D.C. Democratic mayoral candidate Sterling Tucker charged yesterday that the city's Office of Consumer Protection, is "the District's No. 1 consumer ripoff."
Issuing his third position paper before the Sept. 12 party primary. City Council Chairman Tucker said that "despite a very tough (D.C. consumer protection) law with strong teeth, this supposed public bulldog has all the bite of a Pekingese."
He said the consumer protection agency has let a backlog of more than 1,800 cases build up, failed to publicize legal actions that might help consumers and wasted taxpayers' money on $8,000 worth of posters that were supposed to list prescription drug prices in drug stores.
"What it means is that people don't get consumer protection," Tucker said at a press conference at his headquarters. "There statistics are . . . an indication of a lack of feeling, a lack of activity, a lack of vigor.
"It's clear the mayor must give some personal attention to that office," Tucker said.
Tucker's statement was his latest verbal assault on the administration of Mayor Walter E. Washington, the man he considers to be his chief opponent in the primary. While not totally ignoring the other major contender in the race, Councilman Marion Barry, Tucker lately has reserved his strongest attacks for the mayor.
Tucker yesterday said flatly: "This administration's counterfeit public services are the biggest con game in town." Meanwhile, Barry in his position papers, has continually tried to link Tucker and Washington and their performances in office since they ran together four years ago.
Lacy Streeter, Washington's campaign manager, declined comment on Tucker's latest broadside until, he said, he has time to ligest it.
Bettie J. Robinson, acting director of the consume protection agency, conceded a number of the nonetheless said, "I'm outraged that he would put out such an irresponsible statement laced with inaccuracies. He doesn't do his homework."
She said "the backlog has always existed. It will continue to exist."
Robinson blamed the City Council, the mayor and Congress for not providing adequate money and staff for the agency. But she particularly blamed Tucker for the shortage of funds. "He's fully aware of and accountable for that," she said.
She said the consumer protection office has a staff of 37 workers, but that only 10 are full-time and most of the rest are hired under the federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act designed to assist hardcore unemployed.
Tucker alleged that consumer protection agency "bungling has cost taxpayers thousands of dollars" and cited the example of the 183 drug price posters that cost $8,000.
Robinson said her predecessor, Edith Barksdale Sloan, authorized printing the 4-by-5-foot posters but that drug stores deemed them too large.
Robinson said new 2-by-4-foot posters are being printed and will be posted in stores by early September.
Tucker also attacked Washington for naming Robinson acting director of the consumer protection office in March even though Sloan had attacked her job performance. However, D.C. personnel director George R. Harrod said Sloan's criticisms of Robinson were "almost hearsay" and that "there's no validity" to them. He said he did not know when the mayor would appoint a new director of the agency.
Tucker said that if he is elected mayor he, would, among other things, "vigorously enforce" existing consumer laws and also support proposed laws requiring auto insurance for all District drivers, price listings at gas stations for all grades of gasoline and disclosure in utility company ads of who is paying for them.
Tucker appeared at his press conference with 11 consumer activists who said they were endorsing his candidacy, including Ann Brown, his campaign cochairperson and a longtime consumer advocate.
Streeter, Washington's campaign manager, said the mayor would periodically release statements on what he sees as his accomplishments in office. "His position is his record," Streeter said.