During the last presidential campaign, one candidate poked fun at his opponent for allegedly switching sides on issues in a television commercial. The commercial showed the opponent's head facing first one way, then the other, flipping back and forth and finally flopping on its face.
Mayor Marion Barry made a 180-degree turn last week when he went on record in support of hotels being allowed to expand in some residential areas, even if that meant that residents directly affected would lose their homes. But this was not a simple about-face.
The Barry scenario would have to include a $100-a-person fundraiser that took place six days before Barry's reversal was announced.
The fundraiser was organized by a lobbyist for the local hotel industry. It was held at the Georgetown home of the brother of a hotel owner. More than a dozen persons connected with the hotel industry bought tickets for a total of about $1,200. The mayor was introduced by the president of the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C. The event was closed to the press.
As a result of Barry's new stance, as many as 16 city hotels, including the Washington Hilton, whose general manager and banquet coordinator were among those who bought tickets for the fundraiser, would be allowed to expand. In the process, the hotels could possibly displace hundreds of city residents. iExpansion of the Hilton alone would mean the loss of 339 apartment units.
The mayor hastily dismisses any suggestion that the party, which raised $14,000 for his constituent service fund, had anything to do with his new-found stance on hotel expansion.
"It is insulting," he said through a spokeswoman, "to try to link a paltry $1,200 or less with some decision being made on a recommendation from the office of planning and development."
Lawyer David Wilmot -- a member of the city's minimum wage board, dean of admissions at Georgetown University Law Center, lobbyist for the hotel association and organizer of the event -- said the role played by the hotel group was "virtually none." Barry had already changed his view before the Jan. 11 affair at the home of Sam Pardoe, Wilmot said. Pardoe's brother is a part-owner of the Quality Inn-Capitol Hill, 415 New Jersey Ave. NW.
In fact, Wilmot said, invitations to the fundraiser contained a message assuring those who attended the affair that, "He CAN Handle It," was really just a way to help the mayor's cash-short office fulfill its social mandate. "They said they didn't have any money to pay for Christmas Cards," Wilmot said.
Assistant City Administrator James O. Gibson, the District's planning director, has the lengthy explanation for what really led to the latest position. Gibson said Barry did not change, but merely adopted a position that would bring the city more hotel rooms and more sorely needed lower level jobs, while at the same time drastically reducing conversion of apartment units to hotel rooms.
Gibson conceded that the exchange means those who live in the 339 units north of the Washington Hilton could lose their homes. "When you trade off a capacity to create more low-income jobs and to protect 114,000 additional units, that's the good of it," Gibson said. "I know it's an abstraction to someone who's about to lose their unit. But from a planning standpoint, it's an important gain."
The assertion that Barry has not reversed himself is based on Gibson's fine print, strict constructionist interpretation of what Barry told 150 Adams-Morgan residents and community activists who had amassed their forces and picket signs in front of the Hilton on the sunny Saturday afternoon of Aug. 4 of last year.
"As a matter of philosophy, I am against expansion that would displace residents and disrupt neighborhoods. We're together on this one," Barry proclaimed.
But that statement must be read carefully, Gibson said the other day. "He said he was opposed to expansion at the expense of housing," Gibson said. No less, no more.
By permitting the limited expansion of hotels like the Washington Hilton while at the same time switching to a blanket moratorium on converting apartment units to hotel rooms, Gibson said, Barry has actually reduced from 142,000 to 28,000 the number of units that would be vulnerable due to either expansion or conversion.
Moreover, he said, hotel expansion is beneficial to the District's residents because eight of every 10 hotel employes tend to be city residents while less than four of every 10 who work in office buildings, another potential growth industry in the city, live in Washington.
The contention that tourist industry development will bring more jobs to the city is a basic tenent of the Barry administration's support for not only hotel expansion into residential areas, but also construction of the proposed $99 million convention center near Mount Vernon Square. It is a position that some community representatives sneer at, contending that the kinds of jobs that hotels offer -- maids, waiters and waitresses, bell hops and busboys -- are not the most desirable to bring to the city.
The mayor's newly stated support for hotel expansion is likely to further antagonize a largely white, middle-class citywide collective of controlled growth and no-growth advocates who energetically supported his election campaign and are already disgruntled over some other aspects of Gibson's performance.
But the administration appears to be counting on the possibility of more jobs to bring in support from lower-income and currently no-income blacks. Already, Gibson said, letters are coming in from parts of Southeast and Southwest Washington where parents have translated potential hotel expansion into long-sought jobs for their young adult children.