the city's troubled schools. The control board also named retired Army Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton Jr. chief executive of the school system after deciding to buy out Superintendent Franklin L. Smith's contract.
The takeover capped months of turmoil, including the delayed opening of some schools because of the fire code violations. Incidents of violence raised questions about school security. School supplies were delivered late. A cafeteria contract was rejected by the control board after some school officials questioned it. Budget and payroll systems were described as chaotic, with officials unsure how many students or employees were in the system.
This month, after consulting with Becton, the District's chief financial officer fired 11 school employees, including the system's top two budget and finance officers. But Becton said he would try to protect teachers from salary cuts.
The elected school board, demoted to advisory status, filed suit in U.S. District Court to stop the control board takeover. The lawsuit says the takeover amounts to a violation of the constitutional rights of D.C. residents.
Smith, who ran the school system for five years, landed on his feet. He went to work for a San Diego-based educational software firm.
Upheaval at UDC
The president of the University of the District of Columbia, Tilden J. LeMelle, resigned in November amid the worst crisis in the nearly 20-year history of the school.
LeMelle ended his five-year tenure at UDC at a time when the school's accreditation was in jeopardy and it was facing a $16.2 million deficit, which forced it to open classes six weeks late.
The financial troubles were so intense that LeMelle warned that the school might have to close early in the spring without outside fiscal help. The District's top financial officials repeatedly told him there would be none.
LeMelle's inability to conceive of a fiscal recovery plan without additional money from the city prompted the school's Board of Trustees to consider asking for his resignation, which he offered the day after Thanksgiving.
His acting successor, Provost Julius F. Nimmons, quickly devised a plan calling for deep staff cuts and additional furloughs to close the budget deficit and keep the school open. The trustees approved the plan last week despite the fierce opposition of faculty members and others.
Nimmons credited LeMelle with restructuring the school's academic offerings, but critics said LeMelle never projected a realistic vision for the school.
Homicide Rate Rebounds
After two consecutive years of decline, homicides in the District are on the rise again.
Since the tremendous increase in homicides began in the late 1980s with the onslaught of crack cocaine, homicides have remained stubbornly high, making the District one of the nation's deadliest cities. Homicides rose from 228 in 1987 to 372 in 1988 and have not dipped below that mark since.
In 1993, there were 467 homicides. The number declined to 416 in 1994 and to 378 last year.
This year, however, homicides have been running ahead of last year's pace. By mid-month, the District had surpassed last year's total. Through Dec. 22, there were 387 homicides, according to police, who attributed some of the increase to heightened competition among marijuana dealers.
To make matters worse, the closure rate for homicides -- the percentage of cases resulting in arrests -- has hovered around 30 percent this year. Police and prosecutors say it is becoming increasingly difficult to solve homicides because witnesses are afraid to testify and overtime cutbacks have left detectives with fewer hours to work cases.
Staff writers Ruben Castaneda, D'Vera Cohn, Patrice Gaines, Amy Goldstein, Hamil R. Harris, Sari Horwitz, Nancy Lewis, Toni Locy, Vernon Loeb, Julie Makinen, Robert E. Pierre, Valerie Strauss, Linda Wheeler, Debbi Wilgoren, Vanessa Williams and Yolanda Woodlee contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company